01/02/2016 03:16 GMT | Updated 31/01/2017 05:12 GMT

We've Come Far at Home, But the Global Fight for the Right to Love the One You Love Continues

This February The Huffington Post UK is running Making Modern Love, a fortnight-long focus on what love means to Britons in the 21st Century. Built on the three themes of finding love, building love and losing love, HuffPost will feature human stories that explore exactly what it is to be in love in modern times

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The year was 1986 and, as a 36-year-old actor, I was about to embark on an acting role that would change my life. And, though I did not know it at the time, the lives of others.

The role was Colin Russell in BBC TV's EastEnders. Colin was an ordinary man, who just happened to be gay and have a young, working class boyfriend. The introduction of the character into the popular 'family' show caused political and 'moral' outrage. There were questions raised in Parliament and the tabloid newspapers went berserk, especially when Colin and Barry shared an on-screen kiss. 'EastBenders, 'FILTH', 'Get This Off Our TVs' they screamed, but the BBC would not back down.

It must be remembered that the United Kingdom was then a very different place. The HIV/AIDS epidemic that had crossed the Atlantic was dubbed the 'gay plague', our pubs and our clubs were raided by policemen, in one instance wearing pink marigold gloves. The tabloids perpetuated the myth that you could 'catch AIDS' by sitting next to a gay man or by using a glass or cup that hadn't been washed properly. There was a witch hunt of all things gay. And so when it was discovered that same-sex partners had been discussed in sex lessons (that too was a myth) the tabloids and right wing politicians demanded action from Mrs. Thatcher's government. And they got it when Section 28 was introduced. It was the first anti-homosexual law in a hundred years. Its intention to ban the so-called and undefined 'promotion of homosexuality' was an attempt to put us, and our relationships, into our third-rate place and drive us underground.

It actually became the start of the modern fight back for LGB equality. And along with others, using my EastEnders notoriety, I helped lead the campaign against Section 28. People piled out of the closets, took to the streets and the airwaves and a few of us founded the rights group Stonewall, with me as founding chair.

Slowly, carefully, and often painfully, we put the arguments for equality, through the media, the political structures and through the Courts of the land and onto the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The vitriol, the hate speech, the defamation and misrepresentation continued. That it also came unashamedly from religious quarters too, largely the Christian faiths, was as shocking as it was predictable.

Yet persevere we did and when a Labour government was elected in 1997 the process of change and liberation actually began. In less than thirteen years equality was nearly achieved. Same-sex marriage would come later, and on pensions there is still inequality.

But the fight to love and be loved consensually by the person you wish actually began generations before. Generations of women and men who had had the courage to stand out from the crowd, to raise their voices, often giving a voice to the voiceless. Some paid for it with their liberty, others paid for it with their lives.

And even today as we forget the fights for equality and enjoy it's liberties we fail to recognise that there is still much to do.

In Northern Ireland same-sex couples cannot enter into marriage and declare 'I do'. There is still much religion-inspired discrimination, and only recently the Anglican Communion sanctioned the US Episcopalian Church for its recognition of same-sex marriage.

Across the British Commonwealth 40 of the 53 countries still enact colonial laws which criminalise consensual same-sex relations between adults. In some there is an appetite to harshen those laws, and often religious leaders encourage it or say nothing. Overall, homosexuality is still illegal in 78 jurisdictions - over half of the globe.

In parts of my beloved EU we still do not have equality, simply based on whom we choose to love or be loved by, consensually.

So as you contemplate that St. Valentine's celebration this month, make sure you take it in a country where your rights are recognised and protected - including your family and spousal rights. Because what happens to other citizens in their countries will happen to you as soon as you land there. If you wouldn't want it to happen to you, don't let it happen to someone else.

The depiction of LGBT lives on our screens has changed dramatically, and I am proud to have helped change that, but the reality can be very, very different.

Lord Michael Cashman is a Labour peer, actor and former MEP