50.50: Opinion

Tory Party’s messages of ‘support’ for trans MP Jamie Wallis are hollow

Representation matters – but Boris Johnson and Liz Truss’s claims to ‘support’ their trans colleague don’t match their actions

Arthur Webber
30 March 2022, 1.01pm

Jamie Wallis, Tory MP for Bridgend and Porthcawl, is the UK Parliament's first openly trans MP

UK government

In the early hours of this morning, Jamie Wallis, Conservative MP for Bridgend and Porthcawl, tweeted a statement in which he revealed that he is transgender.

This revelation makes Wallis the first openly trans member of the UK parliament. We have had transgender parliamentarians before – Nikki Sinclaire (then a UKIP member of the European Parliament) disclosed that she is transgender in 2013 – but Wallis will be the first to sit in the House of Commons.

Although coming out is usually a cause for celebration, the conditions surrounding Wallis’s disclosure are awful. His statement mentions an attempt at blackmail, where he was threatened with being outed as trans before he was ready. Wallis also revealed that he is a rape survivor and has PTSD. It is clear that Wallis’s coming out has come under horrific circumstances and he deserves support and privacy in this, both liberating and stressful, time. I wish Wallis the best in his transition, whatever form it takes.

Trans people have been longing for representation in Parliament for a considerable time. Debates about the Gender Recognition Act reform have been a regular feature on the parliamentary agenda for years, as well as select committee meetings about ‘cancel culture’ and online transphobia. Until Wallis’s brave revelation, we were unaware that there was somebody sitting in the House feeling some of the same anxieties as the rest of us.

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But the Conservative Party that Wallis represents has been keen to fan the flames of the anti-trans culture war. There have been several attempts to frame the Labour Party as being anti-women for even the blandest of statements of solidarity with transgender people. During Labour’s 2021 conference, there was a media storm over the assertion that people other than cis women (namely trans men, some non-binary people and some intersex people) have cervices. Sajid Javid, who is the health secretary and thus in charge of the UK’s disastrous attempt at transgender healthcare, was more than happy to weaponise this. At its own conference, the Conservative Party allowed the LGB Alliance, an advocacy group founded in opposition to Stonewall’s support for trans rights, to have a booth, and thus potentially influence its members.

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The BBC prides itself on its impartiality. But its new podcast about Stonewall is another example of the UK media’s bias against trans people

Just last night, Boris Johnson made a joke at trans people’s expense – apparently while Wallis was in the room. Last week, the prime minister stated that “basic facts of biology remain overwhelmingly important” when it comes to trans people. Yet this morning, upon seeing the love and support received by his colleague, he tweeted a hollow statement of “support”. Boris Johnson is no ally to the trans community.

Liz Truss, the minister for women and equalities, used a speech on the war in Ukraine recently to mock the usage of people’s preferred pronouns. She also tweeted a meaningless statement of support shortly after Wallis’s statement received media traction. Does this mean she will start to take the plight of trans people seriously, as outlined in her brief? Doubtful.

To the current government, all that matters is optics. While commentators in the media ask banal questions about trans people’s genitalia, the front bench make snide jibes in Parliament, which will be received positively by the braying benches behind them. They will make derogatory statements to trans-antagonistic journalists and frame it as public opinion. But now, while there is widespread support, they will pretend to have always stood by us. They never have.

Fundamentally, representation matters. It is both necessary to ensure that the voices of trans people are heard when our issues are raised, and to show other trans people that it is possible to be both trans and a politician. However, one trans person coming out, as brave as it is, will not change a Westminster and media culture that is rotten to the core. If anything, I fear that Wallis’s openness may in fact be a double-edged sword for his mental health while he is surrounded by politicians who are all-too willing to throw minorities under the bus for positive coverage in the Right-wing press. I hope I am wrong.

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