Boyzone have dubbed their late band member Stephen Gately as a ''pioneer' for gay pop stars.

Stephen - who died in 2009 from an undiagnosed heart condition - came out as gay in 1999 and his bandmates feel he has ''paved the way'' for more diversity within the music industry, including with LGBT artists such as Sam Smith, Years & Years and Will Young.

Fellow band member Mikey Graham told The Sun newspaper's Bizarre column: ''Stephen was a pioneer of breaking that barrier down. Look how much everything has changed in the ten years that we lost him, and even in the years prior to him passing away, when he did come out. Look how much society has changed for the better, with equality across the board.''

Whilst Keith Duffy added: ''Look at it now. You've got Mark [Feehily] from Westlife having a little baby girl with his husband. Steo always said he'd love to have a kid and I can remember thinking, 'You're gay, that will never happen' because that's what the world was like then.

''But you see how much the world has come on, to see Mark and his husband having a beautiful baby girl. It's amazing. Stephen would be chuffed. There's so many people - music moguls 20 or 30 years older than us - working in this business and still not open about their sexuality. It's still hidden away, their homosexuality. Why? Because they're afraid.''

Meanwhile, the four piece recently marked the tenth anniversary of their late bandmate's death on October 10, where they admitted they felt the ''band really changed'' after his sudden passing but his memory continues to live on when the four of them are together.

The band revealed they believed they would have become even bigger if Stephen had lived.

Keith claimed: ''With Stephen, we were a force to be reckoned with. Had he not lost his life, I believe we would have been a much bigger band.''

Shane Lynch also said: ''Steo paid the ultimate price. He lost his life, we lost our buddy. But had he not, I think we could've gone on to things we never achieved before.''