Government accused of ‘fuelling culture wars and harming trans people’, as two more LGBT advisers quit

Government foot-dragging on banning conversation therapy sparks advisers walk-out

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Thursday 11 March 2021 13:19
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<p>Liz Truss, the equalities minister, was criticised for her ‘ignorant’ approach along with colleague Kemi Badenoch</p>

Liz Truss, the equalities minister, was criticised for her ‘ignorant’ approach along with colleague Kemi Badenoch

Two more government LGBT advisers have quit an official panel amid growing concern that ministers are creating a "hostile environment" for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

The further resignations come after Jayne Ozanne, the first adviser to announce her departure, criticised equality ministers Kemi Badenoch and Liz Truss for being “ignorant” and rejecting official advice.

Now, ITV news reports that a second adviser, James Morton, has also quit, along with a third, Ellen Murray.

Ms Ozanne has said she had been "increasingly concerned about what is seen to be a hostile environment for LGBT people among this administration".

Mr Morton meanwhile said ministers had ignored concerns that they were damaging LGBT people's lives by "fuelling culture wars".

The catalyst for the resignations is the government's foot-dragging on banning so-called "gay conversation therapy".

Theresa May had pledged to end the practice years ago, and Boris Johnson has also endorsed the policy – but has yet to bring forward any actual proposals to change the law.

There are fears the government will fail to totally prohibit the practice after Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch told MPs on Monday she wanted to "end" conversions, but repeatedly avoided using the term "ban".

The government's approach to trans rights is also a source of contention. Ms Ozanne told ITV News: "They are known among the community as the 'ministers for inequality'.

"I don’t believe that they understand LGBT people, particularly transgender people.

"I’ve sat in meetings and I’ve been astonished about how ignorant they are on issues that affect the real lives, particularly of younger people."

Mr Morton, the second advisor to quit, meanwhile said there had been no "genuine engagement" with the advisory panel in the last year.

"For the last 12 months, I've been increasingly concerned about the direction of travel around trans rights," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"I didn't have any naive expectation that an advisory panel would manage to get a government to make massive improvements to LGBT people's lives.

"But I did hope that there would be some kind of genuine engagement with the panel and interest in learning about the needs and experiences of LGBT people, and it just felt like in the last 12 months there just wasn't."

Asked about his experience in the panel's meetings, Mr Morton said: "I don't feel like I'm at liberty to talk about exact words that were used in the meetings, but I can talk about the comments that have been made by ministers publicly.

"After we have been trying to explain to them how badly fuelling culture wars affects trans people and their day-to-day lives, they continue to make comments about 'war on wokeness', and how LGBT and race equality have become 'too fashionable' and therefore need to be de-prioritised.

"It certainly does not feel fashionable to be a trans person in the UK at the moment, it feels really scary."

The government was last year reported to have shelved its plans to make the legal transition process easier for trans people.

Nancy Kelley, CEO at LGBT+ rights group Stonewall, said: ‘It is upsetting and concerning that Jayne Ozanne, James Morton and Ellen Murray all felt they had to resign from their advisory posts in response to a lack of UK Government action to address conversion therapy. We stand in solidarity with them and are grateful for all the work they have done to hold the Government to account, work that we will all continue to do as we fight for LGBT+ equality.

‘It is appalling that in 2021 our communities are still being subjected to these harmful practices, putting lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, intersex and asexual people at risk of lifelong trauma. In the last week alone, almost 20,000 people have emailed their MPs and urged the UK Government to stop dragging its feet and bring in a full legislative ban of LGBTQIA+ conversion therapy.”

Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said he did not accept the characterisation of the government creating a “hostile environment” for LGBT people.

But he made clear that the government is not committed to a law banning conversion therapy, but may instead take non-legislative action.

“The PM is immensely proud to live in a country that’s one of the most progressive and liberal when it comes to LGBT equality and the government is proactively working with other countries to improve LGBT rights internationally,” said the spokesman. 

“We’ve been clear that conversion therapy is wrong and we’ve committed to ending these vile practices for good. The PM himself has called conversion therapy ‘absolutely abhorrent’ and made it clear there’s no place in a civilised society for it in any form.

“It remains the case that we are researching  to assess how we bring an end to this practice, and we will continue to consider all legislative and non-legislative options.”

He added: “The prime minister has been a long time supporter of the LGBT community. I would point you to his voting record in this regard. You’ll know as foreign secretary he lifted a ban on British embassies abroad flying the rainbow flag during Pride events and he’s attended Pride in London during his time as mayor.”

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