I was a little late to the party where Pride is concerned. This time last year, I was still contemplating the prospect of emerging from the closet in which I had spent the previous 37 years.

My secondary school was an unforgiving sort of place, a hulking, miserable pile of concrete in which anyone uttering the phrase, “I’m attracted to other guys,” would have spent a disproportionate amount of time with their head forcibly inserted into a toilet bowl. I found life there unpleasant enough without the added bonus of daily beatings, so pretending to be someone I wasn’t seemed like the path of least resistance.

By the time I reached adulthood, I didn’t know anything else. I got married, had a son, did what was expected of me. But it was there. It was always there, no matter how hard I tried to push it away. And I did try. I tried really hard.

Up until I turned thirty, I was pretty good at it, though I can see now that this level of self-denial was anything other than ‘good’. I don’t know what happened in my early thirties, but the feelings I had tried so long to suppress began to re-emerge, growing in strength as time progressed. I recall the surreptitious glances at handsome guys in the street, or the times when my wife and I would be in a restaurant and I would find myself gazing a little too intently at the attractive waiter. I remember trying to rationalise such incidents to myself after they had occurred, performing mental gymnastics to convince myself that there was some explanation other than the one I dared not articulate.

When I did eventually get to the stage where I could admit to myself that I was attracted to other men, it took a further three or four months for me to mobilise the courage required to be able to tell my wife. Those weeks were comfortably the most difficult part of the whole process, wanting desperately to be honest with the person who meant the most to me, and being terrified that doing so would cause everything to blow up in my face.

As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. She cried when I told her, but not for herself. Her first thought was for me, for the suffering I had endured in all those years leading up to that point. With her acceptance, her love, her support and encouragement, I was able to let go of any residual guilt and begin to be my true self. Or nearly my true self.

When I first came out, I identified as bisexual, and I think that was the last lie I told myself. ‘Bisexual’ felt like a much less destructive bomb to drop than ‘gay’, and besides, I couldn’t be gay if I was still in love with my wife, right?

Maybe that is the case, and maybe it isn’t, but, with one exception, I have no romantic interest in women whatsoever. I guess it can be difficult for some people to understand how I can identify as gay and still be in love with a woman, but when someone has been a central figure – the central figure – in your life for sixteen years, it’s pretty difficult to just flick a switch and turn those feelings off. If I’d been honest with myself before we met, we probably wouldn’t have ended up together, but I can’t regret a single minute of it, in that sense, at least. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend the majority of my adult life with my best friend, and we’ve somehow managed to produce a beautiful, caring, accepting and open-minded son together. My coming out served only to bring us closer together, and I really can’t imagine my life without her in it. So maybe I’m gay, maybe I’m bi, or maybe I just don’t fit neatly into a particular box. Either way, I’m not particularly precious about labels.

So why am I telling you this, and what on Earth does it have to do with Pride? Why does my particular story matter in the context of this global celebration of the LGBT+ community?

I think the answer to that question is that my story is your story, and your story is mine. Our community is the sum of those tales, each one unique, and each as important as the last. Every triumph and every tragedy we experience helps to shape who we are, to inform where we’re heading. Which is why, to me, Pride is as much about celebrating the diversity within our community as it is promoting tolerance and acceptance from without.

When I first came out, I had this (somewhat naive, as it turns out) vision of the LGBT+ community as a safe, supportive and loving place, where everyone looked out for each other and no one was left behind. And whilst this is undoubtedly the case in a large proportion of instances, there’s an ugly underbelly to our community that it’s incumbent on every single one of us to help eradicate.

In a little under a year, I’ve witnessed and, in some cases, been on the receiving end of, countless instances of intolerance and bigotry towards LGBT people from the very individuals who ought to be acutely aware of the painful, destructive consequences of such actions. Even a cursory perusal of gay dating apps will pull up a worryingly large number of profiles saying such charming things as, “No blacks, no Asians, no fems.” Then you have the ‘straight-acting’ gays who say camp or effeminate gays ‘give the rest of us a bad name’, the lesbians who hate gay men altogether, and the gays and lesbians who say, “Bisexuals don’t really exist, they’re just confused.”

Seeing these ‘friendly fire’ incidents unfold with such unsettling regularity has left me baffled, disillusioned, and often angry. I don’t think I’ll ever get my head around what causes a person who has almost certainly been on the receiving end of judgement and prejudice at some point in their life to visit that same intolerance on others.

