Michael Cashman, the Labour politician, actor and campaigner for gay rights, has been awarded an honourary degree by Staffordshire University.

Before he became an MEP in 1999, his ground-breaking portrayal of Colin Russell in EastEnders between 1986 and 1989 saw the first gay kiss in a UK soap.

Mr Cashman co-founded gay equality organisation Stonewall in 1989 and is president of the European Parliament’s Intergroup on Gay and Lesbian Rights.

He is also a key figure in the Labour party, a member of the ruling National Executive Committee and close to former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Braving the rainstorms last week to receive his honorary doctorate from Staffordshire University, Michael told a packed ceremony hall he was delighted with the award.

“Hatred never goes away; the spotlight just shifts from one group to another and rests where society allows it to remain,” he said.

“It’s our duty to extinguish that spotlight of hatred. I accept this great honour on behalf of everyone who has ever felt different, discriminated or persecuted against.”

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, told PinkNews.co.uk:

“It is important that academic institutions recognise the contribution that gay and lesbian people make to public life.

“People do take notice, and if I was a young gay man, I would think twice about applying to Oxford Brookes University, where Jeremy Clarkson got an honorary degree.”

Oxford Brookes Students’ Union defended the university’s record, and pointed out that Mr Clarkson had a pie thrown at him when he turned up to get his honourary degree.

The SU said they are free from discrimination and recently hosted Pride celebrations.

Andi Whiting, elected LGBT Officer of the OBSU Student Executive told PinkNews.co.uk:

“I have been an openly gay student at Brookes for over five years and have never felt myself marginalised in any why by the University.

“I believe Brookes to be most supportive of diversity in all its forms.”