Jeremy Corbyn, Tony Blair, Emily Thornberry pay tribute to first out MP at PinkNews Awards

The UK’s first MP to come out as gay and first out member of cabinet has been honoured at the PinkNews Awards.

Lord Smith of Finsbury, Chris Smith, has been recognised for decades of LGBT activism with this year’s PinkNews Lifetime Achievement Award.

Paying tribute, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said “nobody symbolises the solidarity, bravery, and courage of the LGBT+ community more than my old friend Chris Smith.”

He joins former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who praised his “exceptional contribution” and “bravery”, and Lord Smith’s successor as MP for Islington South and Finsbury Emily Thornberry in paying tribute.

Lord Smith became the first UK’s first MP to come out as gay in 1984, declaring at a rally in Rugby, Warwickshire: “Good afternoon, I’m Chris Smith, I’m the Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury and I’m gay.”

The then newly-elected MP received a spontaneous standing ovation of more than a minute.

In the years that followed he was subjected to abuse and homophobia by sections of the press, but continued to fight for the rights of LGBT people and to be visible in the media.

20 years ago, in 1997, he made history as the first out member of the cabinet, serving as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport from 1997 – 2001.

I9 years later Justine Greening followed in his footsteps to become the first out female cabinet minister.

In 2005 Lord Smith made history once more, as the first MP to reveal they were HIV-positive.

Lord Smith remains a patron of HIV charities The Food Chain and The National Long-Term Survivors Group.

Ahead of accepting the PinkNews Award, Lord Smith said: “I’m truly honoured to receive this PinkNews Award; it means a lot. It’s 33 years since I came out as an openly gay MP – and how much has changed since then.

“We’ve made huge legislative and administrative progress over the intervening years.

“But we have to remind ourselves all the time how much still needs to be done: to stop bullying, to change homophobic attitudes, to insist on rights for trans and non-binary people, and to fight injustice and violence and discrimination around the world.

“Our mission, to continue to argue as passionately as we can for real equality, is certainly not over.”

In an emotional dedication, Leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn said: “Nobody symbolises the solidarity, bravery, and courage of the LGBT+ community more than my old friend Chris Smith.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (Image by Chris Jepson)

“Chris and I both entered the House of Commons as neighbouring MPs in 1983. We both bitterly opposed Section 28 which discriminated against people because of their sexuality.

“A year after being elected, Chris came out as being gay and became a powerful champion for equality and against prejudice.

“I’m proud to be presenting him with a lifetime achievement award for his remarkable work in advancing the cause of the LGBT+ community and his relentless campaigning for those with HIV+.

“Thanks to pioneers like Chris, Labour now has 19 openly LGBT MPs and Parliament has a record high of 45 members – the highest of any legislature in the world.

“Never has anyone truly deserved an award for a lifetime full of achievement.”

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair

Former prime minister Tony Blair, who appointed Lord Smith to the cabinet, said: “It seems another world away now, but it is right that we remember the significance of Chris’s decision to become the first openly gay MP and then Cabinet Minister.

“Chris made an exceptional contribution to political and social life through personal bravery and also through his commitment to opening up the great institutions of British cultural life to a more diverse audience with free access to museums and galleries.

“I send my warmest congratulations to Chris on being awarded the great honour of PinkNews’s Lifetime Achievement Award.”

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry

Shadow Foreign Secretary and Lord Smith’s successor as MP for Islington South and Finsbury Emily Thornberry, who presented the award with Jeremy Corbyn, said: “Everyone knows about Chris’s national standing, and what a fantastic role model he has been, but an excellent politician’s work starts with serving their local community, and I learnt just how brilliant Chris had been in that regard when I took over from him in 2005.

“Before the election, Chris went out campaigning with me, and it quickly became apparent just how many people had been helped by Chris, because almost one in three ran out of their homes to say thank you.

“I knew then that if I could be half as good a constituency MP as Chris, then I’d be doing alright.”

benjamin cohen theresa may

PinkNews CEO Benjamin Cohen with Prime Minister Theresa May

PinkNews Chief Executive Benjamin Cohen said: “In 2017, Westminster has more out MPs than any other parliament in the world. The LGBT diversity of our parliament today is possible because of the bravery of Lord Smith 20 years earlier.

“Lord Smith has been an outstanding advocate for LGBT rights throughout his career, never failing to stand up for equality in the Commons, Lords and as a patron of two HIV charities.

“PinkNews stands on the shoulders of giants like Lord Smith. It is thanks to Lord Smith and his peers that LGBT organisation like PinkNews has the space to exist today, and I can think of nobody more deserving on this anniversary than one of the bravest, boldest advocates our movement has had.”

The PinkNews Awards is generously supported by Lloyds Banking Group

Lloyds Banking Group logo