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Liz Truss faces criticism for failing to set up new LGBT+ advisory panel nine months after scrapping old one

Equalities minister told MPs in May 2021 the government would ‘shortly put out an expression of interest’ for recruiting new panel

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Sunday 09 January 2022 12:38 GMT
The equalities minister disbanded the previous panel in April
The equalities minister disbanded the previous panel in April (AP)

Equalities minister Liz Truss is facing criticism for failing to set up a new LGBT+ advisory panel, almost nine months after disbanding one she had clashed with over “fundamental disagreements”.

Anneliese Dodds, the shadow equalities minister, told The Independent the lack of progress demonstrated “everything you need to know about this government’s commitment to tackling the issues facing LGBT+ people”.

The advisory panel – set up under former prime minister Theresa May’s administration in 2018 – was designed to hold ministers to account over the vow to improve the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Britain.

But it was disbanded in April 2021 by Ms Truss after a series of members resigned. One accused government ministers of creating a “hostile environment” for LGBT+ people while others criticised repeated delays over a ban on so-called “conversion therapy”.

Ms Truss, who still holds the equalities brief alongside her new post as foreign secretary in Boris Johnson’s government, later admitted to MPs there were “fundamental disagreements”, including over the issue of self-identification for trans people.

At the time the panel was disbanded – nine months ago – both No 10 and Ms Truss pledged to create a “replacement” panel in due course.

And in May last year, the equalities minister also said the government would “shortly put out an expression of interest” for recruiting a new LGBT+ advisory panel. But in the time that has passed, no plans have been publicly disclosed.

Jayne Ozanne, a former member of the panel, told The Independent: “There’s sadly quite a pattern forming of this secretary of state promising things for the LGBT+ community and then not delivering in the promised time scales. Let’s hope this is the year that all changes.”

A second member of the disbanded panel, professor Catherine Meads, said she was “disappointed” and pointed out that a new panel could have aided work on “several things”, including the current consultation for a legislative ban on “conversion therapy”.

“However there is the Safe to Be Me international conference in the summer and I haven’t really seen any progress on any LGBT issues recently,” she added.

“For example my area is health, and in nearly two years into a pandemic we still have no data on Covid in sexual or gender minority people from the government, the ONS [Office for National Statistics] or the NHS. Why is that?”

Paul Martin, another member of the former panel and chief executive at the LGBT Foundation, told The Independent: “Since the disbandment of the government’s LGBT advisory panel in April 2021 we are disappointed to see little progress has been made on establishing a new panel almost one year on.

“Recent developments for LGBTQ+ people show we are slowly moving in the right direction, but there is still so much more to be done for LGBTQ+ communities.”

He added: “As a former member of the LGBT+ panel, it is clear there is a need for the government to have an advisory panel of specialists and experts who can advise and support them on ensuring the needs of the LGBTQ+ communities are clearly heard, and feed into the development of policy.

“We urgently ask that the government confirms the intent to reinstate an LGBTQ+ advisory panel, to update the LGBTQ+ action plan, and to provide a firm timetable for these.”

Ms Dodds, Labour’s shadow equalities secretary and party chair, added: “The failure to bring forward plans for a replacement tells you everything you need to know about this government’s commitment to tackling the issues facing LGBT+ people and its willingness to take advice from those who understand them best. Liz Truss promised action on this, and yet again this government is failing to deliver.”

A government Equality Hub spokesperson did not give an update on the replacement panel, but said: “The government is committed to promoting and realising equality for LGBT people at home and abroad.

“Over the last year, we have taken steps to improve the lives of LGBT people, including the launch of our proposals to ban conversion therapy and the modernisation of the gender recognition process. Later this year we will also be delivering the UK’s first global LGBT conference, Safe to Be Me: A Global Equality Conference.

“The government continues to draw on the expertise and experience from the newly created roles of Special Envoy on LGBT rights, Lord Herbert of the South Downs, and LGBT Business Champion, Iain Anderson, as well as Dr Brady, the National LGBT Health Adviser.”

The Conservative MP Crispin Blunt said he was “not personally wedded to the existence of an advisory panel” saying he had a “good relationship” with Lord Herbert, Mr Anderson and Dr Brady, who he claimed were a “mark of the government’s renewed ambition to take a decisive stance on LGBT+ rights and almost certainly carry much more weight in terms of policy change and internal scrutiny than a relatively anonymous panel”.

However, he added the “proof of the pudding will be in the eating” and said their first major hurdle will be getting a “comprehensive conversion therapy ban passed”.

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