And whilst all of this LGB infighting is undoubtedly concerning, I think the biggest issue facing us right now is the tendency for the ’T’ to be figuratively erased from the LGBT+ acronym, as though trans people are somehow a lesser part of our community. Of all the incidents of ‘internal’ LGBT intolerance I have witnessed, transphobic attacks have been by far the most abundant.

The struggle for trans equality in general is probably a decade or two behind where we are with LGB rights, with this lack of acceptance being fuelled by the many shocking instances of transphobia in the right wing media. For the rest of us to be anything less than 100% behind our trans friends at this time is a gross dereliction of duty.

Now more than ever, this part of our community needs us. They need us to stand up and state, unequivocally, that we are with them, that we won’t tolerate any attempts to diminish them, or to erase them. They are us, and we are them. The only difference is time.

So, this Pride month, I ask you to reflect on how you can play your part in making the LGBT+ community more open, more accepting and more inclusive than at any time before. As we continue our inexorable march towards equality, consider the fact that there’s no way we’ll ever have true acceptance from those outside of our community if we don’t make more of an effort to support each other, and to raise up those who so many would seek to knock down.

The comparatively benign atmosphere we currently enjoy in this country is built on foundations laid down by those who have gone before, many of whom paid the ultimate price in our fight against intolerance. It’s our collective responsibility to honour their sacrifice by opposing bigotry in all its forms, by speaking up for those who don’t have a voice, by accepting those who aren’t the same as us and those who are, by being proud of who we are, and by celebrating both the diversity and the commonality that binds us together.

Right-minded people the world over rejoiced today as one of the great injustices of our time was finally rectified and another small step was taken in the inexorable journey towards equality for white males. With the news that Sweden would be dropping their rape investigation into Wikileaks founder and world hide and seek champion Julian Assange, a small, but nonetheless critical, victory was recorded in this most important of struggles. Maybe now we can finally put to bed the risible and inhumane idea that men accused of sexual offences should have to submit to law enforcement authorities for questioning in the country in which the attack is alleged to have taken place.

We witness time and again the absurd situation where men are actually required to answer for their alleged crimes against women (who are nearly always either making it up or were asking for it anyway), such as in the disturbing case of promising college athlete who loves his mum, Brock Turner. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this case, Turner was sentenced to a draconian six months in prison (of which he served three) for the so-called ‘crime’ of inserting his penis into a ‘completely unresponsive’ woman without her consent. Thankfully, the judge in this case used to go to the same school as Turner, and he understood that Turner’s own intoxication meant that there was ‘less moral culpability’. Without this compassionate and enlightened arbiter of the law understanding the suffering that had been visited upon Mr Turner by his own actions, this excellent young swimmer could have been looking at up to 14 years in prison. It’s reassuring that, in this isolated case at least, privileged white males are looking out for each other.

Returning to the Assange case, it seems apparent to all but the laughably uninformed that it was much ado about nothing anyway. I mean, no one really likes fiddling around with condoms, and even fewer people enjoy the reduced sensitivity they impose upon their unfortunate user, so it’s unreasonably vindictive of any woman to insist that a gentleman should wear one against his will. And as regards the allegation that Assange began having sex with one of his accusers without her consent the morning after a consensual encounter, it’s a well-established legal principle that penises are like vampires – if you’ve admitted one on a prior occasion, it may subsequently enter without further invitation whenever it feels like it. It’s baffling, therefore, how the Swedish prosecutors were able to muster the temerity to issue an arrest warrant for Mr Assange in the first place, but even more so when you take into account the fact that he has always maintained his innocence. We have surely descended to the bottom of the pit of lefty, feminist bullshit when ‘I didn’t do it’ is seen as insufficient evidence that a man’s accusers are either mistaken or acting maliciously.

Mercifully, after the UK Supreme Court ruled that Mr Assange should be extradited to Sweden to answer the allegations, he was able to enter the Ecuadorian embassy and claim asylum, which, as we all know, is the hallmark of innocent men everywhere. I once spent a very pleasant summer there myself after my 8th grade teacher made the quite erroneous assumption that it was I who had scrawled ‘Mrs Milner is a hideous twat’ on the cafeteria wall. My innocence pales into insignificance compared to Mr Assange’s, however, who has now spent around five years holed up in the same house in Central London. This, in itself, seems to have been sufficient to cause the Swedish prosecutors to abandon the case, which shows that if you’re patient enough, justice will always prevail.

