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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Making a Difference to People’s Lives

Sunday, July 3, 2005

Meg recently gave the following speech to the TUC’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender conference in London.



I am delighted you asked me here today to deliver the keynote address for the Trade Union’s Congress’s (TUC) Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender conference. I am also very pleased to be following in the footsteps of Jacqui Smith, who was a strong champion of the TUC’s work on equality issues. The TUC is a driving force for equality in the workplace and society as a whole, and I look forward to a close working relationship with you.


As a new Minister coming in at the start of a new Parliament, it is perhaps useful to take a snapshot of where we are on LGBT equality issues - and where we are going. A good deal of progress has been made in recent years, particularly in the last four. There have been major legislative changes, but perhaps more significantly I believe the argument for LGBT equality has been won.


Four years ago, LGBT issues were seen as politically sensitive and controversial.  Now, more and more businesses and employers are conscious of meeting the needs of their LGBT staff and customers.  I don’t say this to be complacent; far from it. But we should recognise how far things have come.


There have been some very important legislative and other changes that have helped to make ours a more equal and fair society. I will focus particularly on three changes that have made a significant difference to the lives of LGBT people.


Work: In 2003 the Government outlawed discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of sexual orientation. The Regulations are a real step forward.  For the very first time they provided protection against discrimination and harassment in the workplace.  That is good for individuals.  It’s also good for business, who recognise, increasingly, that tackling discrimination helps to attract and retain skilled people and meet the needs of a diverse customer base.


Discrimination and harassment at work is still an issue for many LGB people.  You only have to look at some of the Tribunal cases and other examples of workplace intimidation, but legislation is having a real impact. 


Some of you will have heard of the case of Rob Whitfield earlier this year.  He was forced to leave his job because of constant homophobic taunts by colleagues.  The Tribunal ruled that he had suffered harassment and direct discrimination on the grounds of his sexual orientation.  It also agreed with his claim for constructive unfair dismissal.  It found that his employer had failed to accept or deal with the problem. 


It is still early days but successes like this send a very clear message - to employers and society as a whole:  discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation will not be tolerated.


 On 15 June this year, the Department for Trade & Industry (DTI) announced funding to support the Employment Equality Sexual Orientation and Religion and Belief Regulations. Organisations can now apply for funding to support awareness-raising activities, to help individuals and organisations understand their rights and responsibilities. This fund - of £2.5 million - builds on the £1.4 million we have already made available since 2003. This is a substantial investment.


In evaluating the capacity-building work we have already done in this area, we have listened carefully to your views. We have made the £2.5 million available over two years, to 2007, and will ensure it fosters sustainable activities that build for the future. 


Civil Partnership: Another change which will have a big impact is the Civil Partnership Act. As most of you will know, Parliament passed the Civil Partnership Act at the end of last year and it is due to come into force in December of this year.


This will give same-sex couples, for the first time, the chance to have their relationships legally recognised and treated the same as married people for a whole range of rights and responsibilities - such as tax, pensions, immigration and inheritance.


I am really proud to have taken over from Jacqui Smith on the implementation of this legislation and I am looking forward to congratulating and celebrating the first registrations in December.


Transsexuals: We now have legislation that recognises transsexual people in their acquired gender as a result of the Gender Recognition Act 2004.  Transsexual people, who meet the necessary evidential requirements, can apply for full legal recognition in their acquired gender.


There are a great many more achievements of which we should rightly be proud - equalising the age of consent; scrapping Section 28; the Adoption and Children Act 2002 which allows same-sex couples to adopt jointly for the first time and getting rid of discriminatory offences in the Sex Offences Act 2003 - to name but a few. I am proud to be part of the Government that has delivered these changes, and you should all be proud for having campaigned effectively to achieve them.


Although we have done much, we know there is more to do. 


Hate crime and bullying: We want to do more to address the increase in unprovoked attacks on LGBT people - including bullying.


We know too well that "gay" is one of the most common terms of abuse in playgrounds. 

We know too that homophobic bullying has a negative impact on the whole school community, and is detrimental to social development and inclusion. Some schools are not doing enough to deal with these issues. Some are unaware of the problems; others do not think them a priority; others may feel ill-equipped to handle them effectively and appropriately.


Guidance such as "Stand Up For Us" has been issued to help schools tackle homophobic bullying. We now have, for the first time this year, a national Anti Bullying Week, and LGBT History Month. And DfES has asked the Sex Education Forum to update their material for schools on sexual orientation, sexuality and homophobia in schools.


DfES is also taking forward a framework of action to improve teaching and learning around sexuality.  We cannot afford to waste the talent or deny the value of any of our young people, and this needs to start with a culture of mutual respect and a celebration of our differences.


Bullying undermines the well being of a whole community as well as the victim. It is a priority of the Government to tackle it and that commitment continues. From April this year, we extended the statutory duties of the Criminal Justice Bill.  Any hostility or offence committed, because of the victim’s sexual orientation will be treated as an aggravating factor when passing sentence. Last year, data from CPS, showed that over 70% of homophobic hate crimes reported to police in England and Wales resulted in convictions. This sends a clear and unequivocal message; violence and abuse will not be tolerated, and, regardless of sexual orientation or any other factor, the perpetrators of such crimes will be brought to justice. 


Commission for Equality and Human Rights: The Equality Bill, once passed by Parliament, will establish the Commission for Equality and Human Rights by 2007. It will provide institutional support for the sexual orientation regulations for the first time. The new Commission draws together the work of the three existing equality Commissions, the Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and the Equal Opportunities Commission, and will also provide institutional support for the religion and belief and age regulations.


We know how important the Convention rights have been in securing LGBT equality. So, just as important - the CEHR will be responsible for promoting human rights.

The CEHR will be a major flagship in our drive to ensure a more equal and inclusive society. 

Equalities Review and Discrimination Law Review: Finally, a few words about the major review of equality we announced in February 2005. The Equalities Review is examining the barriers to equality of opportunity and the underlying causes of discrimination. Its recommendations will help shape the development of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights and the development of a Single Equality Bill. It will report to the Prime Minister in summer 2006.


The Discrimination Law Review will work in parallel to the Equalities Review on the development of a simpler, fairer legal framework. This will lead to a Single Equality Bill that will modernise and simplify equality legislation.


Together the Equality Bill and these reviews will establish a new Commission charged with promoting equality and human rights, informed by a deeper understanding of the root causes of inequality and will be well placed to advise upon and enforce a coherent modern legislative framework. We committed in our Manifesto to bringing forward a Single Equality Bill this Parliament.


We have made great strides in addressing equality for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender people. We have set out the next stage of our work. It will take time and continuing effort, but together we can work towards achieving even greater cultural change.


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