Tomorrow I will be joining thousands and thousands of people in Trafalgar Square to celebrate pride. And to mark forty-one years since the Stonewall protests in New York City - when a group of individuals with few options, and even fewer supporters stood up to homophobia and transphobia and helped inspire a movement.
What you and others have achieved in the years since Stonewall is quite amazing. Goals that would have seemed impossible to those campaigners that night have been won: landmark changes in the law; openly gay politicians; civil partnerships in this country and across Europe; more and more people able to live their lives openly than ever before.
It is a history with lessons for us all. As the new Minister for women and Equality it certainly holds a lot of meaning for me. It is the biggest antidote to all those cynics out there I know. It shows us that even under the most difficult of circumstances, we can change things when determined and brave people are prepared to stand up and fight for it. You should be extremely proud of everything you have achieved.
We need to go further
But of course when it comes to fairness for the LGB and T community we can’t yet hang up our capes and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. There are still anomalies in the law that need to be fixed, and there are still plenty of minds we need to open.
But I believe we can do it. We are heading in the right direction. And what I hope to get across to you today it that this government is 100% committed to completing the journey to full LGB and T equality. We have made clear our determination to tackle discrimination and make this country a more tolerant, more equal and fairer place for everybody.
And we have the PM’s personal commitment that we will do better. Just a few weeks ago he hosted a reception at No. 10 in celebration of gay pride. And in his speech he paid tribute to all the fantastic work the previous administration achieved on LGB and T equality and pledged that this government will carry the same level of commitment through.
And in Theresa and myself you have a very feisty team here to fight your corner!
New programme for LGB and T equality
That is why we have just published an ambitious programme of work for the coalition government on LGB and T issues.
It is actually the first of its kind to be produced by the UK government. And will take action on some of the most pressing areas which you have been rightly demanding for so long. I want to take you through some its main elements.
We think it is outrageous that in this day and age a man can still be branded a criminal because 30 years ago he had consensual sex with another man. So we are going to put a stop to it by changing the law so that historical convictions for gay sex over 16s will be treated as spent and will not be disclosed on a criminal record check when applying for a job.
We also take action to ensure we respond better to LGB and T hate crime. It is much more common than most people think with 1 in 8 lesbian, gay and bisexual people and 89% of transgender people subject to such attacks. Those are pretty alarming statistics. What’s worse is that people are simply not getting the justice they are entitled to because so many of these crimes go unreported. And unfortunately too few people working within the criminal justice system know how best to handle such cases. So we’re going to promote better recording of hate crimes. And we will also improve access to reporting services, and the quality of support for victims to make them more confident in coming forward.
But hate crimes, however alarming they are, don’t even begin to capture the everyday intolerance suffered by LGB and T people. It may not be as blatant, but the consequences can be just as damaging. And nowhere is this more apparent than at school. Too many young people continue to suffer at the hands of bullies because teachers lack the support they need to tackle it.
It’s not just the immediate hurt caused by bullying that is not acceptable. It’s also the longer-message we are sending to children as they form their views of the world and how people should behave. If we can tackle the hate from where it stems, if we can teach young people how to stand up for what is right we can ensure they will take these values into their adult life.
So we will be working with teachers to help them fulfil their obligations under the new Public Sector Equality Duty included in the Equality Act 2010. We want to see it encourage more schools, and that includes faith schools to proactively devise strategies to tackle homophobic and transphobic bullying
We also think civil partnerships deserve stronger recognition and support. It is not fair that there are gay couples out there who want to hold their ceremonies in religious institutions but currently can’t. We believe that if churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and so forth want to host civil partnership registrations - then it should happen - we should make it happen. Lord Alli’s amendment to the Equality Act 2010 makes it possible to remove the current prohibition on civil partnerships taking place in religious premises. We will now be talking to those with a key interest in this issue about how we can take this issue forward.
Transforming hearts and minds
However, the truth is even the boldest legislation and assaults on discrimination won’t reach into all the hearts and take away the prejudice and hatred which rest beneath well-behaved exteriors. And what use are rights on a statute book if some of the people responsible for implementing them are not on our side?
The civilising voices are winning. But every now and again there are those incidents which remind us how far we still have to go. I don’t think I will ever forget the time when a leading journalist for a leading newspaper wrote what I can only describe as a disgusting article blaming the Boyzone singer Stephen Gately’s death on his so called ‘lifestyle’ and sexuality. The public reaction was amazing - and represented by far the highest number of complaints ever received about a single article in the history of OFCOM. But the fact remains that someone with as much responsibility and influence actually thought it was ok to write something like this - and that is deeply troubling.
It shows us that changing culture is never going to be an easy task. But it has to be our ultimate goal if we are to ever achieve full LGB and T equality.
We want to make sure the support is there for employers to help them tackle homophobia and transphobia at work. It is important to look at why this is happening to get to the root cause of it. So we have commissioned research to look at the different barriers employers face in developing LGB and T friendly workplaces. In light of the findings, which we expect later in the summer, we will be planning a course of action.
We will be working with governing bodies of different sports to tackle homophobic and transphobic abuse.
We will use our powerful relationships with other countries and arenas of international influence to speak out when countries commit human rights abuses and push for unequivocal support for gay rights and UK civil partnerships to be recognised everywhere.
And we will work to ensure more LGB and T people take their rightful place in democracy, serving in our Parliament and in our Cabinet - to create the kind of political environment where in the foreseeable future the Prime Minister could just as easily be gay as straight.
But this is a job that the government cannot do alone. From employers, to sports figures, to newspaper editors, to teachers - the list goes on - everyone has a responsibility.
But for those people to realise their responsibility we need to be pumping out the arguments, the right messages about why the goal of achieving LGB and T equality is so important.
And to do this we need your help. Already as the Stonewall Equality Index shows us, employers like the police, banks, law firms now top the list of gay friendly employers. And no doubt a lot of this has been down to your work. We need you to continue to educate and support employers.
And we also want you to help us make the decisions. You are the experts and we need your thinking caps to help us come up with new bold and creative ideas. You have been doing this a lot longer than either Theresa or I have. That is why for example; once we have completed our research on discrimination in the workplace we will be turning to you to help us come up with bold ideas on how we can tackle this problem.
And why we will be working with campaigners to help us develop a new programme of action to improve the lives of transsexual people, which we want to publish next year. I really believe that together with continued determination, tenacity and courage we will get there. We have seen how much can be achieved when like minded individuals come together and demand and push for it. I look forward to hearing from the rest of the panel and answering your questions.