Sadly though, it seems as though the not at all rapey Mr Assange isn’t quite in the clear yet. With the Metropolitan Police still saying that they will arrest him (for the lesser charge of failing to surrender to a court) if he steps outside of the embassy, and the situation regarding whether the US has submitted an extradition request remaining as clear as a 3am Donald Trump tweet, it seems as though this tireless campaigner for truth, justice and the rights of men to avoid answering for crimes of sexual violence, is set to continue his honourable crusade.

Indeed, in an angry tweet sent a just few minutes after news of today’s developments was reported, Mr Assange told us how he ‘does not forgive or forget’ the hardship he has endured in the notoriously punishing and squalid Ecuadorian embassy. Our hero’s sacrifice serves as a sobering reminder to men across the globe that spiteful lesbian feminists and their dishonest, conniving cheerleaders will stop at nothing to perpetuate the inherently flawed notion that women should have ownership of their own bodies, safe from the unwanted advances of perfectly innocent sexual predators.

With General Election season now in full swing, the leaders of all the major parties and UKIP are trying to convince a weary electorate that it’s worth dragging their democracy-fatigued carcasses down to their local primary school on 8 June to cast yet another vote in what now appears to be an endless procession of opportunities to somehow make things even worse than they were before. Even as the nation let out a collective ‘you’re fucking kidding me’ when Theresa May went back on her numerous promises not to call an election before 2020, the party spin machines were already whirring into life.

May warned us of the ‘chaos’ that would ensue in the event of an SNP/Labour/Lib Dem coalition, seemingly blissfully unaware of the fact that her party’s government has done for political stability what Eric Pickles has done for restraint at an ‘All You Can Eat’ buffet. Jeremy Corbyn told us that the election definitely isn’t about Brexit, thereby demonstrating the incisive political acumen for which he is so rightly known. I’m not sure what Paul Nuttall has said in the early stages of his campaign, but it was probably something about how the ‘darkies’ were the sole obstacle preventing him from winning the 2017 series of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’.

This leaves Tim Farron, and unfortunately for him and his party, his message seems to be being lost amidst persistent questions relating to his views on homosexuality, or more specifically, gay sex. Now, before I go any further, I wish to make it clear that Farron’s voting record on LGBT rights is beyond reproach. He’s consistently voted in favour of gay marriage and is on record as saying that he doesn’t view homosexuality in itself as being intrinsically wrong. What he has failed to do on numerous occasions, however, is to state whether or not he thinks sexual activity between two men is a sin.

His latest failure to answer this rather simple question was on ITV’s ‘Peston on Sunday’ programme this morning. Instead of a straight answer that would have put this issue to bed immediately and forever, he exhorted Peston to ‘move on’, saying how wearisome this question was becoming and how much of a distraction it was from the real issues. He seemed to be (deliberately) missing the point that six simple words would put an end to this line of questioning once and for all:

Gay sex is not a sin.

In 2017, that shouldn’t be a difficult thing for someone who describes themselves as ‘liberal’ to say. In fact, the only reason I can think of for a person not to say such a thing is if they believed the opposite to be true. But why does this matter, if his voting record is so overtly pro-LGBT? Shouldn’t he be allowed to think what he wants to think in private provided that it doesn’t negatively affect his party’s policies? I accept that line of reasoning to some extent, and I would definitely vote for a Lib Dem candidate (or Farron personally) over a Conservative. That said, I still think his ‘private’ beliefs are important for a number of reasons.

To begin with, I think it’s vital for us to know the views of any politician on issues such as these, because they tell us about who they are as people. The number of times I’ve called out homophobia only to be told that people are ‘entitled to their opinions’ are too numerous to count, and yet, I don’t think any reasonable person would make the same argument about racism. If Mr Farron consistently voted in favour of equality for black people, but was then recorded privately saying, “They’re good at running and jumping, but I wouldn’t want one of them operating on me,” would anyone think this wasn’t utterly repugnant? What is it that makes it acceptable for people to hold homophobic views in private, but not racist views?

