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Conservative leadership race: The candidates positions on LGBTQ rights

Here's where the main contenders stand on LGBTQ rights.

By Alastair James

Words: Alastair James; pictures: Wiki Commons

Ding dong! Boris has gone. Or, at the very least, is in the process of going. Unlike the Wicked Witch of the West, however, Boris seems determined to drag the last weeks of his premiership out rather than melt away quickly. 

But with his long-awaited departure now imminent we wanted to take a look at those vying to take his place and where they stand on LGBTQ issues.

After a couple of rounds of voting the candidates have already been whittled down. And with a couple more votes to go, we’re due to see a winner announced around 5 September. 

Rishi Sunak

The former Chancellor of the Exchequer is currently the frontrunner in the race and has been seen as the likely successor to Boris.

Having become the MP for Richmond in 2015, Rishi Sunak wasn’t able to vote on same-sex marriage in England and Wales but was absent for votes on the issue in Northern Ireland.

In 2016, he voted to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998, which brought the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into UK law. He also voted against largely retaining the EU “Charter of Fundamental Rights” as part of UK law following the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.

The Mail on Sunday on 9 July spoke to a supposed “ally” of Sunak’s who told the paper that “He [Sunak] believes we must be able to call a mother a mother and talk about breastfeeding, alongside trans-inclusive language where needed.”

Sunak is also said to intend to launch a ‘manifesto for women’s rights’ and to ban trans women from competing in female categories in sports. 

Liz Truss

Considered another favorite in the race, Ms. Truss has consistently voted in favour of same-sex marriage and has almost always voted for equal gay rights.

The MP for South West Norfolk did vote against largely retaining the EU “Charter of Fundamental Rights” and has previously been accused of deliberately dragging her heels and failing to ban ‘conversion therapy’ when she was Minister for Women and Equalities

Despite saying she has “full respect for transgender people” she has also agreed with the view that “only women have a cervix”

Speaking at the Conservative Party Conference in 2021, Truss reiterated her belief that trans people shouldn’t be able to self-ID, stating: “It wouldn’t be right to have self-identification with no checks and balances in the system.”

She added: “It is clear process of medical understanding of how that process works, and those medical checks are important.”

When her Equalities Office colleague and competitor in the current leadership race, Kemi Badenoch made inflammatory comments about trans people — including calling trans women “men” and “transsexuals” in leaked recordings Liz did nothing and Kemi kept her job.

Kemi Badenoch

Ms. Badenoch has been the MP for Saffron Walden since 2017 and so has never voted on allowing same-sex marriage. But she did abstain from votes in 2019 for Northern Ireland. 

She also voted against largely retaining the EU “Charter of Fundamental Rights”

She has come under fire in recent months for inflammatory comments about trans people (mentioned above) 

Coming to the defense of Professor Kathleen Stock, who resigned from her role at the University of Sussex in November 2021 Kemi told Sky News: “she [Stock] has every right to hold the beliefs which she does, and I think she is probably in step with the majority of the population.”

Ms. Badenoch was urged to quit her role in the Equalities office after she used the term “end” rather than “ban” when discussing how conversion therapy should be dealt with

Former Tory member and campaigner Jaynne Ozanne said: “I don’t believe they have the best interests of the LGBT community in their minds and I don’t think they understand us,” of Badenoch and Truss.

More recently, she is reported to have urged the FCA to drop plans for a trans-inclusive policy for self-ID in the workplace. 

Penny Mordaunt

Penny Mordaunt has consistently voted for same-sex marriage and in favour of gay rights. She also marked herself as an ally with statements such as “transmen are men, and transwomen are women” said at the despatch box in the House of Commons in March 2021.

However, the Portsmouth North MP did appear row back on these sentiments when she recently tweeted: “I am biologically a woman. If I have a hysterectomy or mastectomy, I am still a woman. And I am legally a woman. Some people born male and who have been through the gender recognition process are also legally female. That DOES NOT mean they are biological women, like me.”

Appearing on an LBC phone-in on Tuesday (12 July) she clarified she had never been in favour of self-ID for trans people in response to questions on her stance on trans rights.

“There are some people that socially transition, but what we were looking at what was the Gender Recognition Act, and it’s a process that people go through,” she told Iain Dale.

Tom Tugendhat

A relative unknown, Mr. Tugendhat is seen by some as an ideal candidate because of his lack of experience in the cabinet and not having held any ministerial role to date. His military experience is also seen as a bonus having actually led people. 

The former Army man voted in favour of same-sex marriage in 2019 having become the MP for Tonbridge and Malling in 2015. 

