A DUP MLA earlier this month gained headlines for the admission that he had not realised, when first elected, that heterosexual people could get HIV.
This was leapt upon by various Liberals on social media, mocking his (past) ignorance.
And this is precisely why Liberals lose elections and referendums with frightening regularity.
In principle, what happened here was a man admitted that he had not known something, and that once he had been informed he used his new knowledge to adapt his position – in fact, to a more broadly Liberal one.
If, every time someone admits an error and adopts a more Liberal position in rectifying it, Liberals jump on that person’s past ignorance rather than current courage, then how exactly will they ever persuade anyone to their perspective ever again? What is the point in switching to a more Liberal position if Liberals yell at you either way?
Of course, the other problem is that they then miss the real issue. The DUP MLA rather spoiled the whole thing by saying effectively that he was only supporting people with HIV because some of them are heterosexual. The logical progression of that would seem to suggest that he is still an unreconstructed homophobic bigot. But Liberals were so busy calling him names about his past ignorance on health matters, they actually (with some exceptions) missed the potentially relevant bit.
And yet even there, he same MLA did not stand in the way of a pardon for past homosexual offences the same week, a significant advance on his and his party’s previous position. If Liberals in Northern Ireland would like an advance in other areas – for example turning the Assembly majority for same-sex marriage into actual legislation by the end of this decade – then it is the DUP’s support or at least effective neutrality they will need. The evidence now is that this is possible. So perhaps it is worth asking what needs to be done, and not done, to achieve that further advance?
There is more to changing society than joining a self-congratulatory mob to yell at people you don’t like online, even where we have genuine reason to dislike someone on the basis of their stance. People on all sides need to realise that quickly.
A resolution for 2017. By all means educate. But never humiliate.