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What Prime Minister Boris Johnson means for LGBT rights

Nick Duffy July 23, 2019
Boris Johnson has been elected as the new Conservative leader and will become Prime Minister

Boris Johnson has been elected as the new Conservative leader and will become Prime Minister (TOLGA AKMEN/AFP/Getty)

Boris Johnson is set to become Prime Minister, but the change in government leaves questions unanswered on LGBT+ rights.

After his victory over Jeremy Hunt in the Conservative leadership election, the leader is set to take office on Wednesday (July 24).

During the leadership campaign, Johnson stressed: “If I am lucky enough to be elected Conservative leader, I pledge that my administration will not consider this issue as ‘job done’.

“I will continue to champion LGBT+ equality, get tough on hate crime and ensure that we break down barriers to a fairer society.”

However, Johnson’s campaign was light on policy detail around LGBT+ issues, and the likely Cabinet reshuffle may also have an impact on impending reforms.

Gender Recognition Act reform

Landmark plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) to make it easier for transgender people to gain recognition in their legal gender, first announced by Prime Minister Theresa May in 2017, are possibly most at risk of being derailed unless a fresh commitment is given by the Boris Johnson government.

Progress has already slowed to a crawl, with the government accused of slow-walking its response to a public consultation on the issue after significant media blowback.

Boris Johnson LGBT rights record: Anti-gay slurs mixed with surprisingly liberal stance

The decision by Nicola Sturgeon to kick the issue into the long grass in Scotland underscores that even with supportive leadership, a tough battle lies ahead to secure reforms.

Personal pledges from May and equalities minister Penny Mordaunt were crucial in making progress to date, leaving question marks over the issue if Mordaunt is moved from the post.

In a statement to the LGBT+ Conservatives, Boris Johnson said: “We must do more to ensure that trans rights are protected and those who identify as trans or intersex are able to live their lives with dignity.”

However, he is yet to outline in detail whether he plans to continue with GRA reform.

LGBT+ inclusive relationships education

With protests against LGBT+ inclusive relationships education spreading across England, the issue is likely to continue to be a flash point under the new Prime Minister.

Johnson has made clear: “In our schools we must ensure that every young person feels safe and we should not allow the authority of teachers to be undermined by parents who unreasonably take their children out of school.”

Campaigners have already pressed the leader to make sure the new Education Secretary is a supporter of LGBT+ equality who will continue to take a firm stance on the issue under pressure.

Conservative leadership favourite Boris Johnson arrives at his office on July 22, 2019 in London, England.
Conservative leadership favourite Boris Johnson arrives at his office on July 22, 2019 in London, England. (Peter Summers/Getty)

More than 80 MPs recently signed a letter calling on the new government to make its support for schools teaching about LGBT+ issues clear.

They wrote: “The government and the Department for Education have been slow to respond to the misinformation being promulgated among many of our communities by those seeking to undermine relationships education in primary schools.

“If unchecked, the problem will grow, damaging our schools and communities and weakening the recent advancement of equal rights in our country.

“We call on the education secretary to act during the schools’ summer break by mounting a nationwide information exercise for parents, underpinning the introduction of the new relationships education in primary schools — which is crucial for preparing children for life in modern Britain.”

Hate crimes, Northern Ireland and conversion therapy

The majority of the government’s ongoing work on LGBT+ issues is likely to continue regardless of Cabinet changes.

The bill that will extend equal marriage to Northern Ireland has already cleared Parliament and is heading for royal assent, while work to outlaw gay ‘cure’ therapy has cross-party consensus and is likely to continue.

Hate crime reforms are also likely to continue, with the Law Commission commissioned to conduct “a review of the coverage and approach of current hate crime provisions, to ensure the existing law is working effectively.”

Government Equalities Office

Reports in recent weeks have suggested that Johnson could shrink the size of the Cabinet, abolishing a number of government departments.

If the new leader goes ahead with the plan, there is a risk that the Government Equalities Office could be merged into a larger department.

The department, which has cross-governmental responsibility for work on LGBT+ policy issues, has been crucial to reforms since its formation in 2007, leading work to counter discrimination that may not have been prioritised elsewhere in government.

Its closure could imperil future work on LGBT+ issues.

Public remarks about LGBT+ people

Johnson has a very public history of anti-LGBT slurs, and has not issued a direct apology for his past comments.

In 1990s newspaper columns, Johnson referred to gay people as “tank-topped bum boys” and attacked “Labour’s appalling agenda, encouraging the teaching of homosexuality in schools.”

The new leader has also compared gay weddings to “three men and a dog.”

During his leadership campaign, Johnson was challenged over the quotes on multiple occasions, but has declined to apologise.

He said: “If you’re going to excavate and disinter every single quotation from the millions of words I have written, you can of course try and twist things one way or another but I have a very proud record.”

While the leader appears less prone to making such remarks in 2019, it is unclear if he will ever issue an apology for doing so.

Mixed response from LGBT+ campaigners

LGBT+ Conservatives remain optimistic about Johnson’s leadership, but others appear less certain.

Peter Tatchell told PinkNews that “there is no indication that he has any commitment to remedying the remaining injustices faced by LGBT+ people.,” noting that he has a “mixed record” on the issue and “his past insulting utterances count against him.”

Colm Howard-Lloyd, Chairman of LGBT+ Conservatives, told PinkNews: “As Mayor Boris funded pride and banned anti-gay tube ads. In parliament he backed same-sex marriage, and as Foreign Secretary encouraged UK embassies to fly the rainbow flag, and had robust discussions with Commonwealth colleagues on progress needed.

“However as a journalist he used some distinctly hurtful and unhelpful language, and that has dented the confidence of many in the LGBT community. I expect him to address that at an early opportunity.

“The four-year LGBT Action Plan has made significant progress, achieving a third of its actions in the first twelve months, but significant work remains. As recent Conservative Prime Ministers have shown, that only comes about through strong leadership from the top.

“During the Leadership race Boris made a number of commitments via LGBT+ Conservatives, and I look forward to working closely with the new Prime Minister and his team. We have work to do!”

 

More: Boris Johnson, Gay, LGBT, Prime Minister

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