Home Secretary's speech to Stonewall

Speech given by Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, Theresa May, at Stonewall's Workplace Conference on 20 April 2012.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon Theresa May MP

I’m delighted to be back at Stonewall’s Workplace Conference.

It’s wonderful to, again, see so many of our biggest businesses, our foremost public sector employers and our best charities represented here today.

I think, the mere fact that so many major employers now want to attend a conference like this, shows just how far we, as a society, have come.

When employers like you show they care about equality at work, then we know it has become a mainstream issue.

I have been clear that I believe the equalities agenda should be about fairness. That means equal treatment and equal opportunity. And perhaps nowhere is the fundamental right to be treated fairly and to be given the same opportunities as everyone else more important than in the workplace.


In my speech to this conference last year, I asked you to judge us on what we do to help advance LGB&T equality. I hope that our actions have shown just how strong our commitment is in this area. I believe we have done a great deal to help advance LGB&T equality, although, of course, there is still more to do. 

Equal Civil Marriage

Undoubtedly the step which has made the most headlines is our consultation on allowing same-sex couples to enter into a civil marriage.

I firmly believe that marriage should be for everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation. Society is stronger when people enter into a stable relationship; when they commit to each other; when they make binding vows to love, honour and cherish one another.

Marriage binds us together, it brings stability, it makes us stronger.

So I don’t believe the state should stop people getting married unless there are very good reasons - and being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender aren’t good enough reasons.

If we believe commitment, fidelity and marriage are positive things - as I strongly do - then we should not restrict them, we should let them flourish.

Our consultation on extending the right to civil marriage to all closes on 14 June and a Government response will be published in the autumn.  It’s fair to say we’ve had quite a few responses already, but if you have not already done so, then I would encourage you all to take the time to complete the online response form on the Home Office website.

LGB&T Action Plan

Our equal civil marriage plans have been the biggest talking point. But we have made important progress in other areas as well.

Just over one year ago we published the first ever cross-government action plan on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Equality.

This document outlined an ambitious range of actions we will take from tackling homophobic bullying in schools, and improving our response rate to hate crime, to promoting LGB&T rights abroad. 

We can be proud that other countries have praised the steps we have taken and are using our action plan as a model for their own action in this area. And I’m also pleased to see that the UK is now recognised as the leader in Europe on LGB&T equality and rights by the International Lesbian and Gay Association.  Only a few weeks ago, my ministerial colleague Lynne Featherstone hosted a landmark conference on LGB&T rights in Strasbourg as part of our Chairmanship of the Council of Europe. 

But equality is no longer just about Government action.

It was not that many years ago that someone could be sacked just because of their sexual orientation.

And it was right that successive governments took action to outlaw old injustices like this.

But we now have some of the longest standing, most comprehensive and broadest based equality laws in the world. And yet outdated attitudes and hidden prejudices persist.

New laws alone won’t stop homophobic discrimination and harassment in the workplace - it is already illegal.

New regulations aren’t going to stop prejudiced employers using any excuse possible to avoid hiring a gay member of staff.

To tackle today’s problems we need a new set of solutions. That can mean government leading the way - encouraging, arguing, bringing groups together. But fundamentally we need individuals, communities, charities and employers to act.


You can see the success of our new approach in one of the last bastions of prejudice - sport.

Last year we launched our Charter for Action to tackle homophobia and transphobia in sport - on or off the field.

At the launch of the Charter in March the Football Association, the Rugby Football Union, the England and Wales Cricket Board and others all signed up.

And since then we’ve seen the initiative go from strength to strength, as more and more organisations and individuals have signed the Charter.

In June, the Prime Minister hosted a reception to support and promote the Charter, where he was joined by sports stars and celebrities committed to tackling homophobia and transphobia, including tennis legend Billie Jean King and rugby’s Gareth Thomas and Ben Cohen.

And now - one year on - I’m pleased to say that the Charter has over 3,500 signatories, including all professional football clubs, all Rugby Football League super league teams and the vast majority of national sports governing bodies.

With the once in a lifetime spectacle of the Olympic and Paralympic Games coming to Britain, I want 2012 to be the year when the tide was finally turned on homophobia in sport.

Stonewall Workplace Equality Index

But action in the workplace is just as vital as action on the sports field. And in this area, all of you here are leading the way.

Many of you and your employers will have been recognised for your leadership in Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index.

I am delighted that the Home Office has retained its high ranking in this year’s Index. Although we’re no longer the number one ranked overall, we can still say we’re the top public sector employer for LGB people.

And I’m sure Ernst and Young, this year’s number one ranked employer, would say that the reason they have overtaken us is because of the sterling efforts of Ernst and Young to raise their game even further, and not because the Home Office has been slipping (!).

It’s tremendous to see such a wide range of organisations making Stonewall’s list of the top 100 this year.

We’ve got lawyers, consultants, NHS trusts, banks, government departments, local councils, universities, charities, technology firms, sporting organisations and many, many others.

