A leading activist on transgender issues and LGBT rights who is bidding to become the first ever transgender member of Parliament has been speaking to Petroc students and staff about her experiences.

Helen Belcher, who is the prospective parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats for Chippenham, held a series of talks at the college’s Sticklepath campus in Barnstaple today (Monday, February 25), as part of LGBT History Month.

The month aims to remember the things people in the LGBT community have gone through for their sexuality, both in the UK and abroad.

Helen was visiting at the invitation of Petroc governor David Chalmers, who is at the forefront of raising awareness of LGBT issues locally.

She told the Gazette: “I have been speaking a little bit about stereotypes and the importance of being you, not letting labels define you – because it’s very easy, particularly for the media, to get fixated on particular aspects.

“We have all got different aspects and can define ourselves in 100 different ways; we are not defined by one thing.”

She said in discussions with David he had talked about people in North Devon ‘feeling more empowered’ to be critical of LGBT people.

She added: “I don’t know what the statistics are for Devon but certainly homophobic and transphobic hate crimes are significantly up generally on what they were two or three years ago.

“David said people are still afraid to be open about their sexuality and there is still a very great need for support groups, Pride events and for more visibility.”

Helen transitioned as a woman 15 years ago and says she is still happily married, with two grown up children.

She is chair of national LGBT charity Consortium, which works with other LGBT groups across the country and gives them support. She is also a member of Stonewalls Trans Advisory Group.

Helen polled more than 25 per cent of the vote in the 2017 General election for Chippenham and has been re-selected by the party to stand again next time.

North Devon Sunrise hosts a Come Out LGBT Social & Support Group on the first Saturday of every month (next this Saturday, March 2) from 11am-1pm at its offices in castle Street, Barnstaple. Anyone who wants to find out more can email nds.comeout@gmail.com or call 01271 328915.

Anyone seeking help and support can also call the Intercom Trust on 0800 612 3010.