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Secretary of State’s speech at the PinkNews Belfast Summer Reception 2023

Good evening everyone, I am truly honoured to be here with you all to celebrate the LGBT+ community in Northern Ireland during this important month.

And I would like to thank in particular Benjamin, Rachael, Ella and the team at PinkNews for giving me the opportunity to say a few words tonight.

This is set to be an evening of important discussion, focusing on issues that continue to face the LBGT+ community here in Northern Ireland. I am sure all the panellists will have a fascinating conversation.

This evening gives us an opportunity to pause and reflect on just how far LGBT+ rights have progressed in Northern Ireland and to celebrate the efforts of all those who have fought for and indeed continue to fight for equality.

As Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my vision is to make Northern Ireland a better place to live, work and invest for everyone regardless of their identity or sexual orientation.

One of my department’s key priorities is to support greater inclusion, tolerance, and openness in Northern Ireland, where rights and equality of opportunity is protected and promoted.

Earlier today, I had the pleasure of visiting the LGBT Resource Centre to meet representatives from The Rainbow Project, HEReNI and Cara Friend, who I have bumped into already this evening. It is a pleasure to see you all yet again.

Many of you here will be well aware of the fantastic work they and others do to make this place better for everyone by providing essential support for those who need it most. The dedication and fervour even during difficult times was striking.

I heard first-hand about the important work being done and also about the concerns and challenges being faced. I also have listened to the change you would like to see. While we have come a long way, we can go much further.

If there is one thing at the heart of this Government’s agenda, it’s that anyone in this country should be able to achieve anything, no matter where they live or come from.

As a country, we have made huge progress, Northern Ireland especially in recent years.

In 2019, as Ben said, I was proud to support the extension of same sex marriage to Northern Ireland, bringing it in line with the rest of the UK.

That was an incredible moment for LGBT+ rights here and a testament to all those who devoted themselves to the campaign for marriage equality.

More recently, earlier this month, I laid Regulations which amend the curriculum in Northern Ireland for adolescents, to make age- appropriate, comprehensive and scientifically accurate education on sexual and reproductive health and rights a compulsory component of curriculum.

These were debated in Committee only on Monday, and were actually voted on today while I was meeting The Rainbow Project and others. The motion passed through the Commons, 373 votes in favour, just 28 votes against.

This Government believes that sexual and reproductive health education is an important component in ensuring adolescents are well informed of the choices available to them in Northern Ireland. But of course there is still more to do.

But being here in the Parliament Buildings it is hard not to address the fact that the Executive and Assembly are not functioning. I remain firmly of the belief that these decisions are best made by your own locally elected representatives. It should not be left to Westminster to do these sorts of things.

My total focus remains on delivering for the people in Northern Ireland, who expect and deserve locally elected decision-makers to address the issues that matter to them. And I will continue to do everything I can to see devolved government here restored.

I want to  close my few words this evening by reiterating my firm, the Government’s belief, that everyone, across the United Kingdom, should be free to love whom they love. That each of our citizens is free to express themselves openly and without fear of discrimination.

This evening, I’d like to think as well as having a discussion that will undoubtedly touch on some difficult political issues, we celebrate love and pay tribute to all those working to ensure full, equal, meaningful participation for all, across all walks of life.

Thank you again to Ben, PinkNews, Citi for sponsoring, our speakers tonight and of course all of you for joining this evening to celebrate this fantastic community’s existence and growth and strength across the whole of Northern Ireland. Thank you very much.

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