THE gay community has rallied round building society Nationwide after it faced criticism over its association with a national Bigot of the Year award.

The company, based in Swindon, is set to be challenged over its association with the controversial award at its AGM on Thursday.

Stephen Green, national director of Christian Voice, was shortlisted for the award last November and is upset that Nationwide took the decision to sponsor the event.

The Stonewall Awards is an annual event to honour people who have had a positive or negative impact on the lives of British Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender people.

Nationwide decided to sponsor Stonewall’s Sixth Annual Award in 2011 as part of the company’s pledge to support diversity in the workplace.

One of the awards is the Bigot of the Year, given to the figure to most notably have “gone out of their way to harm, hurt or snub lesbian, gay and bisexual people in the last year”.

Nationwide has been a crucial sponsor for Swindon and Wiltshire Pride for the last three years.

Fiona Walton-Smith, vice chairman of Swindon and Wiltshire Pride, said: “As a very big local employer it is extremely important for us to have them as a main sponsor.

“They help to provide local promotion of the event and the opportunity to get local volunteers.

“It is key to have them as a sponsor. Without them it would be incredibly difficult for us to put on the event, but we would always find a way. The constant support they provide gives us the security to be able to plan for the next year as well.Without their support, we could not continue.”

Mr Green, a Nationwide member, plans to put a question at the AGM, to be held in Manchester.

He said: “I intend to ask how much money Nationwide gave, whether they knew the nature of the event they were sponsoring, whether they support the redefinition of marriage, one of Stonewall’s key aims, and when they plan to apologise.

“Nationwide have pulled out of sponsoring other future events, while remaining ‘members’ of Stonewall.

“No one on the Nationwide board of directors has yet been man enough to apologise to any of the individuals concerned, and I think they should.

“Bigot of the Year is merely an attempt by Stonewall to bully and humiliate someone in public life.”

Nationwide has said it is committed to celebrating individuality and diversity within the workplace, which was one of the reasons behind sponsoring the event.

Tina Coates, head of media relations at the building society, said: “We are committed to making it a great place to work and ensuring that our employees are able to develop and grow in an environment free from prejudice and intolerance.

“Stonewall is recognised as the leading Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender equality charity.

“Stonewall’s Diversity Champion programme promotes diversity and equality in the workplace and Nationwide is an active member of this programme.

“As part of our pledge to support diversity in the workplace, Nationwide took the decision to sponsor Stonewall’s Sixth Annual Awards in 2011.

“This was a one-off sponsorship, and Nationwide did not have influence over the award categories, the winners, or the nominees.

“This award was one of 10 awards, we did not just sponsor the individual award.”