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Stonewall Workplace Conference: the Minister’s speech

The Minister for Equalities’, Mike Freer MP, speech at the Stonewall Workplace Conference, 2022.

Hello everyone,

Thank you Nancy for welcoming me here today, it’s a pleasure to be able to speak to you all. I am the Equalities Minister, with specific responsibility for LGBT+ matters.

Firstly, I am sorry that I cannot be with you in person but sadly I have tested positive with covid-19 and I am self isolating at home. Having said that, I did not want to miss the opportunity to take part in this brilliant event which is why I have recorded this video.

I would like to start by expressing my personal gratitude for the work that stonewall has done for our community. Stonewall has been instrumental in driving positive change since its inception in 1989, whether that was same-sex marriage or removing the barriers to LGBT+ people serving in our armed forces.

Stonewall is a long-standing partner to government. Our relationship is mature enough to withstand the occasional disagreement, but as highlighted by the support they are giving as civil society co-chair of the Safe To Be Me global LGBT+ rights conference — we very much work together to drive things forward.

Events like today are a great reminder to us all that everyone in the LGBT+ community should, without question, have the right to be themselves. This is of particular importance in the workplace where on average we spend a third of our lives.

I haven’t always been out at work. I recall from my days in financial services hiding who I was, only coming out when I started receiving internal accolades and awards. I often wonder how successful I could have been if I had not wasted so much energy early in my career hiding who I was.

In fact I only came out publicly during the debate around marriage equality back in 2013. Although this wasn’t a secret per se. I can remember sitting around a table with colleagues being openly critical of the legislation for marriage equality, not one of them realising they had a gay MP sitting right next to them at that very table!

Coming out was a personal choice that subsequently had a material impact on my work. For those of us on the right side of history, our ability to humanise the debate was crucial and this led to the changing of minds across the house. Visibility and representation changes minds.

Whether those of you here today are involved with a staff pride network, human resources, are part of the senior leadership team or a stonewall diversity champion, I am sure you will have seen this for yourselves — the impact of visibility isn’t always measurable, but is always there.

Our community is facing a challenging time with some seeking to remove the ‘t’ from ‘LGBT’.

Fighting in parliament for our trans friends, family members and colleagues is a challenge that I am proud to take on. The sad reality is that opposition to the progress of trans rights comes from all sides of both houses.

As such, I am determined to humanise this so-called “debate” and in doing so as an ally I am glad to have the support of stonewall and other organisations that represent trans people.

LGBT+ business champion

In September of last year, the government appointed Iain Anderson as the UK’s first ever LGBT+ business champion. The aim of Iain’s role is to work with businesses to promote and encourage evidenced-based initiatives that will help to realise positive change for LGBT+ people at work in the UK and overseas.

What has become clear is that employees and customers are no longer content to associate with organisations that do not share their values. This is an engine for change that the government is keen to understand. It is something that I have seen when overseas too, where business is often far ahead of government in the LGBT+ space.

It is clear that government should harness this to improve the lives of LGBT+ people and I am delighted to have Iain on board to help with this. To do so, Iain is calling for businesses, staff networks, academics, unions and other organisations to tell us about examples of LGBT+ inclusion at work.

Specifically, we are interested in four things.

First, what are organisations doing to improve the collection of diversity & inclusion data?

Second, what are organisations doing to improve the outcomes and experiences of LGBT+ employees in the workplace?

Third, what are organisations doing to support LGBT+ people in countries where the community routinely faces discrimination and threats to safety?

Fourth, how are organisations having a positive social and economic impact on LGBT+ equality, including in countries where LGBT+ people routinely experience discrimination?

I would encourage you all to engage and you can do so by going to the government equalities office website on gov.uk — or just google “Iain Anderson call gov.uk”.

It is our hope that we will identify promising examples of how to drive positive change in the workplace that we can promote across the UK but also internationally. Please do take part and share your expertise.

Conversion therapy

I would like to take this opportunity to share with you what the government is doing to ensure that here in the UK, we protect and enhance our good record on LGBT+ rights beyond the workplace as well. I want us to lead by example on both the domestic and international stage, whilst acknowledging that we still have progress to make ourselves.

Banning conversion therapy will be at the top of many of your minds. There is no justification for these abhorrent practices. We must make sure that we are protecting all LGBT+ people from the harm that conversion practices can cause.

As many of you will know, we recently consulted on proposals to ban conversion therapy. The question for this government has always been ‘how do we ban the practice’ and not ‘should we ban it’.

