THE BLOG

Celebrating LGBT History Month

27/02/2015 08:10 GMT | Updated 29/04/2015 10:59 BST

From Renaissance master Michelangelo to writer and historian Jan Morris to artist Frida Kahlo, the contribution of LGBT people not only to our society today, but to the strong history that shaped it, can't be understated.

And yet so many of these remarkable men and women have seen their lives shaped, not just by their achievements but also by the need to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity.

This has deprived us all - but especially LGBT young people - of some incredible role models and a true appreciation of what the LGBT community has contributed to our society.

That's why I was so pleased to be celebrating the tenth anniversary of LGBT History Month this February. As part of the celebrations I dropped in to visit the staff and pupils at Eastbourne Academy, a member of Stonewall's 'School Champions' programme. It was great to see, not only how they had marked the anniversary, but also their year round zero tolerance approach to homophobic bullying.

This is fantastic to see, not just as Minister for Women and Equalities, but also as a parent. I want my son to grow up in a society where everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, is free to reach their full potential.

I'm proud to say that we have made some truly momentous strides towards this in recent months.

There have, of course, been the first marriages between same sex couples - 1,400 in the first three months and, more recently, we have seen the first couples converting their civil partnerships to marriages.

As the Prime Minister said, these have been some of the proudest achievements of this government and something I'm sure we'll be celebrating as part of LGBT history in years to come.

And we celebrated another milestone just last month, with the 15th anniversary of lesbians, gays and bisexuals being able to serve openly in our Armed Forces.

I attended a reception to mark this at the Ministry of Defence, which was awarded "most improved employer" in Stonewall's Top 100 employers last year. The Army and Navy also made it on to the list - a measure of just of far we have come.

These are significant strides that are helping to ensure that the UK continues to be ranked number one in Europe for LGBT rights by the International Lesbian and Gay Association.

This is a great honour and also a reminder that this commitment to equality cannot end at our shores.

We know that there are countries where LGBT people still face harassment, violence and criminalisation and we are working to support them and engage constructively with other governments, drawing on our own experience in Britain and influential channels like the UN, EU and the Commonwealth.

The support of organisations such as the Human Dignity Trust, Stonewall and Kaleidoscope and others has been invaluable in this endeavour and I'm hugely grateful to them.

But this international focus certainly doesn't mean that we think the job's done here at home.

Hate crime is still too prevalent and discrimination and prejudice are still too common in the lives of LGBT people. So there is still a lot of work to be done, especially with employers to ensure that LGBT people are free to be themselves in the workplace and in public life.

Sport, in particular, is an area where we need to make more progress. That's why I'm pleased to support the Rainbow Laces campaign to tackle homophobia in football.

But to really change attitudes, we have to go further back to school.

This is when bullying, name-calling, the use of word "gay" as an insult, can, sadly, become an everyday part of life for many LGBT young people.

And we know that this bullying can stay with them for life; affecting not just their happiness, attendance and achievement at school, but, ultimately, their prospects in life.

Worst of all are the mental health implications, with more than half of LGBT young people reporting having self-harmed and being almost twice as likely to have thought about suicide as their peers.

But homophobic bullying doesn't just affect LGBT young people. It can affect anyone who is different from the so-called norm - the girl who likes sport, the boy who doesn't.

This is totally unacceptable. We don't tolerate racist language and nor should we tolerate homophobia.

I know that many schools and teachers are working incredibly hard to address all forms of bullying and to foster respect and understanding for others. I want to do all I can to support them in this, particularly as regards challenging homophobic bullying in age-appropriate ways.

That's why we've introduced a £2 million fund to help schools prevent and combat homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying.

This fund builds on a project launched last year by my colleague Jo Swinson to identify the most effective approaches for tackling this bullying and we will shortly be announcing how it will be allocated.

I'm confident that this important work will take us a step closer to a school system and a society where the Alan Turings and Frida Kahlos of the future are not just celebrated posthumously at the Oscars, but where we consign abuse and bigotry where they belong - into the history books.