It is my distinct pleasure to be with you today at the United Nations to celebrate the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. This important day gives us the opportunity to show solidarity with the global LGBTQ community and a chance for us to reflect on just how far we have come in the fight for equality in recent years.
Indeed my own country has made great strides in the last few decades in pursuing and ensuring legal equality for all, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, not least through the very successful legalization of same-sex marriage in 2014. Since then we have seen a steady and shift in public attitudes towards ensuring the rights of all, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. The sky certainly did not fall when the Government did the right thing. This demonstrates the important role that Governments can play to ensure the right legal regimes are in place to support cultural change towards greater equality.
And I am proud that this British Government is prioritizing the promotion of equality for LGBTQ people as a clear strand of our human rights work. We are an active Member of the LGBT Core Group here at the United Nations, as well as the Equal Rights Coalition. We know that changing hearts and minds takes concerted and deliberate efforts over time, which is one of the reasons why we value the collaborative and constructive international engagement on the promotion of the human rights of LGBTQ people so highly.
We demonstrated our commitment at the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting held in London last month. 37 of the 53 Commonwealth Members continue to criminalise private, consensual sexual conduct between adults of the same sex. This is simply a travesty.
So in our role as Chair of the Commonwealth, we took a number of steps:
Prime Minister Theresa May made a historic statement during the Summit, expressing regret for the colonial-era laws that continue to plague Commonwealth countries, as anachronistic as they are.
The UK pushed for the most inclusive language ever to be included the final Commonwealth Communique, ensuring a call for an end to discrimination “on any basis”.
And Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson made a specific point to raise LGBTQ rights with a range of Foreign Ministers, including in a joint session with over 30 Foreign Ministers present.
Perhaps most significantly, the UK Foreign Office announced a new $7.6 million programme working with civil society groups to support Commonwealth countries wishing to work towards legislative reform.
We have also published an International Best Practice Guide to Equality on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity to help guide smart reform.
I say all of this to make very clear that the UK is a firm supporter of this human rights agenda, and we stand ready to offer our collaboration and support in efforts towards building a more equal and non-discriminatory world.
Finally, I wish to reflect briefly on the theme of today’s event, “Celebrating Allies”. We know that the best way to transform hearts and minds on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity is for individuals to personally know an LGBTQ person. When the mysterious “other” becomes instead your friend, your co-worker, your neighbour, your daughter, the curtains of ignorance, of fear and of mistrust fall away and you begin to see the “other” for what they are: a human being with the same dignity and claim to the same rights as any other.
That’s why alliances between human beings at the personal level are so important. They provide the fertile ground for seeds of broader change to be planted.
So a genuine thank you to our panellists and participants today, who are demonstrating that potential for change across sport, media, business and civic life.
Thank you very much and I look forward to the discussion this afternoon.