Part of this double standard seems to be related to the stubborn vein of homophobia that still runs through modern society – LGBT people are all too frequently beaten and abused, the idea of homosexuality as a ‘lifestyle choice’ still persists and, even though marriage equality laws were eventually passed, many opposed them at the time and still do to this day. The other side of this homophobic apologism, though, seems to be rooted in the special status granted to religious views above all others. The argument goes that a person’s religious views are sacred and should not be questioned in the same way as you might question, for example, their political views. We should ‘respect’ a person’s religion, regardless of the unpleasant conclusions it leads them to.

I have two problems with this line of thought. My primary objection is that I believe that all ideas should be subject to the same level of scrutiny, regardless of the inspiration for those ideas. No one really bats an eyelid if we ridicule someone for believing that the Earth is flat, yet the belief that the Earth is less than ten thousand years old must be respected because it says so in a book that was written before the invention of paper. Both positions have been demonstrated to be unequivocally false by scientific observation, so why is one more deserving of respect than the other?

The other issue I have with religion as an excuse for homophobia is that most religious homophobes (and religious people in general) are, understandably for the most part, very selective about which parts of their holy books they ought to follow. If Mr Farron was asked whether slavery was acceptable, or whether a woman ought to be stoned to death for being raped, his answer would be an immediate, “No, of course not.” Yet when he’s asked repeatedly whether it’s wrong for gay men to have sex, he prevaricates, he obfuscates, he equivocates. Anything to avoid a straight, “No, it’s not a sin.”

This leads me to the inescapable conclusion that he’s using the Bible to excuse a belief that is his own. If he can accept that most of the other seventy-six prohibitions in Leviticus may be disregarded, what is it about ‘a man lying with another man as with a woman’ that is so different? And if we follow Farron’s views to their logical conclusion, we’d have the ridiculous situation where gay people may be attracted to one another, may even get married, but shouldn’t make love to one another for fear of upsetting Yahweh. The idea that what we do in the comfort of our own bedrooms is so inherently abhorrent that the supreme creator of the universe is personally offended by it is a pretty difficult notion to accept.

And this is the crux of the matter. Do Farron’s private views matter? To most of us within the LGBT community, I’d suggest that they matter a great deal. Of course the issue isn’t as pressing as the Tories’ dismantling of the NHS, or Theresa May’s blinkered determination to dash us against the rocks of an ideologically-driven hard Brexit, but the issue of whether it’s considered sinful for us to act on the feelings with which we were born still matters to us.

In spite of the many welcome steps forward in LGBT rights of late, being gay still means that we will almost certainly be told at some stage in our lives that who we are is wrong, disgusting, an abomination. Sure, society is steadily moving on, and it’s easier to be gay now than at any time in the past (in this country, at least). But we still face judgement, and in some cases outright hostility, on an almost daily basis. So, yes, it matters.

When you’ve grown up feeling that you’re somehow ‘other’ or ‘less than’, it matters. When people spit epithets like ‘shirt-lifter’ and ‘shit-stabber’ at you through mouths contorted with hate, it matters. When others like you are killing themselves at a disproportionately high rate because they think being dead is better than being who they are, it matters. Of course, Mr Farron isn’t directly responsible for any of this, but the idea that gay sex is in some way different from straight (i.e. ’normal’) sex certainly contributes to an environment where such negativity may thrive. And is it really too much to expect that the a leader of a major UK political party in 2017 should be able to clearly state that the physical manifestation of our sexuality isn’t an affront to his chosen deity?

It was with a rejuvenating sense of optimism and relief that I listened to Theresa May’s Easter message this morning, an address that was not only inspiring and uplifting, but also educational.

You see, up until this point, I had wrongly assumed that we were a nation divided. On one side, I saw a group of people who were deeply concerned about the social and economic impacts of the electorate’s short-sighted and ideologically-driven decision to tear us away from the organisation that has provided peace and stability since the end of the second world war; on the other, those who wished the bitter Remoaners would just get over the fact that they lost and shut up whinging about it. Imagine how comforting it was, therefore, to hear that I was labouring under the weightiest of misapprehensions.

According to Mrs May, ‘there is a sense that the people are coming together and uniting behind the opportunities that lie ahead’. She fails to describe exactly what these opportunities are, but in her defence, she has only had around ten months since she decided that Brexit wasn’t a terrible idea after all to think of something. If I had to guess though, I’d say they were closely related to passport colour and inefficient lightbulb usage. Either way, it’s reassuring to know that I’d imagined the bitter divide on the issue of Brexit, and that all the silly Scottish independence nonsense was probably just an artefact of a dodgy scone served in the kind of quaint little tea room that will adorn every street corner right after we’re free of all the destructive EU meddling.

