Shaun Woodward MP: Activist Paul Cottingham welcomed me to Labour to fight for gay rights
Speaking to PinkNews, former Labour cabinet minister Shaun Woodward pays tribute to his close friend and activist Paul Cottingham, who died after a battle with cancer this morning.
Mr Cottingham, who was in a civil partnership with former Labour MEP Michael Cashman, worked with organisations including the Kaleidoscope Trust.
MP Shaun Woodward – who defected from the Conservatives to Labour in 1999 after clashing with Tory leadership over his support for the repeal of Section 28 – paid tribute to his close personal friend.
He said: “I first met Paul when I was sponsoring an equal age of consent, as a newly-elected Tory MP.
“I wasn’t in his party, but his fantastic humanity, his humour, his extension of friendship was brilliant.
“A year later I told William Hague I wouldn’t support the Tories in refusing to back Section 28, and that I would actively campaign to end that ghastly piece of legislation.
“Paul was immediately on the phone saying ‘what can I do to help? I’ll be there any way I can’.
“You never had to ask Paul for friendship. He instinctively knew when to be there. He was always there.
“When I joined the Labour party, he was the first person to reach out to me. Him and Michael became very close friends. We holidayed together, we spent a lot of time together.
“What was incredible was seeing their partnership – it was and is an inspiration.
“At many Labour party conferences, any time a picture of Paul and Michael went up, it got the loudest cheer.
“When I was Northern Ireland Secretary I had to make a lot of difficult decisions.
“Paul would always be on the phone to me – not to give his opinion, but because he had an acute sense of the moment I’d be getting exhausted.
“His role in helping achieve what was right was also incalculable. Paul’s great gift was winning minds by winning hearts
“We think back to where we were in 1998 – when we didn’t have gay marriage or civil partnership, when transgender people were still stuck with the gender they had at birth, when Section 28 was law, and when we had an unequal age of consent.
“Paul was always a light shining through that period, and as each step was made, and in his own inimitable way encouraged people to go to the next place.
“He was always the cheerleader of moving people on to doing the next piece of work.
“My brother is now my sister, having come out as transgender – and Paul was always there to support us.
“I think anybody who met Paul was truly bowled over by what an extraordinary person he was. I’m sure there are many people grieving today.
“His legacy lives on though us. He was invaluable, inspirational, and resourceful, because his energy, his friendliness, and his charisma were always there.”
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