Celebrities and politicians were among the attendees at Stonewall’s annual Equality Dinner at London’s Dorchester Hotel last night.
The fundraising event raised a record £366,000 towards the charity’s gay equality campaigns.
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 out lesbians in sport for years, while rugby player Gareth Thomas spoke about having just come out.
Navratilova, who is currently having treatment for breast cancer, 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.”
Thomas told diners: “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 May 6th 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.”