Politician denounces Belfast's first gay rugby team

Last updated 11:55 20/02/2008

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Northern Ireland's first gay rugby team, the Ulster Titans, has been denounced by a politician as being bigoted against heterosexuals.

The team, however, a flabbergasted over the attack, saying that a few of the squad's 25 players are heterosexuals and the team welcomed players of all backgrounds.

Edwin Poots, an evangelical Protestant who is the Sports Minister in the Northern Ireland government, reportedly told the Northern Ireland Assembly in Belfast that the Titans were guilty of discrimination.

"I just cannot fathom why people see the necessity to develop an apartheid in sport," Poots was reported as saying by the Associated Press.

"It would be unacceptable to produce an all-black rugby team or an all-white team or an all-Chinese team. To me it's equally unacceptable to produce an all-homosexual rugby team," Poots said.

"I find it remarkable that people who talk so much about inclusivity and about having an equal role in society would then go down the route of exclusion."

Declan Lavery, a co-founder of the team, who owns a gay bar in Belfast, said they were flabbergasted by the attack.

"When the club was set up it welcomed members regardless of their age, creed, religion, sexual orientation or whatever, and that's how it continues," said

"Yes, it was primarily something established as a vehicle for gay people, but that doesn't mean somebody who isn't gay can't join. Everyone is welcome," he said.

While the Titans are the first gay rugby team in Northern Ireland, the most religiously conservative corner of the United Kingdom, such teams are well established in Britain, while the Republic of Ireland got its first primarily gay rugby team, the Emerald Warriors, in 2003.

Poots' political party, the Democratic Unionists, was founded by Protestant evangelist Ian Paisley, who today leads the Northern Ireland government. In 1977, Paisley led a campaign called Save Ulster From Sodomy that sought to keep homosexual acts outlawed in Northern Ireland.

However, a European Court of Human Rights ruling forced Britain to decriminalise homosexuality in Northern Ireland in 1982.

-with AP

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