Mrs May goes on to describe how she is a vicar’s daughter. Learning this was, in itself, a massive relief because up until this morning, we literally knew nothing about her childhood due to her persistent failure to say ‘I am a vicar’s daughter’ fourteen times a week since she took office. It’s good that she has finally filled in the blanks in this regard. She continues by telling us that her upbringing instilled in her the ‘Christian values’ of ‘compassion, community, citizenship’. It is presumably this sense of compassion that informed her decision to introduce welfare cuts that, according to the IFS, will push nearly a million more children into poverty. Because, if there’s one thing we know from The Bible, it’s that Jesus hated nothing more than children having enough to eat.

The greatest sense of relief that I derived from Mrs May’s speech, however, came with the knowledge that the real victims in our society, the downtrodden members of our Christian community, will no longer have to cower in fear at the very thought of practicing their faith openly. After the shameful events of last week when Cadbury and the National Trust tried to ‘airbrush faith out of Easter’ by only including the word ‘Easter’ in massive letters on their advertising material several times, it was fortifying to know that the Prime Minister has drawn a line in the sand. Up until now, Christians in our country have faced an arduous uphill journey to make their voices heard by only having 26 of their unelected bishops in the House of Lords and having to cope with the obvious disadvantage of only one third of schools in the entire country being faith schools. Imagine how much more successful their fight against women’s reproductive rights and LGBT equality would have been without these inequitable encumbrances.

So thank you, Mrs May, for taking the time to address some of my laughable misconceptions about the state of our country, and for your advocacy on one of the most pressing issues of our time. I’m sure the poor, the disabled, the disadvantaged, the mentally ill and the socially excluded will rest just a little easier this Easter knowing that you chose this time to speak out on behalf of one of the most privileged groups in this, or any other, society.

“I also understand the Pope is a Catholic!”

Depressingly, this seems to be considered by many to be the most appropriate response to a gay person coming out. No ‘well done for having the courage’ or ‘I hope you feel happier now this is in the open’, just plain old, ‘tell us something we don’t know’.

Now, I don’t pretend to understand every LGBT person’s individual ‘coming out’ journey but I do know that for many, myself included, it can be a long, difficult, and sometimes painful process. The nights laid awake wondering how your friends, family and colleagues will react, the self doubt, the panic of not knowing whether the revelation will cause your life as you know it to blow up in your face. I’m sure for some people, coming out is the easiest, most natural thing in the world, but for others, it’s the single biggest step they’ll ever take. It’s a little soul-destroying, therefore, to see this momentous (at the least for the person taking it) step reduced to, “It was hardly a secret, was it?”

That’s why it’s always a little disappointing when a celebrity that people have decided ‘looks gay’ comes out, and social media is suddenly awash with commentators quick to point out how they’ve always known, and that it was blindly obvious all along.

That’s exactly what happened this week when Barry Manilow came out at the age of 73 after being in a relationship with the same man for nearly 40 years. Whilst Manilow was trending on Twitter, I’d estimate that more than half the tweets about the news were of the self-congratulatory ‘and I suppose bears shit in the woods’ variety. Now in Manilow’s case, matters are complicated somewhat by the fact that he married his partner three years ago in what was supposed to be a secret ceremony. That nasty rags like the Daily Mail invaded Manilow’s privacy to report the news a year later does mean that many people probably did know, but there’s also a pretty strong case for saying that it’s up to him to decide when he wants to discuss such private matters, and not some unscrupulous ‘journalist’ chasing a scoop.

I should point out that, in the vast majority of cases, there was no outright malice involved in the comments, but also little thought as to how they might affect others who might be thinking of coming out. Having been in that situation myself, much of what was said to me in the days afterwards was a bit of a blur. I do remember that, in general, most people were kind, supportive and loving, but the comments I remember most clearly are the ones that were not quite so positive – including the various sneery observations of those who ‘knew all along’. If I was thinking of coming out now, I’d be much more emboldened to do so by seeing others who have taken this step being received warmly and positively.

So next time an ‘obviously gay’ person comes out, you might like to consider whether you want your comment to be the one that helps someone else summon up the courage to join them, or the one that they’ll remember for all the wrong reasons.