What Boris Johnson’s resignation means for UK's LGBTQ+ community

While all LGBTQ+ people have the potential to be affected, it is Trans rights that appear to be under the most severe threat.

Boris Johnson who today handed in his resignation.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

On the morning of Thursday, July 7, and after a day of political unrest in the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson finally handed in his resignation – a move which has been called for many times during the conservative party leader’s stint. While he survived many scandals including the recent Partygate, it was his support for Chirs Pincher who is accused of sexual harassment which caused over 50 fellow government members to resign in protest, seemingly putting the final nail in the coffin for Johnson.

Many across the UK who have long criticised the Prime Minister’s leadership are celebrating the landmark moment, no more so than members of the LGBTQ+ community. During his time in office, Boris Johnson has created “an atmosphere of hostility for LGBT+ people,” departing Minister for Equalities Mike Freer stated in his resignation letter, adding “I can no longer defend policies I fundamentally disagree with.”

Despite his resignation, Boris Johnson will stay on as caretaker prime minister until a new leader is elected. There is already a list of potential Tory candidates ready to take his place and those tipped as frontrunners include Liz Truss, Dominic Raab, Jeremy Hunt, Ben Wallace and Penny Mordaunt, while others such as Suella Braverman, Sajid Javid and Rishi Sunak are all also expected to try their luck.

But what will this mean for the UK’s LGBTQ+ community? Fears are already festering that campaigners will aim to appease right-wing voters by speaking against LGBTQ+ and, in particular, Transgender rights, which were already targetted under Johnson’s leadership.

A current area for concern is the proposed conversion therapy ban which, at present, does not protect Trans people or “consenting adults”. Boris Johnson initially wanted to scrap the legislation entirely, but following backlash, decided to progress with the bill but make it exclusionary to gender minority groups and still accessible for queer adults. There is a worry that the incoming Prime Minister may see this issue as a lower priority, and will push it back even further.

Speaking on the proposed legislation in April of this year, Johnson stated: “We will have a ban on gay conversion therapy, which to me is utterly abhorrent. But there are complexities and sensitivities when you move from the area of sexuality to the question of gender. There are things that I think still need to be worked out.”

In the same interview, he also expressed, “I don’t think that biological males should be competing in female sporting events. And maybe that’s a controversial thing, but it just seems to me to be sensible.”

He continued, “I also happen to think that women should have spaces, whether it’s in hospitals or prisons or changing rooms or wherever, which are dedicated to women”.

It is expected that potential candidates may share some of Johson’s anti-Trans views, and LGBTQ+ rights in the country really hang in the balance depending on who is elected. For example, Liz Truss, who while serving as minister for women and equalities scrapped much-needed reform to the Gender Recognition Act, is among the favourites to take Johnson’s place. According to PinkNews, she was accused by an anonymous Conservative Party member of using the LGBTQ+ community “to rile up her right-wing support base”.

“She’s shown a lack of real knowledge or care for the community and it feels very much like she has used the role to only push forward women’s rights, not including trans women within that,” they continued.

“We need a leader who isn’t going to use LGBTQ+ issues as a fun thing to throw out in the chamber, but who cares about getting down to the nitty-gritty of the issues and will go out into the community and learn from trans people who are calling for GRA reforms – who will listen to victims of conversion therapy and ensure they protect them in legislation.”

Although Truss has shown evidence of voting in favour of lesbian, gay and bisexual people in the past, her lack of support for Trans folk is what is alarming.

Similarly, Dominc Raab and Sajid Javid have shown support for LGB people, but have spoken out against Trans rights. In 2019, Raab said he wanted a society that is “tolerant and warm” to the queer community, but that they should be “very careful” when it comes to Trans youth. Javid went as far as linking being Trans to child sex abuse.

Another candidate, Suella Braverman, said on Sunday, July 3, that “rights culture” has “spun out of control” and that a “collective frenzy” over Trans rights means that the “basics of biology” have been “turned upside down”. She also criticised the 2010 Equality Act which includes being Trans as a characteristic protected from discrimination, claiming it is “posing a lot of practical problems for authorities, schools, sporting bodies, prisons and the NHS.”

Ben Wallace is the only prominent potential successor who voted against same-sex marriage, and he also opposed the Equality Act.

Penny Mordaunt could be a more favourable candidate for the LGBTQ+ community as she is known as one of the most progressive Tories when it comes to queer issues. It was she who oversaw a public consultation on reforming the Gender Recognition Act (which Truss later scrapped), and LGBTQ+ activist and government advisor Jayne Ozanne described her as “the only person” who could rebuild the party’s relationship with the queer community.

“She has shown herself to be fully committed to the LGBTQ+ community and has consistently delivered on her promise,” Ozanne said.

“She is a woman of deep integrity and principle, who has won the trust and respect of MPs right across the house […] Her leadership would without a doubt bring the party back to the middle ground, and I am convinced, build a better and more inclusive Britain.”

While Boris Johnson’s resignation is expected to be significant for all strands of the LGBTQ+ community across the UK, it is clear that Trans rights in particular could be under severe threat. 

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