'We need to stick together' - Ipswich MP talks pride and politics at Suffolk march
PUBLISHED: 17:22 22 June 2019 | UPDATED: 11:36 25 June 2019
The MP for Ipswich has shared his experience of standing for office as an openly gay man - amid colourful celebrations of all things LGBTQ+ at Suffolk's first pride march in five years.
Sandy Martin, who has been a Labour MP since 2017, said being open and honest about his sexuality has become "less of an issue" since he first stood for office in 1990.
Speaking at Suffolk's first pride march in five years, Mr Martin said being gay wasn't a "massive issue" during his first campaign, but society has certainly become more tolerant over time.
"When I was growing up it was illegal to be gay - you could be put in prison, and people were," he said.
"All of that has changed over the years. I think we're in a very good place in this country, but we can't be complacent.
"If you look at what's happened in places like Hungary, in Russia and in Turkey, there are an awful lot of countries where people are going backwards.
"So we need to make sure that we all stick together - people who are gay, people who are straight, people who are black and people who are white, women and men, disabled, able-bodied - we all need to be able to say: 'We are who we are, we are proud of who we are.'"
When asked about how circumstances have changed for LGBTQ+ people in politics, Mr Martin said: "The first time I stood for election anywhere was in north Suffolk, and that was in about 1990. It wasn't a massive issue then. But it's become less of an issue now - it's really not an issue.
"We are, as a society, becoming far more aware of everybody's rights. Let's preserve that - let's not be complacent, let's defend it.
"Suffolk can be proud of this event here today."
Mr Martin, who first attended a pride march in 1979, said today's event had been "fantastic", adding: "It is just absolutely an expression of how everyone in Ipswich is welcome.
"I was a little bit worried whether or not we'd be able to get enough people to come to the first one, but you couldn't have more people than this.
"I want it to happen every year. Let's do this once a year."
When asked what more needs to be done to promote LGBTQ+ rights, he said: "One of the most important areas is in education in schools, because the one thing that really worries me is that there are still young people in schools who are not quite sure about whether or not they will be able to be open about who they are.
"We need to make sure that we get through to young people that they should and can be confident about their own sexuality."
Mr Martin's thoughts were echoed by Rev Andrew Dotchin, vicar of Felixstowe Town and one of the organisers of the march.
"It's good to have it back at the Waterfront," he said.
"The biggest problem we've had with Suffolk Pride is funding. Austerity has hit everything in the community. But more funding this year excited people - more support from local authorities, trade unions, police and fire brigades, has been wonderful. It's been fantastic.
"I reckon there is at least twice as many people as the last time we were here."
He added: "When the church does not show itself to be welcome and opening, it actually does not do its job at all.
"If you can't be open to everybody, you're not open to anybody. If you are going to put out a message that says: 'God is love', you can't add 'but' to it."
The parade started outside Dance East and finished back at the Waterfront outside the Cult Cafe, with a host of entertainment on stage, plus food, drink and other festivities.