Britain’s first openly gay MP Lord (Chris) Smith of Finsbury, has said that Tony Blair, whilst Prime Minister, needed “persuading” that legalising the age of consent, and repealing Section 28 were the right things to do.

Appearing at BNP Paribas Diversity Week as a Keynote Speaker Lord Smith told the audience at the Moorgate offices of the bank that, he was “proud” to be part of the Labour Cabinet under Blair, but that the former Prime MInister was “really nervous”, about taking the steps towards equality because of public opinion.

He said: “I have to say the Prime Minister Tony Blair did require a little bit of persuading. He was initially very nervous about things like equalising the age of consent, getting rid of Section 28, introducing civil partnerships and so on. He was really nervous about some of these very basic things, like equal age of consent because he thought it would play badly with the public.”

He went on to say, however, that once persuaded that moves towards equality were the right thing to do, Tony Blair became less nervous about moves for LGBT equality.

Lord Smith continued: “Quite a number of us – we had some powerful allies in the cabinet at the time –eventually we managed to persuade him to take a timescale on an equal age of consent, and when that happened, and the roof didn’t fall in, and on the whole people said this is a good thing, suddenly it was really easy to persuade him to do all the rest. He now recognises that the movement towards lesbian and gay equality that happened during the period of his government will be one of the really positive legacies of that period in time.”

The controversial Section 28, which banned the promotion of homosexuality in schools, was repealed under the Labour Government in 2003. The age of consent was equalised in 2001.

The former Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury, who came out in 1984, was awarded Freedom of the Borough back in 2010. He was the first MP to publicly acknowledge that he is HIV positive in 2005.

Labour life peer and Chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority, Lord Chris Smith, last year stood in solidarity with the ever-growing list of people who have filmed a video for the Out4Marriage Campaign.

The PinkNews Awards will take place in the Palace of Westminster on 23 October, and its sponsors include BNP Paribas. The bank celebrated its Diversity week between 7 and 14 October 2013.

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