Good morning everyone and a huge thank you to you all for being here today.
I’m delighted to see so many of you: teachers, heads, governors, local authorities, charities and of course most importantly, the young people who’ve come along.
Just by being here today all of you are showing your commitment to wiping out homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in our schools.
Which is why I was so keen to speak to you today.
One of the reasons that I’m pleased to be able to combine the job of Minister for Women and Equalities with being Education Secretary is that it means I have the opportunity to tackle the causes of inequality right when they start.
I want every single LGBT young person to know that I am on their side, and that this government will do everything it can to make sure that their time in school is a happy one, that allows them to be themselves and achieve all that they are capable of.
Because I know that hasn’t always been the case.
I can’t imagine what a young woman in school, who thought she might be a lesbian, was feeling in May 1988 when the government of the day passed a pernicious law, making it harder for schools to tackle homophobic bullying.
A law which said that any family relationship she might have was “pretend.” A law that reinforced stigma and encouraged prejudice.
That law was Section 28 and it is a matter of great pride for me that one of David Cameron’s early acts as leader of the party was to apologise on behalf of the Conservatives for having introduced it.
But what makes me even more proud is imagining how different life might be for that woman today.
She might well be married to a woman she loves, she might well have adopted a child with her wife thanks to changes in the law.
And that child would be in a school, where far from the government condoning bullying based on sexual orientation or gender identity, it now demands that schools tackle it head on.
Where the schools’ inspectorate now looks at just how well a school is tackling prejudice-based bullying.
And where the Department for Education has dedicated over £2 million to support projects to tackle homophobic and transphobic bullying.
To the young woman in 1988, the Britain that we live in today would be unimaginable.
As a nation we can be very proud of all that we’ve done to make our country fairer, more equal and more tolerant – and we should all pay tribute to the heroes, the brave men and women of the equality movement who have made that happen.
But you know, and I know that the job isn’t done yet.
Stonewall’s research shows that homophobic bullying and language in schools continues to be widespread.
Other research shows that the experience of trans young people can often be even worse.
So I know that there’s more left for us to do over the coming years and there are 3 particular areas that I want to focus on:
- firstly, I know that high-quality PSHE education can play a real role in tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools and in the coming months I want to look at how we can ensure schools are teaching it well and are confident in what they should be teaching
- secondly, I want to do more work to tackle discrimination against trans young people. I’m delighted that Stonewall is now trans inclusive and look forward to working closely with you as your programme of work evolves in this area
- finally I want to support LGBT young people who aren’t currently in education, training or employment. We know LGBT young people can drop out of education early for lots of reasons, from bullying, to the need to move out of home due to homophobia. I want to get them back into education and work, and make sure that it’s not only school but further education and apprenticeship providers that are taking seriously their responsibility to tackle homophobia and transphobia
Just as important as what I’m going to do, is what you can do. The next stage in the march towards equality won’t come from the green and red benches in Parliament, it won’t come from my office just over the road.
It will come from the 700 plus schools who are members of Stonewall’s School Champions programme. Schools like Eastbourne Academy and Caludon Castle School, both of which I visited recently, who see tackling bullying not as an optional extra, but at the core of what they do.
It will come from the 65 local authorities working with Stonewall as education champions.
In a time when money is tight and local authorities have to look at what they can save, some might see this as an easy area to cut. The local authorities here today, know that’s the wrong approach and have recognised the real benefits for all of their community in tackling discrimination.
And most importantly there are young people like you, running fantastic campaigns to make your playgrounds, sports fields and classrooms better places for every single pupil.
It’s your work, as the next generation, that will determine whether we’re able to make that goal of making discrimination against LGBT people a thing of the past.
If I can offer one bit of advice to you, it’s this. The most effective campaigners are those that change minds, those that bring people with them, those that seek to persuade rather than lecture.
Because as much as the cause of LGBT equality might seem blindingly obvious, sometimes people take that little bit longer to come along the journey.
They might for instance, not automatically see what the difference between a marriage and a civil partnership really means to someone.
As many of you know I was one of those people. What changed my mind, was talking to same-sex couples and understanding just how important being married was to them.
What I do find difficult, however, is the level of vitriol that I sometimes receive, from people with whom, I’m very much on the same side in fighting for equality.
Of course politicians have to stand and be counted because of their votes, and as a politician I’m used to taking my share of abuse.
But, I think there’s a wider lesson that sometimes – particularly on Twitter or other social media – it’s easier to shout and hector than it is to recruit new allies.
Sometimes that is justified, but other times it only serves to make us feel better for a moment. It risks alienating allies of the future – those people who want us to help them change their minds and who will be our champions in the future.
One of the reasons that I admire Stonewall is because of the approach that Ruth, and Ben before her, have taken.
It’s hard to think of a single charity that has been quite so effective in securing what it set out to do, and that is in no small part down to the approach that they have taken – not lecturing, slamming doors or boycotting, but by bringing people with them.
So my advice on being a great campaigner is this – follow Stonewall’s example; learn all you can do from them, focus on those you can persuade now, because those that you can’t, you can save for later.
Run campaigns that make the biggest difference – which aren’t always those that make the loudest noise.
I hope you have a fantastic conference today and I hope that you won’t be afraid to let me know what more we can be doing to help.
Because working together we can ensure that we don’t just tackle homophobia in our classroom, but on our streets.
We don’t just change laws, but change hearts and minds.
And we don’t just make our country a better place for LGBT people, but we make every country a better place.
That’s our goal and together we can achieve it.