On Wednesday evening (22nd June) I hosted my second reception for the LGBT community in 10 Downing Street. This year, the event focused on tackling homophobia and transphobia in sport and it was great to see representatives of almost every sport I could think of in the room, including the heads of the Football Association, Premier League, Football League, Professional Footballers Association, League Managers Association, England & Wales Cricket Board and the bosses at most of the leading rugby clubs in the country.
Sport is part of the DNA of this nation; I don’t just mean athletes and teams competing at an elite level, I also mean the events that bring communities together – whether it’s the egg and spoon race at your child’s school or Vauxhall’s gay sports day when you can witness competitive handbag throwing or literal drag racing.
What made the reception so special was that guests representing the elite end of sports were able to meet and chat to those participating at grassroots level. There is a thriving sporting life in the LGBT community and a great array of clubs were at the event, such as Stonewall FC, Kings Cross Steelers, Frontrunners and Pride Sports. The UK is currently bidding for two international LGBT sporting events, the 2015 Euro Games in Manchester and the Gay Games in 2018 in London (which could give us something to cheer on that year, given we lost the World Cup bid) and those leading both bids were also there and I wish them every luck.
The presence of so many of sports governing bodies was significant as it was a very clear statement that homophobia and transphobia is something they take seriously. I think we’re all agreed that we’ve got a long way to go before we stamp both out. Language and behaviour that isn’t acceptable in the playground, or in the workplace, can still be heard on the pitch, in the dressing rooms and in the stands.
In order to end homophobia and transphobia we need cultural change and we also need role models. Whereas we’ve many to choose from in business, the arts and politics, we have too few in sport. I congratulate Gareth Thomas and Steven Davies for the decision they made and the inspiration they’ve given and I am delighted that two of the all-time greats of tennis – two magnificent role models – are backing our work in this area: Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King – who I was delighted to welcome to No10. But, put simply, you don’t have to be gay to be a role model, so we need others who care for this issue to stand up and be counted. Role models in sport are also needed to help tackle bullying in schools, young people look to the stars they admire and if we don’t have enough positive role models then behaviour won’t change. We also need these role models in the media so it was great to see both Kieron Richardson and Victoria Atkin from Hollyoaks at the reception.
Progress is being made in sport, rugby in particular has done a huge amount to lead the way on this issue and it was great to see the Sheffield Eagles wearing a tackling homophobia strip at a recent game, they should be congratulated for doing so and I hope other teams in all sports follow suit. Football in particular, as it is our national game, has a leadership role to play both here and abroad and that requires the issue to be tackled by managers, players, stewards and the supporters clubs. Homophobic and transphobic taunts should not be tolerated, in the same way racist taunts aren’t. I believe that good work is underway led by the FA and PFA and I encourage all involved to do all they can, as quickly as they can. We’ve seen the effectiveness of Kick it Out and Show Racism the Red Card – we now need to galvanise our energies into kicking homophobia and transphobia out.
Tackling inequality is at the centre of creating a fair society and I want to thank many members of the government, not least Theresa May, Lynne Featherstone, William Hague and Hugh Robertson for the work they’ve done this past year. I’m proud that the UK has just been named by the International Lesbian and Gay Association as the number one place in Europe for LGBT equality, it shows how far we’ve come. Since the coalition government was formed we have laid out plans to allow civil partnerships on religious premises and the regulations will be in place by the end of the year, we’ve also put through legislation to delete men’s convictions for consensual gay sex from their criminal records and we have launched the transgender survey to allow transgender people to directly influence government policy for the first time.
But we haven’t just been acting in the UK; it is a sad fact that gay people can be appallingly treated in other parts of the world, particularly in Africa. William Hague has committed to put the Foreign Office at the forefront of efforts to promote the human rights of LGBT people and the UK played a leading role to build support for a statement from the UN Human Rights Council on “Ending acts of violence and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity”. Our embassies across the world continue to support the efforts of LGBT people, for instance in Malawi, UK pressure helped secure a presidential pardon for a same-sex couple who had been sentenced to 14 years imprisonment. And I know that many are deeply concerned by the situation in Uganda – and I congratulate Scott Mills and the BBC for the programme they made looking at homosexuality there – the government has raised the issue on many occasions with the Ugandan government and will continue to do so. I’m very proud of the fact that we have made the difficult, but I believe right, decision to maintain the commitment to reach 0.7 per cent of our national income going in aid to the poorest countries by 2013. This is a huge commitment for Britain to make but it means we are meeting our promise to the poorest people in the world. I think it is right morally, because as a rich country we should be helping the poorest people in the poorest countries, but it also has the spin-off benefit of giving us some moral authority in the world to talk to world leaders and governments about our relationship with them and what we expect from them. We have got, because of our aid commitment, an ability to speak to African leaders, African governments, African civil society and other countries around the world and raise LGBT issues.
It will take time to tackle homophobia and transphobia but we can do it. I urge everyone involved in sports to sign the charter and make a public declaration of their commitment to this cause. Sport should be a welcome place for everyone, those participating in, attending, working for, volunteering in or covering. At its core, sport is about fairness and equality, the values of justice, teamwork, dignity and respect. Homophobia and transphobia is totally unacceptable in sport as it is in wider society and only by working together, sharing best practice and encouraging one another will we defeat it.