Exclusive: Theresa May writes for PinkNews on the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act
Prime Minister Theresa May writes for PinkNews to mark the 50th anniversary of the law that partially decriminalised gay sex in England and Wales.
With 2017 marking a major milestone in LGBT+ rights, today at Downing Street we paid tribute to the work of those who campaigned for so long to deliver the landmark changes we have seen over the past 50 years.
This month sees the fiftieth anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act in England and Wales, which – sponsored by a Labour MP and a Conservative peer – was a cross-party breakthrough in the fight for equality. But as we celebrate, it is also right that we reflect on that moment to remind ourselves that there is much more to do.
The momentous changes to the law in 1967 started the journey towards equality which has continued into this decade with same-sex marriage – but while 1967 was a landmark, it took many more decades for it to become widely accepted that a person’s sexuality and gender identity are things to respect and celebrate.
Today we remembered and celebrated those who knew what was right and fought for it tirelessly, who were way ahead of the politics of their time, and who shifted public attitudes on LGBT+ equality.
I am proud of the role my Party has played in recent years in advocating a Britain which seeks to end discrimination on the grounds of sexuality or gender identity, but I acknowledge where we have been wrong on these issues in the past.
There will justifiably be scepticism about the positions taken and votes cast down through the years by the Conservative Party, and by me, compared to where we are now.
But like the country we serve, my Party and I have come a long way.
From my perspective, if those votes were today of course I would vote differently.
Tolerance and openness are two of the most precious British values. And with those values comes acceptance that minds can be changed; generational attitudes can be shifted and different positions can be advocated.
That is evident in the work the Conservative Party has done to champion LGBT+ equality – a record of which we are proud.
It was a Conservative Prime Minister, John Major, who ended the ban on gay people serving as diplomats and it was a Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, who delivered same-sex marriage.
When I was a member of the Shadow Cabinet before the 2010 general election, I was proud to publish a Contract for Equalities which first committed my Party to taking forward equal marriage. I was proud to give it my full support in Government as one of the sponsors of the Bill which delivered it.
As Home Secretary, I was also proud to lead work to tackle bullying and to ensure that people who claim asylum and are at risk because of their sexuality can have that taken into account, and are treated with respect.
And during my time as Prime Minister I am incredibly proud that “Turing’s Law” became a reality – a momentous moment which righted many wrongs of the past.
My vision is of a world, at home and abroad, where there is no discrimination on the grounds of sexuality or gender identity.
We have come a long way here in the UK but more must be done. We must do more to continue to help British schools to tackle homophobic bullying.
And we must tackle transphobic bullying and make sure that transgender rights are supported.
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That is exactly why we are reviewing the Gender Recognition Act. We intend to make an announcement very soon on the action we will take, as I committed to do speaking to PinkNews readers in the election campaign.
That election did not give my party a majority in Parliament. But the agreement we have made with the DUP does nothing to weaken the Conservative Party’s commitment to LGBT+ equality and human rights.
As I said this afternoon at Downing Street, I want all British citizens to enjoy the fullest freedoms and protections. That includes equal marriage – because marriage should be for everyone, regardless of their sexuality.
And while that is a matter for the devolved government of Northern Ireland, I will continue to make my position clear – that LGBT+ people in Northern Ireland should have the same rights as people across the rest of the UK.
Finally, I want Britain to use its influence around the world to advocate for change.
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.
Because, like brave campaigners and politicians from across the spectrum did fifty years ago, these positions must be challenged if we are to achieve respect and equality for everyone.