It is 50 years since the Sexual Offences Act 1967 decriminalised male homosexuality in England and Wales. The extent to which our society has changed since then is illustrated by the fact that the Westminster parliament, with 35 out gay MPs, is the most diverse of any in the world in terms of sexual orientation. But many challenges remain for those from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning and others community.
Mat Price is the co-founder of Proud2Be, a social enterprise in south Devon that supports LGBTQ+ people, and their friends and families. He is especially pleased with the development of its youth group, 86 per cent of whose members said in 2016 that attending the group had made them more confident. "Witnessing an individual's journey from self-doubt and insecurity to self-assurance and confidence is not only an honour," says Price, "but also highlights the real difference our work makes to people's lives."
Helping young people who are questioning their sexuality or gender is also at the centre of Free2B's work. This London-based community interest company runs The Gap youth club for young LGBTQ+ people aged 13 to 19, as well as mentoring services for young people and their parents. Lucie Brooke, its principal lead, shared with me a moving testimony from a member of the youth group: "After coming out gradually from the age of 14, I knew only one other person who was out to me. I felt isolated. My parents didn't know how to deal with their daughter being gay. By the time I was 17 I needed to meet people with whom I had this in common. I joined The Gap and it had a big impact on my confidence: I was able to raise LGBTQ+ issues at school, which had never been done before."
Giving young people support and safe places is a constant theme in my conversations with local activists. So too is the need to challenge prejudice. Proud2Be's Price says it's a misconception that "the battle for LGBTQ+ rights has been won". He says there have been great advancements in terms of securing equality under the law, but "we are by no means there yet".
Brooke shows me the videos produced with her young members and says: "We are a long way from achieving equality in practice." The films are superb, enabling young people to talk about the devastating impact homophobia, biphobia and transphobia have on their lives.
Vicky Worthington, membership and engagement manager at the national LGBT Consortium, says: "LGBT groups offer people vital support because, unfortunately, legal equality does not always remove the discrimination or inequality they face." Changes since 1967 mean that gay people now enjoy more rights and less prejudice. But the work of organisations such as Proud2Be and Free2B remains vital.
Kevin Curley is a voluntary sector adviser