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  • James Spargo

What is Boris Johnson's and the UK Conservative Government's Current Stance on Trans Rights?

Updated: Jun 13, 2022

Early 2022 has been a tumultuous time for LGBTQ+ rights in the UK. There have been numerous situations involving the PM, Conservative government, and Equalities and Human Rights Commission panel, which have caused concern for many LGBTQ+ UK citizens. This article will explore these events to see what has happened, its implications for the government's stance on LGBTQ+ people, and its repercussions for the future.

Conversion Therapy Protest

What is the UK Conservative government's voting history on LGBTQ+ people?

Boris Johnson's history is varied. While he voted in favour of repealing Section 28 in 2003 and in favour of the Civil Partnerships Bill in 2004, he was absent for another ten votes regarding LGBTQ+ rights, spanning from 2002 to 2019.

Women and Equalities Minister Elizabeth Truss has voted in favour of various LGBTQ+ rights six times since 2013.

More specifically, Johnson' back[ed] the Gender Recognition Act, introduced in 2004, which allows transgender people to change their gender legally.

Prime Minister's Questions 23rd March 2022: Anti-trans sentiments

During Prime Minister's Questions on 23rd March 2022, Boris Johnson was asked a question by MP Angela Richardson regarding transgender youth and their healthcare. In response, Johnson used a well-known dog-whistle for anti-trans organisations: "basic biology".

dog whistle: the use of coded or suggestive language in political messaging to garner support from a particular group without provoking opposition

To begin with, the Prime Minister took a broadly positive view which realised the need for 'extreme sensitivity, tact, love, and care' when approaching transgender issues. However, he finishes by stating, 'When it comes distinguishing between a man and a woman, the basic facts of biology remain overwhelmingly important.' Anti-trans organisations use "basic biology" to discriminate against transgender people.

In an interview in early April 2022, Johnson was asked about his government's refusal to include transgender people in the ban on conversion therapy. After a short comment on transgender youth, he replied, 'I don't think that biological males should be competing in female sporting events.', followed up with the statement ', That's so far as my thinking has developed on this issue.'

These recent events sit in contrast to Johnson's voting history.

Elizabeth Truss and Boris Johnson

Conversion therapy ban for LGB people only announced on International Trans Day of Visibility

The results of the 2017 National LGBT Survey revealed that 5% of respondents had been offered "conversion" or "reparative" therapy, with 2% of them accepting it (2,640 of the 108,000 respondents). It also found that the '[conversion therapy] figures were higher for trans respondents.' Conversion therapy (or "cure" or "reparative" therapy) is described by Stonewall as 'any form of treatment or psychotherapy which aims to change a person's sexual orientation or to suppress a person's gender identity.'

After this survey, Theresa May announced a plan to ban conversion therapy in 2018.

During the Queen's Speech on 11th May, 2021, Queen Elizabeth stated that 'measures will be brought forward to… ban conversion therapy.' While many government officials avoided the question of when such measures would occur, Nick Herbert, Johnson's appointed "special envoy" for the International LGBTQ+ Conference in Summer 2022, tweeted in October 2021 that the plans would come into effect' next Spring'.

Then, on Thursday 31st March 2022, a leaked "Conversion Therapy Handling Plan" revealed that the government intended to abandon the plans to ban conversion therapy. Many MPs, including Elizabeth Truss were unaware of this plan and spoke out against it. Key members in the campaign for a ban were astonished by the plan: Jayne Ozanne (a gay evangelical who campaigns for LGBTQ+ acceptance within the Church) called the plan 'utterly ridiculous' and 'against every promise they've made'.

Just hours after this, the government announced they would continue drafting legislation to ban gay conversion therapy but said it would not include conversion therapy aimed at transgender people. Hundreds of LGBTQ+ organisations and charities opposed this decision, leading to 105 pulling out of the 2022 International LGBT Conference (which has since been axed following the protests).

This announcement also came on the International Trans Day of Visibility, a day where transgender people celebrate being and expressing themselves, both online and in person.

EHRC Publication Protest

EHRC publication 4th April 2022 - transphobic measures put forward to be included in law, despite being unlawful

For months now, transgender people, especially transgender women, have been aware of the EHRC's intent to publish guidance on how businesses should approach existing and new policies regarding transgender people using single-sex areas.

The EHRC is an independent equalities watchdog, set up by Minister for women and equalities Elizabeth Truss, which claims to "promote and uphold equality and human rights ideals and laws across England, Scotland and Wales". However, leaked documents have suggested that only anti-trans organisations have been in constant contact with the EHRC, and members of the commission have fought against anti-trans rights.

"Protecting people from sex and gender reassignment discrimination" and "Guidance published for providers of single-sex services" were published on 4th April 2022 and celebrated by many individuals, described by The Daily Mail as a 'huge boost for women's rights.' However, the EHRC's publication focuses more on excluding trans people than on protecting cis women's rights. It includes contradictory information and consistently transphobic language and scrutiny about transgender people. For example, they use the terms "transgender women" and "biologically male" interchangeably, which cancels out the trans person's gender in favour of focusing on secondary sex characteristics.

How does the trans community feel about these events?

As a trans person, I spend a lot of time in transgender support group forums on the internet. The vast majority of transgender UK residents have expressed deep concerns with the stance Johnson, the Conservative Government, and the EHRC panel are currently taking on transgender issues. Many have lost faith in their elected government and feel let down.

While we must respect every person's right to privacy and comfort, we can do this without demonising one societal group in favour of another. The overarching tone that transgender people, especially transgender women, are trying to access same-sex spaces for nefarious means is transphobic and irrevocably untrue. No one is trying to take away or infringe on women's rights; trans people are simply fighting for their voices to be heard. The intersection between feminism and transgender issues should be one of love and support, not of victimisation and violence.

Edited by Christophe Locatelli

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