International ballet dancer Leigh Alderson says it is his biggest hope that Northern Ireland can take a “huge leap forward” for gay rights.
The Portadown man, a dancer with Les Grands Ballets company in Montreal, was speaking after the recent historic vote in support of same-sex marriage in the Republic of Ireland.
My biggest hope is that Northern Ireland can also make themselves proud and take a huge leap forward for gay rightsLeigh Alderson
Leigh (28) was just one month away from marrying his fiance, Ricky Leblanc, before his tragic suicide in 2012.
Since then, he has been campaigning for greater awareness and understanding of suicide and says showing that gay relationships are normal and equally valid can eradicate bullying and torment - factors in suicide.
He said, “Ignorance and bigotry are taught. Opening the wider public’s eyes to the idea of acceptance is one of the first steps in eradicating such torment.”
Leigh, who left Portadown at the age of 11 to train with the Royal Ballet School in London, said marriage should be done “because two individuals are in love and long for official commitment”
And he pointed out that it has a practical side too, ensuring hospital visitation rights and the right to make decisions over loved ones if they die - rights denied to those who are unmarried or even common-law couples.
He added, “After (my fiance’s death), despite my living with him for over six months, I held no rights according to authorities, and had to pack up my things and move out immediately.
“It was a traumatic enough experience to go through, but to find out that I had no rights over anything we were about to share together, and to suffer the indignity of not having any input or voice concerning his funeral or subsequent decisions, was frustrating and unbearable.
“We can learn a lot from the progression of other important rights movements. In the 1950s, interracial marriage was illegal, and widely frowned upon, but now society understands this to be an unjust law and did nothing but deny equal rights.”
Leigh, who returns regularly to visit his family in Portadown, said it was his dream that Northern Ireland should follow the lead of southern Ireland and vote in favour of “the fundamental right for same sex couples to solidify their love with the legality of marriage”.
“It is baffling to me and many others that all people cannot have the same equal rights that we ultimately all deserve,” he said. “My biggest hope is that Northern Ireland can also make themselves proud and take a huge leap forward for gay rights the world over and be known for progression. I truly believe we could do something great and profound.”
The Republic of Ireland’s vote on same-sex marriage saw almost 62 per cent of people voting in favour, making Ireland the first country to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote.
Same-sex marriage was legalised in England, Wales and Scotland last year, leaving Northern Ireland the only part of the UK where is it not allowed by law. The issue continues to divide local clergy.