During a speech at the 2023 Conservative Party Conference, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak shared anti-trans views, saying that the British public shouldn’t be “bullied into believing people can be any sex they want to be”.
Sunak made the comments on October 4 during his closing speech at the Tory conference, criticising the lack of “common sense” in the UK public sector. “We are going to change this country and that means, life means life. That shouldn’t be a controversial position. The vast majority of hard-working people agree with it,” he said.
Employing common anti-trans rhetoric on matters of education and healthcare, Sunak continued: “It also shouldn’t be controversial for parents to know what their children are learning in school about relationships. Patients should know when hospitals are talking about men or women.
“We shouldn’t get bullied into believing people can be any sex they want to be. They can’t,” he added. “A man is a man, and a woman is a woman, that is just common sense.”
While his remarks were met with applause at the conference, members of the public strongly rejected them, with many saying that they “couldn’t believe” he was using those words. Journalist India Willoughby described the comments as “terrifying” and was shocked by the audience reaction.
“Outrageous hate, which is going to encourage bullying and physical attacks by thugs, utterly vile,” she commented.
Hurtful and very disappointing.
These words are fueling transphobia and endangering the lives of many people around the world.
— Petra De Sutter (@pdsutter) October 5, 2023
Others took to X (formerly Twitter) to express their outrage over Sunak’s speech, labelling him “disgraceful”. One user wrote, “Trying to distract people from his government’s corruption and incompetence by attacking some of the most vulnerable people in society. Vile.”
“Needlessly stirring up hatred where it is unjustified to make a cheap political dig, before going on to claim the country is wonderful because of its tolerance. Disgraceful excuse for a PM,” another commented.
Several speakers during the Tory conference took aim at the LGBTQ+ community, raising concerns over the agenda of some members. The anti-trans remarks made Sunak came only a day after UK Health Secretary Steve Barclay announced plans to ban trans women from female-only hospital wards, sparking huge backlash from LGBTQ+ activists, other Tories and health officials.
In 1987, Thatcher was spewing horrific homophobia from the Tory pulpit.
In 2023, @RishiSunak is attacking trans people in a very similar way.
Now, most people see Thatcher’s speech for the hatemongering it was.
Eventually, most people will view Sunak’s speech the same way. pic.twitter.com/GZVeRquzqL
— Aidan Comerford (@AidanCTweets) October 4, 2023
The announcement has since been backed by Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who recently came under fire for a speech on LGBTQ+ asylum seekers, in which she said that queer people escaping discrimination and persecution in their home countries should not automatically be entitled to refugee status in the UK.
Responding to her comments, 246 human rights groups wrote a joint letter demanding that the UK government reaffirm its commitment to the protection of LGBTQ+ people and women living in the country. The letter was championed by Stonewall and signed by organisations such as Amnesty, Oxfam, Refugee Council, Rainbow Migration, and End Violence Against Women Coalition.
“We note that your Government’s own statistics suggest that only 2% of all asylum claims made in the UK in 2022 included sexual orientation as a reason for seeking protection,” it reads. “We regret that the Home Secretary intentionally singled out this small minority of people for reasons that have nothing to do with genuine concern or respect for international law, refugees, or their protection.
“Above all, we need compassion and support from our political leaders and a clear affirmation that they will abide by international law and respect the lives of all who face persecution and are entitled to asylum,” it concluded. Read the full letter here.
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