It’s a source of great pride to me that the UK has been recognized by the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) as being a European leader in equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people for the fourth year running.
It’s thanks to the heroic work and unrelenting passion of campaigners and activists that LGBT young people growing up in Britain today can be confident that society is on their side.
There is of course much left to be done such as tackling the blight of homophobic bullying and language in our schools and working with employers to ensure that they create working environments where LGBT people feel able to be themselves.
Sport is another area where too little progress has been made, and it’s why I’m pleased to support the Rainbow Laces campaign to tackle homophobia in football.
But our commitment to equality can’t end at Britain’s shores. We know that in some countries around the world LGBT people face harassment, violence and criminalization.
Last week I was honored to meet with Bollywood actress Celina Jaitly and Charles Radcliffe from the UN to hear more about their efforts to promote fair treatment for LGBT people internationally through the powerful Free and Equal campaign.
I was delighted to learn about what they and others are doing and look forward to further collaborations in the future.
Their inspiring message throws down the gauntlet to countries like Britain to do their bit to support LGBT people internationally.
Organizations like the Human Dignity Trust, Stonewall and Kaleidoscope are already making great strides and the UK government is working alongside them in a number of areas to support the LGBT community internationally.
We have invested in projects across the world, engaging closely with local groups who are working to promote inclusivity, diversity and tolerance by providing training and advocacy. Our role shouldn’t be about telling other countries what to do, but instead looking at how we can engage in a constructive dialogue with foreign governments and share the lessons of Britain’s experience over the past 25 years.
The UK government remains concerned about treatment of the LGBT community in Russia, which is simply unacceptable.
We are in contact with the Russian government, and have made plain through both Ministers and officials our stance and are looking at how we can support human rights activists on the ground.
We want to raise our concerns about abuses of human rights at the highest possible levels, and so work closely with influential international organizations, such as the UN, EU and Council of Europe.
In particular we are looking to address discriminatory laws that criminalize the LGBT community. Some of this is public and well publicized – but lots of it takes place as frank conversations behind the scenes.
Looking to the future, I know there is more we can achieve.
In 2011 the UN Human Rights Council passed the first resolution on sexual orientation. It clarified that ‘everyone is entitled to all rights and freedoms without distinction of any kind,’ and was a historic step forward.
We are now working with like-minded countries and NGOs across the world to build on this. I hope we can make progress on further international resolutions in the near future.
Building on this, we are working across the Commonwealth and have supported the Commonwealth Charter that opposes all forms of discrimination. We are firmly of the view that this includes discrimination against LGBT persons and we regularly raise the issue during meetings with Commonwealth counterparts and non-government organisations.
I am proud of the progress we have made in the UK to address homophobia and work towards equality for LGBT people.
My commitment now, is to strengthening our engagement with countries that haven’t yet made that journey, and working closely with allies internationally.
Making progress won’t be quick and it won’t be easy, but regardless of the challenge, I am determined to ensure that Britain remains at the forefront of helping LGBT people secure the freedoms they deserve.