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Stars come out for Stonewall's annual Equality Dinner

  • Equality Dinner raises more than £410,000 to improve lesbian, gay, bi and trans equality in Britain and abroad 

  • Keegan Hirst addressed the issue of gay Premiership football players 

  • Guests included Ian McKellen, Cerys Matthews, Dan Gillespie-Sells and Mary Portas

Stonewall, the lesbian, gay, bi and trans equality charity, has raised £410,000 at its annual Equality Dinner. The event took place at the Hilton on Park Lane on Friday 18 March, and was supported by Aviva.

Speakers on the night included Stonewall CEO Ruth Hunt, rugby player Keegan Hirst, actor Malcolm Sinclair and Chair of Stonewall’s Board of Trustees and Group Brand Director at Aviva, Jan Gooding. 

Keegan Hirst talked about the immense support he’s received from his family, teammates and the general public since coming out as gay last year.

He described his relationship with teammates after coming out as ‘no different’. “Even after seeing me knocking about with Sean from Corrie”, he joked, about friend and Coronation Street actor Antony Cotton who was sat in the room. 

He then went on to address the topic of sports stars who may be in the closet.

“Everyone wants to know why there are no out Premiership football players. As a community, it isn’t out job to ask when, or who. A person should only come out when they’re ready.

“What we should be doing is not focusing on the individual, but focusing on the collective, and making sport and society an inclusive place to be in.

“Our message to the world and to athletes isn’t ‘we want you to come out’. It’s ‘when you’re ready we will be here and we’ll support you.”

He praised Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign, and the support from teams like Manchester United and Arsenal.

Guests on the night included Sir Ian McKellen; retail guru Mary Portas; Rebecca Root, star of Boy Meets Girl; artist Maggi Hambling; Antony Cotton, star of Coronation Street and distinguished writer and Stonewall supporter Sandi Toksvig.

Money raised from the event will support Stonewall’s vital work going deeper into communities to help improve the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people in Britain and abroad.  

Entertainer Christopher Biggins stepped up as auctioneer for the night, a role he has undertaken many times for the LGBT charity. He helped oversee the evening’s entertainment which included a live auction, silent auction and raffle. 

These all helped to make this key fundraising event in Stonewall’s calendar such a success in raising £410,000 to further its work for LGBT equality.

Top auction prizes on the night included a selection of exclusive experiences with each of the Armed Forces, a weekend getaway in Amsterdam and a three-night stay in a luxury penthouse in the Mediterranean island Valetta.

Top prizes in the Stonewall’s Silent Auction, hosted online in the days leading up to the Equality Dinner, included tickets to a Rihanna concert, a VIP trip to Europride, as well as a year’s supply of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.

Jan Gooding, Stonewall’s Chair of Trustees and Group Brand Director at Aviva, said: ‘Stonewall’s annual Equality Dinner is a chance to celebrate how far lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans equality has come. It also allows us to reflect on the work that still lies ahead to continue to change attitudes so that everyone can live safely, both in Britain and internationally. I am hugely proud to be a part of Stonewall, and that Aviva continues to demonstrate its support of Stonewall’s work by supporting the Equality Dinner year on year.’

Ruth Hunt, Chief Executive of Stonewall, thanked supporters on the night, saying: ‘Together we have achieved great strides towards LGBT equality, but the journey is far from over. There’s still so much work to do to tackle the issues that affect different parts of our community, both in the UK and overseas. It’s vital that we continue our work so that all lesbian, gay, bi and trans people in every country, community hospital and school, are free to be themselves and are accepted without exception.’