I am grateful to all who took the time to contribute and make their views known. We are analysing the responses and these insights will be crucial in shaping the policy and getting the legislation right — we’re working on that for later this spring, to be introduced when parliamentary time allows.

LGBT plan

Alongside the ban, I am also working on a comprehensive cross-government strategy aimed at advancing the rights of all LGBT+ people.

I want to be absolutely clear: this government firmly believes that LGBT+ people, and I reiterate the ‘t’, should be free to live and prosper in modern Britain. We are committed to ensuring they can do so.

We want people to live their life free from discrimination, prejudice and hate. We want to ensure everyone has the same opportunities in life.

It is the aim of this government that the UK is a welcoming place for all people, and that people should be judged on the basis of their individual character and talents alone.

As the minister for LGBT+ policy, I am all too aware of the toxic and dehumanising discussions surrounding trans rights.

It is everyone’s responsibility to address this. Human experiences must remain at the centre of our work, and I am committed to working with my colleagues across government and parliament to deliver changes that have real impact.

As was detailed recently in the I newspaper, over the next few weeks, we will be talking about significant developments in our domestic policy work, covering areas from homelessness to HIV, sexual health, IVF provision and improving trans healthcare.

We have a strong ministerial and advisory team in place to support these ambitions. Together with lord Herbert of south downs as the prime minister’s special envoy for LGBT+ rights, Iain Anderson as our LGBT+ business champion, and Dr Michael brady, as national adviser for LGBT+ health, we are well placed to drive this agenda forward, supported by my colleagues across government.

There are three areas of LGBT+ people’s lives I am keen to focus on initially. The home, work, and health and wellbeing.

At home I want to ensure LGBT+ people feel safe, and I will be working across government to tackle important issues which currently prevent this from being a reality.

I want everyone to feel safe to be themselves at work, to the benefit of business and the wider UK economy.

Alongside the LGBT+ business champion, and particularly relevant for you and your discussions today, I want to harness the power of business, both in the UK and abroad, to drive forward workplace equality and highlight the invaluable contributions of LGBT+ people in the workplace.

My officials at the equality hub are currently undertaking a piece of work to help us better understand the economic case for equality — the people at this conference know this to be true — I want to prove it.

Finally, my priorities in the health and wellbeing sphere are to ban conversion therapy, and to work with the department of health and social care to ensure trans people and the rest of the LGBT+ community get access to excellent health and social care.

So far we have:

Introduced equal marriage in Northern Ireland

Published the HIV action plan

Announced the end of the ban on HIV+ people joining the UK armed forces

Included action on ‘chemsex’ in the new 10-year drugs strategy

Announced the expansion of the historic offences disregards scheme

Launched an independent review of the impact on LGBT+ veterans on the historic ban on their service; and

Deepened our understanding of LGBT+ homelessness in ongoing liaison with key stakeholders.

I am also undertaking a significant programme of engagement, meeting with LGBT+ groups representing every view and interest.

We are making progress, but there is more still to be done. There are areas where change is still very much needed despite clear advances made to equality.

Safe To Be Me

Our ambition to drive support and improve the lives of LGBT+ people does not end in the UK. That is why Iain Anderson and I are also working alongside Nick Herbert, the prime minister’s special envoy on LGBT+ rights, to deliver the UK’s first ever global LGBT+ rights conference, Safe To Be Me.

“Safe To Be Me will bring” together government representatives, businesses, civil society and international parliamentarians to address the safety of LGBT+ people at home and abroad.

The conference will take place in person and virtually, on 29 June — 1 July 2022 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the first London pride. The conference and will explore four key aims:

First, to make progress towards legislative reform that advances equality and legal protections for LGBT+ people globally;

Second, to tackle tackling violence and discrimination;

Third, to improve access to public services;

And finally fourth, with particular resonance for you all today, to work with business to strengthen the economic case for LGBT+ equality.

We will empower business to advocate for positive change, cemented in an international business declaration.

‘Safe To Be Me’ is our ambition, not the current reality. As I have said, we know there is more to do here in the UK and we must continue to take steps to improve the global picture for LGBT+ people. Events that have unfolded in Afghanistan and Ukraine have brought this to the fore now more than ever.

The conference will help us expand a network of liberty, promoting the fundamental principle that everyone, everywhere, should be free to love who they love and express themselves without being criminalised and without fear of violence.

I’m looking forward to welcoming a broad range of organisations and stakeholders for this landmark event.

I would like to finish by thanking you all for coming today and for being champions for change wherever you act in society. We should all have a right to be accepted for who we are.

Thank you for listening and I will leave you all to enjoy what no doubt promises to be a fascinating, thought-provoking and constructive day.

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