As Home Secretary, as well as Minister for Women and Equalities, I’m particularly pleased to see so many police forces on the list.

As recently as 2007, officers from Hampshire Constabulary were banned from wearing their uniform at Pride events.

Now, Hampshire is ranked at fourteenth on Stonewall’s list.

That shows that very great progress can be made in a very short space of time.

In total there are eleven police forces in the top 100, plus the Security Service, MI5, and the Home Office.

The Business Case for Equality

The reasons police forces are going to such great lengths to improve their diversity is because they cannot do their job without it.

When the 19th Century Conservative Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel founded the modern police service he said ‘the police are the public and the public are the police’ - that founding principle of policing means that diversity in British policing is an essential part of any force, not just a ‘nice to have’.

Community consent can only come when the police understand - and reflect - the diverse communities they serve. The police need to secure the trust and cooperation of communities to gain valuable intelligence that can help bring criminals to justice.

So this is not about political correctness; it’s about the fundamental business of policing.

And exactly the same is true in the actual business world as well.

Our top companies understand that. They know that a company whose workforce better reflects their customers is better able to understand what their customers want and need. And that means greater sales and greater profits.

I know one of the themes of this conference is the business case for equality. I am clear that equality matters economically, as well as morally.

It matters because for you, as employers, a more diverse workforce can bring business benefits.

And for us, in government, making sure people are treated fairly and given equal opportunities is central to our goal of building a strong, modern economy that benefits from the talents of all of its members. 

In these tough times, we must make the most of the drive, the talent, the experience and the ability of every member of our society.

We know that workplaces that are more inclusive are also more productive. That’s because they draw on the talents of all their members.

I’m not going to enter the debate about what percentage of the population is lesbian, gay or bisexual. But we can say with confidence that most large businesses will have LGB staff, LGB clients or LGB customers.

The LGB market is estimated to be worth around £70 billion a year. And nearly half of straight consumers and two thirds of LGB consumers say they would be less likely to buy products from firms that are judged to hold negative views of LGB&T people.

That’s a pretty strong business case for equality.

And in fairness, many employers in both the public and the private sector are already leading the way in advancing LGB and T equality in their workplaces.

Morgan Stanley, for example, is taking a range of innovative steps to make their business more inclusive.

They’ve instigated a reverse mentoring scheme, where LGB junior staff coach their non-LGB senior colleagues. 

They’ve found this can help the development of both senior managers and the more junior members of staff. It can also help raise awareness of specific LGB issues among senior member of the firm and of the overall experience of being an LGB employee at Morgan Stanley. That is an investment in the future that will pay dividends for years to come.

Mainstreaming Equality

But despite progress by employers like those represented here today, some LGB&T people still face discrimination at work.

1 in 5 LGB people think they have been harassed at work because of their sexual orientation. And 1 in 25 think they have been sacked because of their sexual orientation.

I am clear that if we are to eliminate this persistent prejudice then we need to do much more to mainstream equality.

I don’t want equality to just be considered a niche subject, which only certain specific groups care about.

I want to change people’s perception of what we are trying to achieve on equality so that people think equality doesn’t just matter if you’re lesbian, gay or bisexual; if you’re a woman; or if you’re old or disabled - but so people begin to say that equality matters to everyone.

And that means making equality a normal part of everyday life.

One example of the steps we are taking to support workplaces to be more inclusive  is the ‘Think, Act, Report’ Framework, a voluntary initiative to encourage all employers to help women overcome barriers in the workplace.

Developed with leading business organisations - such as the CBI, Tesco, Unilever, and BT - companies choose to take part, choose the measures that are right for them, and choose how they report their action. And I would encourage all of you to sign up if you have not already done so.

Another real, practical example of how we can start mainstreaming equality is Stonewall’s new guidance ‘Sexual Orientation: The Equality Act Made Simple’.

The Equality Act was important; it helped to consolidate and simplify Britain’s equality laws. That’s why we implemented more than 90 per cent of the Act after we came to power and we intend to implement more key provisions in due course.

But if people don’t understand what rights the Act gives them, then they can’t exercise them. And if employers don’t know what their obligations are, then they can’t fulfil them.

Stonewall’s guidance can help everyone to understand the act and what they need to do about it.

Some might think that writing a guidance document isn’t that important. But actually initiatives like this are vital if we are to mainstream equality and if we are to make equality relevant to everybody.


I believe everyone in this country has the right to be treated fairly.

And I believe everyone in this country has the right to equal opportunities.

That is why I believe equality matters.

So it is our task to end discrimination wherever we find it and to extend opportunities wherever we can.

That might be through government action, like our proposals for equal civil marriage.

It might be through encouraging role models to stand up and be counted, like our charter to end homophobia in sport.

Or it might be through the action and commitment of each and every employer in this room who is striving to make their workplaces better and more inclusive places to be.

If we are to truly bring equality into the mainstream then all employers need to follow your lead.

And that is what I will be working to achieve.


Published 20 April 2012