Amb Pruce’s Speech at Forum on Youths’ SOGIE & Mental Health

Good afternoon everyone. Thank you all for joining us today. It is an honour to be co-hosting this forum today with the Philippine Anti-Discrimination Alliance of Youth Leaders, Youth for Mental Health Coalition, the Psychological Association of the Philippines, and the leading LGBTQ+ advocate and Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach.

We are meeting today, virtually, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic which has brought stress and anxiety to communities across the world. On top of the threat that the virus itself poses to us and our loved ones we have all had to cope with the pressures of lockdowns, of separation from our families and friends and of uncertainty about the future. So the impact of recent months on our mental health has very much been to the fore. And many organisations, societies and governments have started new discussions about mental health and wellbeing issues. And this is something we have focussed on particularly in the Embassy.

But there are many in our community who faced, and who continue to face, challenges of mental health outside of the current stresses of the coronavirus. And that is what we are going to discuss in the next hour or so, in relation to the LGBTQ+ community.

Young LGBTQ+ people, who are still in the process of developing their character and establishing their identity suffer the worst. Reports cited by Public Health England in the UK and the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights show that LGBTQ+ youth are sadly four times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual counterparts.

52% of young LGBTQ+ have reported self-harm and these numbers increase substantially for LGBTQ+ members who are also part of an ethnic minority who are also living with a disability.

A Trans Mental Health Study also reported that 11% of trans-people had thought of ending their lives at some point. 33% had attempted to take their lives at least once and tragically, 3% have attempted suicide more than 10 times, an awful, awful statistic.

These numbers are disturbing and show the suffering that many in the LGBTQ+ community go through.

Here in the Philippines, the experiences of young LGBTQ+ people are no different from the rest of the world. ASEAN SOGIE who have captured stories of young LGBTQ+ people who experience institutional discrimination as schools impose rigid gender norms on students and communities closely scrutinised same sex friendships and relationships.

Various forms of stigma plague the lives of the LGBTQ+ community. They are bullied and harassed at school for being different. Academic institutions also often impose rules that force young LGBTQ+ people to comply with binary-gender roles and therefore suppress their identity. As they grow older, they continue to experience discrimination in public spaces as they are prohibited from entering heterosexual comfort rooms and forced to follow health protocols which are binary-gender specific. Some see the constant need to excel as the only way to be recognised only to be disappointed when company hiring policies discriminate against them. This is what the LGBTQ+ community suffers every day.

Some say that LGBTQ+ lives are better now as members of the community are given increased recognition globally. And while progress has undoubtedly been made, it is also undeniable that many members of the community experience discrimination on a daily basis.

In the United Kingdom, the British Government aims to be a champion of the rights of LGBTQ+ people. In June 2019, we took on the role of co-chairing the Equal Rights Coalition with Argentina. The ERC as its known is the first intergovernmental network formed to promote and to protect the human rights of the LGBTQ+ community around the world. And we continue to push for the full implementation of the Action Plan which we passed in 2018. This seeks to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people by ending the practice of conversion therapy, by ending homophobic bullying in schools, and by establishing an Advisory Panel to guide government decisions. In the UK we also welcomed our first national adviser on LGBTQ+ health issues into our National Health Service and in parallel we constantly review hate crime legislation to ensure that it recognises gender roles.

Indeed, it’s clear that the strongest, the safest and the most prosperous societies are those in which all citizens can live freely, without fear of violence or discrimination, and where all citizens, including those of the LGBTQ+ community, can play a full and active part in society. Every person should have a fair opportunity in life.

Here in the British Embassy we continue to champion these rights. We are very much a values-driven Embassy. One of our CORE values is Respect. That’s respect for all our colleagues, all of those we work with regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs. Externally, we work with partners across government, and the private sector and NGOs in advocating for greater equality including for the LGBTQ+ community. I am also delighted to say that over the past four years the Embassy has conducted 86 same-sex marriages for British nationals who wanted to marry their same sex partner in the Philippines.

But there is still much to be done. Foras such as these allow us to discuss these issues and seek ways to collaborate to reinforce our advocacy and action planning, and action flowing from today’s discussion will be a really important element of our next hour or so talking together.

And looking into the longer term, I with all of you, continue to look forward to the day where the world will not only see in binary colours but in all the colours of the rainbow.

So I’ll conclude there and very much look forward to a fruitful discussion with everyone. Thank you very much. Maraming salamat. Good afternoon.

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