When Evans came out, his friend the former Tory MP Ann Widdecombe criticised his decision, asking in a newspaper column why gay people feel the need to declare their sexuality.

He says views like that mean they must come out, although he doesn’t seem insulted by Widdecombe’s words, joking that she appears to have many gay friends, even if she is unaware of that fact.

“Ann doesn’t understand gaydom,” he says, laughing. “I don’t think Ann is homophobic in that sense, I just think she doesn’t understand it.”

“But by far, the vast majority of emails and letters I got were congratulatory. Some people would say, well why do you need to do this? And it’s because of them that we need to do it. They don’t understand it, particularly the amount of bullying and intimidation that goes on, in the workplace right down into schools. It’s still there, sadly.”

He prefers the word ‘gaydom’ to ‘homosexuality’: “I just think it covers everything – the world of gay. I suppose it sounds like a theme park! I think I invented the word gaydom. The kingdom of gaydom…”

Later, he says he’s on a “one-man campaign” to remove ‘straight’ from the lexicon, saying he dislikes the word’s connotations and prefers ‘non-gay’.

Evans said he decided to come out after getting involved with HIV and AIDS issues while in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA).

He said he began “espousing the gay cause” at conferences, particularly to Iranian delegates. At one event, he spoke to an Iranian delegate who informed him that while gay sex behind closed doors could be tolerated, doing it “in public” could not and offenders would be be tortured.

This was shortly after shocking reports in 2005 that Iran had tortured and hanged two teenage boys accused of sexual activity.

Evans says: “I just looked at him and I went, yes, you did torture them. And then you hanged them. I mean, I was stunned by his openness, about what he thought was decent to do. ”

He says he still works with the CPA and “they can see I’ve got a head, two arms, two legs like anyone else and I’m gay – so what’s the problem?”

Joking again, he says: “At one point, I thought there were so many MPs coming out, we would have to print t-shirts saying ‘I’m not gay, get over it’.”

When he came out, Evans was criticised for having voted against the equal age of consent in 1998. He later voted in favour, although he abstained on some other important votes.

He says now: “I didn’t show any leadership and that was the problem. I guess I was hiding behind the fact that even though I was gay, I understood that a lot of people didn’t like that sort of thing. Instead of taking it head-on, and even working it out in my own head … I actually thought they [opponents of lowering the age of consent] had a point at some stage.

“I am delighted that there is equality out there now. And that people cannot turn people away from their hotels or guesthouses or anywhere else simply for being gay. Anything that is acceptable on the heterosexual side must also be acceptable on the other side too.”

As deputy speaker, he must take care to demonstrate impartiality.

But on the subject of gay marriage, he’s quite open and is excited about America’s progress on the issue.

“In the past, before I was deputy speaker, I made it clear that equality means just that. Before I became deputy speaker, I did say that MPs like Chris Bryant shouldn’t have to get married in some other part of Westminster. We have our own chapel where William Hague got married, where if any gays want to get married, that is the rightful place to do it.”

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