One of the co-founders of gay rights charity Stonewall, Labour MEP Michael Cashman, has paid tribute to its chief executive, Ben Summerskill, following his decision to leave the charity, saying “you have to have the courage to let go”.

Stonewall announced the resignation of Mr Summerskill, who will leave the organisation on 7 February, yesterday afternoon.

Michael Cashman was one of the founding members of Stonewall back in 1989.

At the time he was best known for being an actor, famously playing the role of Colin Russell, the first gay character ever to be introduced in Eastenders.

Since 1999, Michael Cashman has been a Labour MEP. He plans to retire from the European Parliament later this year.

Referring to the departure of Mr Summerskill, Mr Cashman told PinkNews.co.uk: “When I stood down as founding chair of Stonewall I did so with fear and trepidation.

“But if you really care about the future of the work and its realisation then you have to have the courage to let go. Congratulations to Ben on doing just that. The future’s bright. The future’s equality.”

On 27 September 2010, Mr Cashman strongly criticised Mr Summerskill in a PinkNews article over his failure to support equal marriage amid the backdrop of the Labour Party conference in Manchester.

The week before, at the Liberal Democrat conference in Liverpool, Mr Summerskill had said the Lib Dem policy of introducing marriage rights for same-sex couples and heterosexual civil partnerships could cost up to £5bn.

The remarks generated a chorus criticism from Lib Dem figures including MP Stephen Gilbert and the party’s 2008 and 2012 London mayoral candidate Brian Paddick.

Mr Gilbert argued at a Lib Dem fringe meeting that the issue should not be subject to a cost/benefit analysis and said: “It should not be for me as an MP to lobby Stonewall to support gay equality, it should be for Stonewall to lobby me.”

Mr Summerskill had stated that the £5bn was a Treasury figure, but the Treasury said it had no knowledge of the sum. It was subsequently revealed Stonewall had produced the figure itself.

In an interview after his attendance at an LGBT Labour fringe event on 27 September 2010, Mr Summerskill said of the then Liberal Democrat Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone: “In fairness she hadn’t done the sums either. So, much as I like and admire Lynne, it’s perfectly reasonable and normal for ministers to cost their proposals, and you know, the Liberal Democrats are in government.”

On 27 October 2010, Stonewall announced that it would start campaigning for same-sex marriage.

Fellow Stonewall co-founder Simon Fanshawe told PinkNews.co.uk on Thursday that the departure of Mr Summerskill was an opportunity to “renew relationships with other organisations and reassess its strategy.”

Speaking along the same lines, Stonewall Deputy Chief Executive, and soon to be Acting Chief Executive Ruth Hunt, told PinkNews.co.uk that “there are a lot of conversations to be had”, when asked whether she would be open to changing the organisation’s policy to include lobbying on transgender issues.

Stonewall in England and Wales does not campaign or lobby on transgender issues, instead claiming to work with transgender groups.

Stonewall in Scotland also includes transgender issues in its remit.

In a column in Gay Times magazine‘s January edition, journalist and broadcaster Paris Lees asked why Stonewall only lobbied on behalf of LG and B issues.