Crispin Blunt is Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global LGBT+ Rights, and is MP for Reigate. Sue Pascoe is Area Chairman of the Conservative Women’s Organisation in North and East Yorkshire.
Recent weeks have been tumultuous for the LGBT+ community across the UK with an increasing breakdown of trust towards government, ministers, some parliamentarians and sections of the media.
Trust is a vital component for government and for our free press to function effectively. Yet for months now certain sections of the media have been spreading misinformation and confusion about the functioning of the Equality Act and generating fear towards transgender people, even going so far as to make an extraordinary attack on Penny Mordaunt for stating the Government’s legal and moral position that “trans men are men and trans women are women”.
She had gone out of her way to try and restore some trust by using these words at the despatch box after their Lordships had made an amendment to legislation which had provided an opportunity for certain people, motivated by anxieties or fundamentalist belief, to renew an attack on the principle of gender neutrality in legislation, which established practice since 2007.
It is never necessary to humiliate or degrade trans people in order to discuss sex and gender or to address health needs or social inequalities.The Equality Act brought in the concept that gender reassignment was a ‘personal process’ rather than a ‘medical one’. Trans people have been accessing single-sex services and facilities in line with their lived identity for many decades. More than that though, trans people are also covered by the sex discrimination parts of the Act the same as everyone else – crucially, in their lived identity.
Some media outlets have also been trying to attack LGBT+ organisations and supporters as some sort of ‘secret lobby’. This includes the very public Stonewall Champions programme and the LGBT+ Global Rights All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG).
Then came the cross-party consensus Commons debate on Conversion Therapy (defined by the UN as a form of torture). After a promise made to legislate for ‘ban’ a thousand days earlier, the Equalities Minister finished the debate only speaking about ‘ending’ the practice at some indeterminate time in the future whilst leaving religious groups to continue guiding people.
This was followed quickly by resignations of three principled members of the Government’s LGBT+ Advisory Panel citing a ‘hostile environment’, ‘equalities ministers ignorance of issues and lack of willingness to listen’ and ‘failure to include gender identity in their responses’ to ending Conversion Therapy.
The panel members who resigned, who must be thanked for their service to the LGBT+ community, included Jayne Ozanne, a well-known gay evangelical who works to ensure full inclusion of all LGBT+ people of faith, particularly in the Church. In 2019 she was given an audience with the Pope to present research on Conversion Therapy. She was accompanied by James Morton, until recently manager at the Scottish Trans Alliance and prominent trans advocate, and Ellen Murray, human rights writer and disability student.
The LGBT Conservatives said: “It is upsetting to hear of her experience and read the allegations she has made. A thorough investigation is needed… We need to set a standard for others to follow. This is not it.”
We are pleased that the Prime Minister intervened quickly saying “I think this practice is repulsive and I think it’s abhorrent, and I’m sorry these advisers have gone, but be in no doubt that we will deal with this issue.” A government spokesperson confirmed this would involve a ‘ban’. We look forward to speedy resolution and to effective legislation that bans conversion therapy of sexual orientation and gender identity of adults and children – including harmful religious and spiritual practices.
The Minister for Women and Equalities also mentioned improvements in transgender healthcare which are desperately needed, as services are currently at crisis point in many areas. One of the gender identity clinics only assessed two patients last year. Moreover, the three new primary care pilots for service delivery only cover a smaller portion of the services offered by the seven full gender identity clinics.
Trust is everything. We are now at an inflection point. Trust can get restored or it can erode very quickly to dangerous levels not seen since the days of Section 28, the law (repealed in 2003) that stopped councils and schools from “promoting the teaching of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.”
The Government needs to understand that there is a climate of fear, which is being fuelled from many sources. Now is the time to show leadership to assert that those days are not returning. Trust in our elected officials and government to serve the whole of society in a representative democracy is vital.
Some MPs foster trust in the Government. Others do not. Worst still, in the media at the moment some outlets are actively driving misinformation and divisions in our society. It’s so important that the voices and the ‘real lived experiences’ of the LGBT+ community are listened too, just as it is to listen to the outrage and outpouring voices of women which have come forward in recent days as they seek to be safe in society.
Domestic, street, and sexual violence plus misogyny impacts women who have intersecting minority identities. They can also face increased discrimination and further barriers to seeking justice and support. Being safe in society is not a lot to ask, is it?
Equality and inclusivity for all is both right and necessary for a society to be free, and we would be surprised by Conservatives standing against that. We must continue to work towards a society where we treat each other with respect, dignity, compassion, tolerance and understanding. We wish to see policy measures which bring social cohesion, and focus on our common welfare, whilst understanding the perspective and challenges of others.
We must deliver our promise to protect all LGBT+ people at home and abroad, and ensure UK leadership in human rights for all continues.