Welsh MP battered unconscious for being gay set for his first Belfast Pride
A Conservative MP who was brutally beaten unconscious by three men for being gay has said he can't wait to take part in today's Pride march during his first visit to Belfast.
LGBT+ Conservatives patron Stuart Andrew, a passionate campaigner for equal marriage, will be joined by members of the Northern Ireland Conservative Party at today's high-profile event in the city centre.
The 45-year-old LGBT+ rights advocate said he felt it was important to stand tall alongside thousands of others from all walks of life who want to celebrate their diversity.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph ahead of his first trip here, Mr Andrew recalled the horrific attack he endured 20 years ago because of his sexuality.
"I'd gone back to the Isle of Anglesey in Wales, where I grew up, for a family get-together and we'd all gone out to the pub that particular evening," he said.
"I left earlier than the rest of my family and as I was walking home I became aware that I was being followed by three men.
"They started shouting out the words 'queer' and then 'you Tory queer' and although I tried to ignore the abuse I didn't escape from them in time."
Mr Andrew has been with his 46-year-old partner Robin Rogers for 17 years, although they "haven't quite got round to getting married". He recalled the pain and horror of being attacked by angry strangers.
"The three of them surrounded me, punching me on the nose and my head - the blows knocked me unconscious," he said. "The next thing I remember is waking up inside my parents' house with the rest of the family."
The Pudsey MP also told how his father Jim, now aged 72, sustained injures after he gave chase to his son's assailants following the barbaric attack.
"He saw what was happening when he was making his way home and he ran after them," added Stuart.
"One of the men hid round a corner and hit him in the face with a brick. He fractured his skull. It was horrendous.
"The police were called, but we didn't press charges. I regret that now, but it was a very different time. Back then, I just wanted to move on and draw a line under the whole episode."
"As a 25-year-old man the dreadful experience left me very shaken and very nervous, but now I think what happened has made me stronger because I'm not going to be bullied into hiding who I am."
Stuart, who has three younger brothers, said he told his 70-year-old mum Maureen that he was gay when he was 18. It took him another year to break the news to his dad, who was "absolutely brilliant" about it.
"My family have been superb; they're all very supportive of me and who I am," Stuart continued.
The former Labour politician said it was important to have voted for equal marriage in England and Wales in 2013 and echoed Prime Minister Theresa May's recent call that equal marriage should be made legal in Northern Ireland.
He also said that his job "was to push home the importance of equality" - not just when it comes to the DUP, but "people of all political persuasions who are not in favour of it".
"I grew up in a very traditional community a long way from any big cities and I don't remember knowing any gay people when I lived in Anglesey," he added.
"I understand that fear of being isolated, of not being accepted, and the fear of losing the people who are closest to you, whether that's family members or good friends."
Mr Andrew welcomed the "symbolic move" by Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire to fly a rainbow Pride flag at Stormont House yesterday to mark today's festival.
"It's a great gesture; I think that it's appreciated by LGBT people all over the country when the Pride flag is flown on a government building - and in Northern Ireland it's incredibly special," the MP said.
Uniformed police officers will take part in Belfast's Gay Pride parade for the first time today in an attempt to stamp out hate crime.
The unprecedented move comes amid increased scrutiny from Britain on LGBT issues here following the DUP's deal with the Conservatives.