The United Kingdom has changed since this newspaper published its first Pink List in 2000. The age of consent for gay men was equalised a few months later. Civil partnerships conferring the same rights as marriage have been held since 2005. Discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in providing goods and services was banned in 2007. It was one of the great achievements of New Labour in government that it helped Britain become a more tolerant, fairer and more open society.
Public opinion has moved, slowly but surely. As we report today, a ComRes poll for The Independent on Sunday now finds that 51 per cent of people favour same-sex marriage. We hope that our Pink List has made some small contribution to that shift in attitudes. It was never supposed to be a rival to the Nobel prizes. Its purpose was always to entertain, to inform and to celebrate the contribution to national life made by gay and lesbian citizens. Thus to inspire confidence and pride among gay people, and to break down the barriers of prejudice.
It is tempting to think that the important battles of legal rights have been won (leaving only a debate about the word "marriage"), and that discrimination is dying out. Well, the first may be true, but the second part of the struggle has a long way to go.
As we report today, physical attacks on gay people appear to be rising. It is possible that the increase in the numbers is, as the police suggest, at least partly the result of better reporting and recording of homophobic attacks. Yet some research suggests that three in four victims are still too afraid to report crimes that may be motivated by prejudice against homosexuals. It ought to be clear that it will be a long time before the campaign for gay equality can pack up its tents and go home.
That is why we are proud to carry on with the Pink List, while making changes to take account of the progress that has been made. This year, we opened up the compilation of the List by inviting nominations from our readers – more than 1,500 were received – and by asking a larger and more representative panel of judges to make the decisions. For the first time, too, we have explicitly included bisexual and transgender people in the list, in the hope of reinforcing more inclusive definitions of sexual orientation.
We hope, therefore, that the Pink List, in its frivolity and in its seriousness, still has some good to achieve. Every year, people tell us that it has helped them with the most difficult part of coming out – persuading their family that it is possible to be out and not shunned by others. Clearly, some people regard their private life as private, and that should be absolutely respected. Equally, everyone ought to feel confident that they could come out if they want.
Gareth Thomas, the rugby player who was No 1 on the list last year and who was one of the judges this year, wrote movingly last week of its effect on him. "The first time I saw the Pink List was about two years before I came out. I remember that Clare Balding was on it, and she was a big name in sports. To me that was a real 'wow' moment: looking through the list and seeing people in different jobs and walks of life who had been able to be themselves and be successful."
As he pointed out, out gay and lesbian sportspeople are still rare. Thus we extend a special welcome to these newcomers to this year's List: Steven Davies, a cricketer, Anton Hysen, a footballer, and Nigel Owens, a rugby referee. And we congratulate all 101 people singled out by our judges.
Above all, we congratulate Elly Barnes, the teacher who is top of this year's list. Her work not only with pupils but with other teachers must be one of the best ways to accelerate the change in social attitudes. As a teacher, she has "changed the lives" of many of her pupils, some of whom ask her questions, such as, "Miss, are you trying to turn us gay?" But as a teacher of teachers, she has touched the lives of so many more. As Ms Barnes says: "It's ignorance that causes homophobia – once educated, attitudes change. Sometimes it's a deep-rooted hatred which takes a long time to change. The best way is to show positive role models."
We hope that young gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in every walk of life see the role models on the list and that it has the same effect on them as it had on Gareth Thomas a few years ago: "It was inspirational," he wrote, "to see that these people who did not need to pretend could thrive in their chosen field."