UK Prime Minister Theresa May tells the world that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights are human rights, “and as a UK Government, we will always stand up for them.”
May hosted the government’s 2017 Pride Reception on Wednesday, celebrating the 50 year anniversary since Britain and Wales partially decriminalised homosexuality, a key milestone in the fight for LGBTIQ rights.
In her speech, May honored the activists who have fought for LGBTI rights over the years, saying “We should take this opportunity to remember the work of those who campaigned so long to deliver the change we have seen over the past fifty years. They braved abuse and ridicule, violence and legal persecution in their tireless quest for justice and human rights.”
“They knew that what they stood for was right; they fought for it with courage and determination; and they made our country a better place as a result.”
The Prime Minister outlined the work that still needs to be done in the UK, including tackling homophobic bullying in schools and transgender bullying. To further support transgender rights she announced that the government is reviewing its Gender Recognition Act, with an announcement coming soon about the changes that will be made.
In her speech, the PM acknowledged people’s concern about the agreement she made to form government with Northern Ireland’s ultra-right wing Democratic Unionist’s Party (DUP), saying ”...this agreement does nothing to weaken the Conservative Party’s absolute commitment to LGBT equality and human rights.”
“And let me be even clearer. When it comes to those rights across the United Kingdom, I want all British citizens to enjoy the fullest freedoms and protections. That includes equal marriage… I think that LGBT people in Northern Ireland should have the same rights as people across the rest of the UK.”
May spoke of Britain’s leadership role on the world stage. “And our ambitions are not just restricted to this country: because LGBT rights are human rights – and as a UK Government, we will always stand up for them.”
“In some Commonwealth countries discriminatory laws still exist - often directly based on the very laws which we repealed in this country fifty years ago. So Britain has a special responsibility to help change hearts and minds and we will ensure that these important issues are discussed at next year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference, which we will be hosting here in the UK.”
“In countries across the Commonwealth where archaic and discriminatory laws still exist, we will work hard to change hearts and minds and we will use our voice at the highest level to condemn other countries where people face persecution because of their sexuality and gender identity.”
May talked of the UK’s responsibility to condemn the persecution of LGBT communities in other countries, saying “the UK will continue to challenge, at the highest political levels, the governments concerned. That is the case with the sickening treatment which LGBT people are enduring in Chechnya today. It is a mark of shame for the Russian Federation, and we have made that clear to the Russian government."
“As we leave the EU, Britain will forge a new global role and we will use our position to provide even stronger global leadership on this issue in the years ahead.”
May acknowledged that there would be skepticism of this LGBT inclusiveness, given her historically negative stance towards LGBT rights, saying “And like millions of other people in this country, I have changed my own mind on a number of the policy issues which I was confronted with when I first became an MP twenty years ago. If those votes were today, yes I would vote differently.”
It was John Major’s conservative government which ended the ban on lesbian and gay people serving as diplomats and conservative David Cameron delivered marriage equality to the UK in 2013. Said May, “So I am proud that, just like the country as a whole, my Party has come a long way. Respect for the rights of LGBT people is now an indelible part of modern Conservatism and modern Conservative values – and that is how it will always remain.”
Human rights activist Peter Tatchell called the Prime Minister "hypocritical" for hosting an LGBT event after making a deal with the DUP. He told The Independent “The DUP is not only blocking marriage equality in the north of Ireland, it has fought tooth and nail for four decades to maintain every element of anti-LGBT discrimination.”
Labour opposition leader, Jeremy Corbin, has called for the government to issue a formal apology to the men who were convicted of offenses when homosexuality was criminalised and supports the government doing more to help transgender people by updating the Gender Recognition Act.