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Folkestone: Couple who called mayor's attendance at gay pride parade 'shameful' are dubbed 'bigots'

By Matt Leclere

A mayor has hit back at “bigots” who condemned his support for his town’s first gay pride march.

Cllr Roger West was one of hundreds to show solidarity for the LGBT community at the inaugural Folkestone Pride on August 19.

The parade was attended by 800 people as the town was turned into a colourful festival celebrating and promoting equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents.

Cllr Roger West (back row second from right) called the couple bigots and said their views could not be accepted

Cllr Roger West (back row second from right) called the couple bigots and said their views could not be accepted

Cllr West, who was elected to the position for a second term in May, received a letter from a couple in Cheriton.

The author and his wife said they would not be voting for the Conservative councillor again.

Although the letter was signed it did not contain the printed names of the senders nor their full address.

The letter describes how he and his wife “were sorry to see” Cllr West photographed at the “sick and sad event” celebrating the “shameful, sordid and perverted behaviour of those who promote their disease ridden lifestyle”.

Cllr West has now hit out at the views of the two residents.

He told KentOnline's sister paper, the Folkestone & Hythe Express: “It’s just unbelievable that people in this day and age think this way and can be that bigoted.

“I just think it’s obviously two people who are very bigoted. It’s definitely homophobic. I’ve been getting quite a lot of reaction on it.

“Everything these people say about homosexuals and gay people and everything that’s about touching children is rubbish. We can’t accept this.”

Hundreds of people packed Folkestone town centre for the Pride parade earlier this month

Hundreds of people packed Folkestone town centre for the Pride parade earlier this month

He added that as mayor he wanted to support all events in the town and felt it was important as mayor to do so and did not care about losing the votes of the two angry constituents.

Folkestone has one of the largest LGBT communities in the south east.

Organiser Chani Sanger said she felt it was the right time for Folkestone to have its own Pride parade and wants it become the first of many after there was no trouble experienced on the day.

She said: "On the whole I’m not disappointed at all. We knew that someone somewhere would have negative feelings towards the event and so far, for homophobic reasons, these have been the only people to voice that opinion.

“They can write to Roger and say that LGBT people are promoting a sordid, evil affair, or whatever the wording was, but all I saw on the day was love and colour.

“I saw people come out to support our LGBT community, I saw young and old, rich and poor. I saw people smiling all day, even in the light rain we had.

“I think it’s easy to let the backwards opinions of a few small minded people get you down but honestly I’m on cloud nine.

“Folkestone is a brilliant town with such a rich history, and diverse residents not only in terms of culture but in terms of interests, skills and opinions.

“As I’ve said before, pride was once a protest and in many countries it still needs to be.

“But in Folkestone it was a day to celebrate being LGBT, a day to celebrate 50 since homosexuality was decriminalised and a day to march and parade and be free for those who don’t have the same rights.”

Cllr West added: “Congratulations to young Chani for organising the event. It was the first mayoral event when I didn’t have a collar and tie and I had a T-shirt they did specially for me. I thought the day went very well.”

But this latest episode shows there are some who will remain vociferous in their opposition even if they do not print their name or address.

It is 50 years since homosexuality was decriminalised for men in England and Wales.
The law was different for women, for whom it was never illegal to be in a relationship but marriage between same gender couples was legalised in 2014.

The first Pride festival was held in London in 1972 and celebrated the gay community and support for equal rights.

It was attended by 2,000 people but is now marked by one million and events have spread to towns and cities all around the world.

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