Welcome to you all and congratulations to Pink News for the work that they do.
I am delighted to be with you all tonight to celebrate these awards and to mark ten years of Pink News contributing to the UK’s well-deserved reputation across the world as a vibrant, diverse society.
The award winners, and nominees, are all inspirational people, doing exceptionally important work to advance the cause of LGB&T equality, and we pay tribute to them tonight.
Today, around the world, far too many LGB&T people live in countries where they are persecuted - simply because of whom they love.
That is simply unacceptable. That is why the Foreign Office’s work to challenge violence and discrimination against LGB&T people forms such an important part of our wider international human rights work.
I am proud of our work around the world to campaign against discriminatory laws and to challenge countries that criminalise same sex relations.
I am delighted, for example, that after lobbying by the British High Commission in Maputo, Mozambique revised its Penal code. We hope others follow suit.
Just last month, I attended a meeting of the LGB&T Core Group at the UN - a group of like-minded countries dedicated to working for full equality for LGB&T people. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon spoke movingly, and I would like to share with you the inspiring words he used.
He said, “when the human rights of LGBT people are abused, all of us are diminished. Every human life is precious - none is worth more than another. We will never shy away from protecting the most marginalized and vulnerable people.”
I agree wholeheartedly. Silence is an affront to those who suffer discrimination and violence. That is why I can pledge that Britain will continue to use its diplomatic muscle to prevent silence - whether at the United Nations or anywhere else.
As well as challenging other governments, another important part of our approach lies in our public diplomacy work - reaching out to communities direct; changing perceptions; and demonstrating solidarity with civil society activists, such as Stonewall, the Kaleidoscope Trust and the Human Dignity Trust. I would like to pay particular tribute to their work.
By way of example, over 5 million people in 135 countries viewed a film campaign spearheaded by the British Council and our Embassies that promoted tolerance of same sex relations.
It had a vast social media footprint of 75 million posts worldwide. I cite this as both an example and an opportunity which illustrates how the FCO can work with organisations like Pink News to get the right story right out there.
Of course, no story, however powerfully conveyed, carries weight if our own house is not in order.
The Foreign Office has not always been the LGB&T-friendly and diverse workplace it is today. As recently as 1991, homosexuality was still a bar to recruitment to the Diplomatic Service. I find that extraordinary.
Since then, I am pleased to say, we became one of the first Whitehall departments to agree an LGB&T leadership target of 6% - and to ensure LGB&T staff can access all civil service talent action schemes. And quite right too.
We proactively support staff going on overseas postings with same-sex partners - and give guidance to posts on managing staff spousal visas.
Our LGB&T staff group - FLAGG - actively works to ensure that being LGB&T is no barrier to a successful career in the FCO.
So well-regarded is FLAGG, that this year it was awarded the FCO’s Staff Award for Excellence, voted for by staff around the world.
I would like to finish by congratulating everyone here tonight:
From our award nominees and winners;
To our friends in civil society groups, such as the Kaleidoscope Trust, Human Dignity Trust and Stonewall;
To Pink News - and all its supporters in Parliament and across the country - for your unwavering commitment to improving the lives of LGB&T people both here in the UK and overseas.
Seemingly entrenched cultural attitudes and intransigent authorities can seem formidable challenges - but we can win them over. We are proving that. Look at the journey we have made, not just in the Foreign Office, but across the UK and the world.
Together, we can make a world in which people no longer have to face discrimination or violence - where, as Ban Ki Moon said, “every human life is precious - none worth more than another”