He recently called for a “clean start” in the trans rights debate. Asked about trans people on Sky News he said: “This is one of those debates that demonstrates why we need to move on, because it is really easy to make division where we need unity, it is really easy to try and divide communities.”

“Look, a woman is an adult human female. But that doesn’t mean in any way that trans women have any less respect or any fewer rights.”

He also said that he “certainly” believes women’s spaces are needed listing prisons and refuges as examples of where that should be the case.

The Flops

Not everyone can be leader of course. Here are those who have been knocked out or dropped out due to a lack of support.

Nadhim Zahawi – eliminated from the leadership race in round one (Wednesday 13 July)

Two days after being announced as the new Chancellor by Johnson, Zahawi was already calling for Boris to go. 

Zahawi has voted for same-sex marriage across the UK – in England and Wales in 2013 and then in Northern Ireland in 2019.

However, in 2013 he also voted to remove the duty on the Commission for Equality and Human Rights to work to support the development of a society where people’s ability to achieve their potential is not limited by prejudice or discrimination and there is respect for human rights. Hmmmm.

Earlier this year he defended a university professor who resigned after being accused of transphobia. Following Dr. Kathleen Stock’s resignation, Mr. Zahawi, then the Education Secretary, told the Sunday Telegraph that it was “unacceptable that a scholar of her calibre was hounded out of university.”

He also indicated he believed that school teachers should out trans children to their parents during a session of the education select committee in April.

Jeremy Hunt – eliminated from the leadership race in round one (Wednesday 13 July)

A former Health and Foreign Secretary, Hunt was one of the candidates that had the most experience in Cabinet. Still, it clearly wasn’t enough to get the requisite number of MPs to back him in his bid to become leader.

Jeremy did vote in favor of gay marriage in 2013. Although he was absent from discussions and votes on same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland. 

In 2016, it was reported that Hunt was among key decision makers to drag their feet when it came to approving for the HIV preventative drug, PrEP to be made available on the NHS. Professor Sheena McCormack said at the time the hesitation was due to fears over how the right-wing media would respond.

In 2019 Hunt backed LGBTQ inclusive education. He later tweeted: “I believe there are happy families of all shapes and sizes in this country – and as a party we should support and celebrate that.”

Rehman Chishti – dropped out before the first vote (Tuesday 12 July)

The Gillingham and Rainham MP was probably the least well-known leadership contender and had previously not held any cabinet position. He only became a low-level Foreign Office minister following a mass wave of resignations in the wake of Boris Johnson’s deceit over MP Chris Pincher. 

Although it may be a good thing he didn’t get very far in the process. He voted against gay marriage across the UK. He said in 2012: “I do not support any redefinition of marriage, which is based on my own principles and is in accordance with all faiths. People in gay and lesbian relationships can enter into a civil partnership with the same rights, and I fully support that.”

Sajid Javid – dropped out before the first vote (Tuesday 12 July)

It was Sajid Javid’s resignation from Johnson’s cabinet, where he was serving as Health Secretary, that is credited as the falling pebble that began the avalanche of resignations that ultimately led to Johnson’s own resignation.

But he was unable to garner enough support from fellow Tory MPs to have a viable chance of becoming the next party leader and so he dropped out of the race shortly before the window for nominations closed on Tuesday (12 July)

Earlier this year Javid defended the government’s exclusion of trans people from a ban on ‘conversion’ therapy. He said it was the “sensitive approach” to take. He also received backlash for saying trans youth could be being abused.

In the same interview with Sky News, he said: “Is it a genuine case of gender identity dysphoria or could it be that that individual is suffering from some child sex abuse, for example, or could it be linked to bullying?”

Last year Javid said Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer was denying “scientific fact” when he said that it is “not right” to say only women have a cervix.

He did vote to allow same-sex marriage

Suella Braverman – eliminated from the leadership race in round two (Thursday 14 July)

The Attorney General, Suella Braverman bravely announced her intention to run for leadership prior to Boris Johnson’s resignation and didn’t quit her role in his government. 

The Fareham MP has claimed to support gay marriage but voted against it in Northern Ireland. She claimed, “it’s a matter for the devolved assembly and not our Parliament”. 

Launching her leadership bid she told ITV: “We need to get rid of all of this woke rubbish and get back to a country where describing a man and a woman in terms of biology does not mean that you’re going to lose your job.”

Braverman has made it clear she would have left the ECHR (European Convention on Human Rights) if she becomes prime minister. The ECHR protects our human rights and freedoms.

She has also previously said teachers “should not pander to trans pupils”. She also called JK Rowling, “Very brave, very courageous. I’m on her side.”