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Tory leadership candidates are weaponising trans rights – again

Rishi Sunak, Penny Mordaunt and Suella Braverman have already signalled their intention to oppose trans equality

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Maysa Pritilata Nandini Archer Ramzy Alwakeel
11 July 2022, 5.05pm

Rishi Sunak, seen by many as the frontrunner to replace Boris Johnson


Allstar Picture Library Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

Tory leadership hopefuls have been accused of attacking trans people’s “lives and well-being” to score political points.

It comes as a string of Conservative leadership candidates including frontrunners Rishi Sunak and Penny Mordaunt have signalled their intent to oppose trans people’s rights if they become PM.

Sunak, who as chancellor became the second minister to resign last week in the wake of Boris Johnson’s handling of the Chris Pincher sex scandal, is expected to produce a “manifesto for women’s rights” that opposes trans women’s inclusion in sport and the use of gender-inclusive language.

And Mordaunt posted a series of tweets on Sunday in which she referred to trans women as “people [who were] born male and who have been through the gender recognition process,” adding: “That DOES NOT mean they are biological women, like me.”

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Other candidates who appear to be weaponising opposition to LGBTQ+ rights in their campaigns include attorney general Suella Braverman, who said last week: “We need to get rid of all of this woke rubbish and get back to a country where describing a man and a woman in terms of biology does not mean that you’re going to lose your job.”

Former LGBTQ+ government adviser Jayne Ozanne told openDemocracy in April that the Conservative Party was attacking trans rights because it believed its core voters were transphobic.

Trans people have been used as a political football to distract from serious issues

Responding to the candidates' statements, jane fae, director of TransActual and chair of Trans Media Watch, said today: “If you think that, to become prime minister, you need to terrorise a minority community, you are not fit to be an MP – let alone a minister or prime minister.”

The government U-turned on protections for trans people from conversion therapy in May, sparking a parliamentary debate on the subject.

Mike Freer, who was then the equalities minister, responded to the debate on behalf of the government, attempting to justify the delay in bringing forward protections for trans people.

But Cleo Madeleine, a spokesperson for the trans rights charity Gendered Intelligence, pointed out Freer had been one of the ministers to resign over the government’s response to the Pincher scandal, and that in his resignation letter he had cited the government’s “atmosphere of hostility for LGBT+ people”, singling out its approach to conversion therapy as a reason for his resignation. Earlier the same day he had told the women and equalities committee that “elements” of Parliament had issues with transgender people.

Darlington MP Peter Gibson joined Freer and 50 other MPs in resigning from the government, where he had been a parliamentary private secretary to the Department for International Trade.

He explained in his resignation letter that attending Pride “should have been a liberating, enjoy[able] experience. Instead, due to the damage our party has inflicted on itself over the failure to include trans people in the ban on conversion therapy, it was a humiliating experience and signalled to me the immense damage that has been so needlessly inflicted.”

Madeleine told openDemocracy: “YouGov stats shows consistently the majority are in favour of more reforms for the trans* community…

“There is an opportunity for sea change from Boris Johnson’s successor. There is an opportunity here… to move away from attacking a marginalised community to mask a legacy of failures.”

Of Freer and Gibson’s resignations, she added: “We’d hope that the next candidate will get some perspective from what Boris Johnson’s stance has done for him...

“We don’t want our lives and well-being to become an election point....

“Trans people in past months in particular have been used as a political football to distract from serious issues.”

Leadership hopeful Grant Shapps has refused to be drawn on the subject, saying he wanted to “live and let live”.

Tom Tugendhat, who is also running, referred to trans identities as a “debate” while talking to Sophy Ridge on Sky, but added: “We need to move on because it’s really easy to make division where we need unity.”

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