LESBIAN, gay, bisexual and transgender issues were on the agenda at a hustings event held in Darlington tonight (Friday, April 10).

Parliamentary candidates met at the Voodoo Cafe on Skinnergate to talk about matters affecting the gay community, although much of the discussion focused on the NHS and mental health provision.

Chair of the meeting Emma Roebuck, chief executive of Gay Advice Darlington and Durham, highlighted the shocking statistic that 46 per cent of LGBT people under the age of 25 had experienced suicide ideation.

This compares to four per cent of heterosexuals in that age group.

Mike Cherrington, of the Green Party, drew on his three decades’ experience working in mental health to illustrate his empathy with the problems facing LGBT people.

He said that under the Conservative Government his case load had doubled, adding: “I deal with people every day contemplating suicide because they can’t afford to live.

“We are one of the richest countries in the world and I don’t think that it is good enough that we don’t look after people – particularly vulnerable people.”

Conservative candidate Peter Cuthbertson pointed out that his party had invested £15bn in the NHS but that did not head off stinging criticism of the Tories' NHS policy from the rest of the panel.

Alan Docherty, of the Trade Unions and Socialist Coalition, said the Conservatives had also demanded £20bn in NHS efficiency savings, representing, he said, an actual cut of £5bn to the health service.

Labour’s Jenny Chapman, who suggested that UKIP should be ‘empty chaired’ if their candidate failed to turn up to the next Darlington hustings event, pledged that she would make more effort to engage with the town’s LGBT community if she was re-elected.

This was in response to a benefits issue raised by an audience member who claimed that her sexuality had been used as a weapon against her by the Department for Work and Pensions.

Anne-Marie Curry, for the Liberal Democrats, pointed out that her party had fought hard for the legalisation of gay marriage and had matters of social equality at its heart.

She said: “I will never turn my back on any of you because I believe that you should have a fair chance in life to be the person you want to be.”

The next event in Darlington bringing candidates together to debate will be held at Polam Hall School on April 20 from 7pm with arts and culture as the theme.