LIFE for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and other (LGBTQ+) community has changed beyond all recognition in the last few decades.

Thankfully the changes have largely been positive, but there is still a long way to go, according to members of the LGBTQ+ community in Essex.

This year celebrates 40 years since the community claimed and created the rainbow flag as an iconic emblem and sign of pride.

The flag is a symbol of the LGBTQ+ community, originally devised by San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker, and the design has undergone several revisions since its debut in 1978.

The colours symbolise life (red), healing (orange), sunlight (yellow), nature (green), harmony and peace (blue), and spirit (purple or violet).

Recently the community also celebrated 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality, a huge milestone for anyone within the community or anyone who has links to it.

However those in the LGBTQ+ community say there’s still plenty of work to be done to increase the acceptance of people who identify as LGBTQ+.

Garry Ormes, 43, chairman of Essex Pride, said that changes in attitudes have meant its much easier for people to be open and be themself.

He said: “At times it doesn’t always feel like there is complete equality, and sadly homophobia does still happen, but generally the LGBT+ community have the freedoms that some countries around the world just don’t have.

“I came out as gay in my late teens.

“I was accepted by family and friends.

“It’s always a bit of a journey of acceptance, firstly discovering about your own sexuality and then finding the confidence to tell others.”

He said that it can be tough for some, but there are organisations that can help and give advice and support.

He said there are still people in the UK who are victims of hate crime and homophobia, so although there is a lot of support for LGBTQ+ people, these attacks are still happening today.

David Burton-Sampson, Labour councillor for St Martin’s in Basildon, said that ethnicity and religion can also make it more complicated when being gay.

He said: “I am a big advocate for helping to increase and spread awareness that it’s OK to be gay.

“I would not feel comfortable walking in Basildon Town Council holding my partner’s hand but would in other areas such as Brighton.

“This is shame as there’s meant to be a gay community in Basildon.”

Representatives from support groups for members of the community called for more education about acceptance.

Barry Richardson, 65, from the Gay Essex Men’s Support Group, said times have changed very much.

He said: “Life as a gay man is a lot better but there is still a lot of work to be done.

“I would like to see groups go into schools and teach children from a young age that it’s OK to be gay.

“We definitely need more awareness that it’s OK to be gay.

“When I was growing up there was no online dating or anything like that, so it’s much easier now.”