Focus: Policy and Politics - Gay rights charities stand by Hughes

Campaigners insist the Lib Dem has always been supportive, writes Nathalie Thomas.

Gay rights charities will continue to solicit Simon Hughes's campaign support despite the Liberal Democrat leadership contender's U-turn on his sexuality.

Campaigning organisation Stonewall denied that Hughes had caused any damage to the gay rights cause as an MP even though he publicly concealed and then admitted having gay relationships.

"There's no suggestion that Hughes has behaved badly vis-a-vis gay people as a parliamentarian," said Alan Wardle, director of public affairs at Stonewall.

The organisation says Hughes's case is different from that of former defence secretary Michael Portillo, who in 1996 rejected calls to accept homosexuals into the armed forces. Three years later Portillo admitted to homosexual experiences in his youth.

"That's hypocrisy and that's something we would completely condemn," said Wardle. "Simon has not been hypocritical."

The president of the Liberal Democrat party has been a long-term supporter of the gay rights movement, Wardle added. He said: "He's always been publicly and privately supportive."

But Stonewall admits to being less comfortable with Hughes's volte-face in a private capacity.

"On a private level, we would always say it's better for people to be out and open and live their lives that way," said Wardle.

Pride London, the charity behind the capital's annual gay pride parade, is also hoping to use Hughes's confession to further the sector's messages.

"I've already put him on my list to call as a speaker at the EuroPride rally in Trafalgar Square on 1 July," said Jason Pollock, chief executive of Pride London.

Pollock agrees that Hughes's admission of gay relationships after his repeated denials of homosexuality has done little damage to the gay rights cause. "It's up to the individual," he said. Hughes's status as a senior politician meant that he could also do plenty to further the cause, Pollock added.

"Let's forget about Simon trying to cover up in the past and wish him all the luck for the future as a senior out gay politician," Pollock said.

During the course of his Lib Dem leadership campaign, the MP for Southwark North and Bermondsey twice denied his homosexuality. But just a few days later he admitted to The Sun that he had in fact had gay relationships.

KEY POINTS

- Gay rights groups will continue to ask for Simon Hughes's support despite the fact that he denied being gay and then admitted having gay relationships

- Stonewall has denied Hughes has done damage to the cause of gay rights, saying he has always been supportive of the group

- Pride London says his status as a politician means he could do plenty to further the cause.

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