Theresa May: Conservatives were wrong in the past on LGBT rights, but we’ve come a long way

Theresa May (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

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.

Theresa May

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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 remember and celebrate 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.