Almost 600 guests – including ministers and celebrities – attended Stonewall’s annual Equality Dinner at London’s Dorchester Hotel last night. The fundraising event, supported for the first time by Aviva, raised a record £366,000 towards Stonewall’s campaigning work for lesbian and gay equality at home, at school and at work.
The special theme of the night was homophobia in sport and the need for more openly gay sportspeople as role models. Tennis champion Martina Navratilova talked about being one of the only openly lesbians in sport for many years. Rugby player Gareth Thomas offered the different perspective of having just come out, and encouraged other sportspeople to do so.
Martina Navratilova said: ‘When I first came out in 1981, it was pretty lonely out there. Coming out was not considered a wise business decision. I think the phrase I heard was “career suicide.” I’m told I lost millions in sponsorship, but in my heart I know I gained things of much greater value—the opportunity to live my life with integrity and the knowledge that others might have come out because of my example. We need organisations like Stonewall. And they need your support. It’s incredible what they’ve achieved.’
Gareth Thomas said: ‘I’m honoured to be speaking for such an amazing charity. My parents are here tonight and it’s the first time I’ve asked them to support me publicly. They were very excited about the event and I thank them for all their support. Only six months ago I didn’t believe I had the strength to be openly gay. Now I have. We only have one life and I need to live it. All my achievements on the rugby field fade into insignificance compared to coming out.’
The dinner was hosted by Amy Lamé and the celebrity auctioneer for the night was Christopher Biggins. A DJ set at the end of the night was played by Jodie Harsh. Guests included Sarah Waters, Sir Ian McKellen, Harriet Harman MP, Nick Herbert MP and other MPs, peers and ministers.
Stonewall Deputy Chief Executive Laura Doughty said: ‘Every penny raised tonight will go back into Stonewall’s essential campaigning work towards equality. Whoever wins the keys to Number 10 on 6 May will be lobbied by Stonewall, as we have done for the past 21 years, to ensure that lesbian, gay and bisexual equality remains a firm priority on the political agenda.’
Auctioned at the Dinner were a range of lots including meet and greet experience days with Kevin Spacey, Sue Perkins, Christopher Biggins and Antony Cotton; a dinner cooked for you and 10 guests in your own home by Clarissa Dickson Wright; a unique Maggi Hambling painting and other once in a lifetime experiences. Martina Navratilova donated an impromptu auction lot on the night – two exclusive centre court tickets for Wimbledon, accompanied by Martina herself.
All funds raised will go towards Stonewall campaigns such as Education for All, tackling homophobic bullying in Britain’s schools.
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