Speech: Delivering real equality

Thank you Ben [Cohen, Chief Executive Officer of Pink News] for that kind introduction.

I’m delighted to be speaking here again at the Pink News Awards and I want to pay tribute to Pink News, and in particular to Ben for the important work you do – not least in holding the government’s feet to the fire to make sure we deliver for LGBT people.

And I want to thank all of you for your contribution to another momentous year for LGBT equality.

Anyone who thought that the march towards equality would stop with equal marriage only has to look at the work of individuals, charities, schools companies and many others to see that, far from marking the end of LGBT activism, equal marriage has galvanised it.

That’s why we’re the best country in Europe for LGBT equality and I would go so far as to suggest the best in the whole world.

And I’m particularly pleased that the 2015 election saw us beat our own record for openly gay parliamentarians. It is so important that Parliament looks like the people it purports to represent and this election took us another step forward towards achieving that for lesbian, gay and bisexual people. I hope we can work towards similar improvements in trans representation in the years to come.

On a personal note I’m particularly pleased that my DfE colleague Nick Gibb will be joining the number of parliamentarians to have a same-sex wedding exactly a month today.

I want to pay tribute to 2 colleagues who lost their seats at the election, but who were both tireless fighters for LGBT equality: Eric Ollerenshaw and Jo Swinson. Knowing them, I am sure that they will continue to play as full a part in the fight for equality outside of Parliament as they did within it.

I also want to welcome the creation of the first ever select committee for Women and Equalities, backed by the government. As many of you will know they have already started work on a detailed programme on trans issues and I look forward to seeing their recommendations for government.

But for all the celebration and progress, and I know this has been said many times before, there is still much more to do.

Because the truth is – the real reason equal marriage has re-energised the LGBT rights movement, is because its passage showed that real equality won’t come through changing the law alone.

If it did, racism, sexism, and prejudice against those who are disabled would have been eradicated many years ago.

And we know that isn’t the case.

That’s why I made clear in my conference speech that delivering equality of opportunity must be at the core of our mission as a government.

And it’s why the Prime Minister made an unprecedented 4 references to LGBT equality in his conference speech and committed himself to leading the fight to end discrimination.

Because when we talk about governing as one nation we aren’t just talking about geography.

No, governing as one nation means governing on behalf of every single person, giving everyone that equal shot at succeeding in life.

Of course, I’m aware that words have to be matched with action; rhetoric has to be made into reality.

And I wanted to share some of my priorities for the months ahead. Early this year I outlined my priority areas for LGBT equality in education. They were:

Further work on homophobic bullying, building on the government’s £2 million investment in projects to tackle it.

I’ve already seen some of the fantastic work this funding has generated and I look forward to seeing more in the coming months.

Secondly – a clear focus on trans young people, not only addressing transphobic bullying but also making sure that trans young people get the support and information they need.

Thirdly – high-quality PSHE which betters all young people’s understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity and at the same time ensures that LGBT young people know how to avoid risks and stay safe.

And finally, support for 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.

But our support for LGBT people doesn’t end when they leave school. We are determined to support LGBT people throughout their lives.

Figures released last week showed the shocking extent of homophobic hate crime in our communities and while the increase in reporting is welcome, the fact that thousands of LGBT people are experiencing hate crime in 21st century Britain cannot be right, and we must do more to tackle it. In Equalities questions last week I also made clear that we will take just as tough an approach to homophobic, biphobic and transphobic abuse online as we do offline.

And while Stonewall’s reports are always a pleasure to read, I was shocked to discover that 1 in 10 social and health care staff have heard colleagues express the belief that someone can be cured of being gay.

Let me be clear, gay cure therapies have no place in our country and we must stamp them out.

And in the same vein, the Prime Minister has made clear that we will do more to tackle not just violent extremism but non-violent extremism that encourages intolerance and hatred towards LGBT people.

Finally we have to look beyond our own shores and so we will continue to use our influence to help LGBT people abroad.

We won’t do this not by lecturing or pointing fingers, however tempting that may be, but by supporting activists and groups on the ground, helping them to learn the lessons of our journey towards equality under law.

So far the Government Equalities Office has contributed over £100,000 to these international projects, because we firmly believe that our commitment to equality doesn’t stop at these shores; in an increasingly dangerous world we must use our influence to protect the most vulnerable.

Because though it might sound trite to say it – equality is a human right. No one should be discriminated against because of the person that they love. No one should live in fear, see opportunities lost or doors closed simply because of who they are.

But ultimately of course – as with so much of my work, be it in education or equalities – real change doesn’t come from my office in Westminster, it’ll come from you, groups, communities, businesses and schools. The people on the ground.

That’s why I’m delighted to present this award for community group of the year, and from a very strong field, I can say that the winner is YES Equality for their fantastic work in campaigning for victory in Ireland’s same-sex marriage referendum.

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