Politics

6 reasons ‘prime minister Liz Truss’ is a terrifying concept for LGBT+ people

Patrick Kelleher January 10, 2022
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Liz Truss, the UK's minister for women and equalities.

Liz Truss, the UK's minister for women and equalities. (Leon Neal/Getty)

As Boris Johnson lurches from one political crisis to the next, it’s looking increasingly likely that Liz Truss could succeed him – and that’s a terrifying idea for LGBT+ people. 

The prime minister has found himself embroiled in scandal after scandal: over parties that took place in Downing Street while the rest of England was in lockdown, over the funding of his elaborate home renovation, and over the “chumocracy” critics say has seen friends of the PM and his ministers awarded huge contracts unfairly.

The list of controversies Johnson has found himself at the centre of is too long to recount in full. Until now he has somehow weathered the storm, but the current mountain of scandal is prompting talk of an imminent Tory leadership challenge.

Political commentators have quickly settled on Liz Truss, foreign secretary and minister for women and equalities, as the most likely contender to succeed Johnson. She is uniquely popular among her fellow Tories, and inside sources have indicated that she would likely have broad support in a leadership contest.

Needless to say, that support won’t be felt across the length and breadth of the LGBT+ community. Since she was appointed minister for women and equalities in 2019, Truss has not only failed to advance the rights of queer people – she’s purposefully stood in the way of progress.

1. Liz Truss has spent more time hitting out at ‘identity politics’ than advocating for LGBT+ rights

In 2019, shortly after she became minister for women and equalities, Liz Truss promised that she would move away from the “identity politics” of the left.

“We’ve got to get away from this idea that somebody should be appointed to a job because of – no one wants to be the token woman, you don’t want to feel like you’ve been appointed to a job because you’ve got boobs,” she said on talkRADIO at the time.

“Likewise, no one wants to be the token gay person. I think that we need to think differently about this.”

She went on to suggest that her department should be renamed as the “Ministry of Freedom”, whatever that means.

Britain's equalities minister Liz Truss leaves Downing Street.
Britain’s equalities minister Liz Truss leaves Downing Street. (BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)

Truss has continued on that trajectory ever since. She has consistently borrowed from the Boris Johnson playbook in her attacks on “woke” culture. In a column published in December 2020, Truss claimed that efforts to advance the rights of minority groups amounted to people jumping on the “woke bandwagon”.

The bizarre article saw her hitting out at the “woke brigade” which she said is more concerned about the “sins of historical figures” than it is interested in improving life for people around today.

It’s not hard to see what Truss is doing. It’s likely that the minister for women and equalities knows she’s in with a fighting chance of becoming the next prime minister – and the best way to ensure she gets the top job is by taking a bombastic approach to politics.

If Truss ever does become prime minister, it appears she will follow in the footsteps of Johnson – instead of focusing on meaningful change, she will continue courting a faction of angry voters who have increasingly turned to the right in search of answers.

2. She failed to deliver on Gender Recognition Act reform

There was widespread disappointment in September 2020 when Liz Truss announced that she would not be meaningfully reforming the Gender Recognition Act (GRA).

The decision was particularly baffling considering just how much time and energy the government had invested in its public consultation on the subject. It has been widely accepted by LGBT+ groups and activists for some time that the GRA, which was enacted in 2004, is now outdated and in desperate need of reform.

One of the big issues on the table was self identification. If adopted, self-ID would allow trans people to change their legal gender without having to obtain a diagnosis of gender dysphoria from a medical professional, and without answering invasive and often degrading questions about their gender. 

Liz Truss leaves 10 Downing Street on February 13, 2020.
Liz Truss leaves 10 Downing Street on February 13, 2020. (Leon Neal/Getty)

The change was fiercely contested by a small but vocal group of anti-trans feminists – and Truss and her government colleagues apparently listened. In the end, they reduced the cost of legal gender recognition and digitised the process. Other reforms that would have actually made life easier for trans and non-binary people were scrapped.

The government’s failure to reform the GRA was criticised in December 2021 by the Women and Equalities Committee, which is chaired by Tory MP Caroline Nokes. The group called on the equalities office to remove the requirement for a gender dysphoria diagnosis by 2023, along with a series of additional recommendations. 

3. She thinks ‘medical checks’ are more important than self-determination

In October 2021, speaking at the Conservative Party Conference, Truss made her feelings on trans rights perfectly clear.

Defending her decision to scrap GRA reforms, she said: “It wouldn’t be right to have self-identification with no checks and balances in the system.

“Is it clear process of medical understanding of how that process works, and those medical checks are important.”

Truss said she has “full respect for transgender people”. However, she also said that she agrees with Labour MP Rosie Duffield, who said that “only women have a cervix”.

“[Roșie Duffield] is right that women have cervixes,” she said. “But more than that, she’s also right to be able to express her view… when we try and brush things under the carpet and can’t have an open, honest and sensible debate, I think that’s a huge problem for British politics.”

4. Truss responded in the worst possible way to the LGBT Advisory Panel fallout

In April 2021, the government confirmed that it had disbanded its own LGBT Advisory Panel after a number of members resigned. 

The furore first erupted in March 2021 when Jayne Ozanne, an anti-conversion therapy campaigner and a member of the panel, sensationally resigned, citing a hostile environment for LGBT+ people. In the days that followed, other members of the panel resigned. 

The government responded by formally disbanding the LGBT Advisory Panel in April. Liz Truss wrote to the remaining nine members to thank them for their service. She promised that a new panel would be formed, but nine months on, nothing has materialised. 

It was a disappointing moment for LGBT+ people who still harboured hope that the government would turn things around and improve life for queer people in the UK.

Minister for Women and Equalities Liz Truss
Minister for Women and Equalities Liz Truss. (NurPhoto via Getty/ David Cliff)

5. Liz Truss has failed to ban conversion therapy

Liz Truss has failed LGBT+ people on numerous occasions since being appointed , but one of her biggest missteps has been her failure to ban conversion therapy.

The pseudoscientific, traumatising practice is still legally permissible in all regions of the UK despite repeated mumblings from Truss and others in the equalities office about plans to bring forward legislation.

It has now been more than three years since the Conservative government first pledged to ban conversion therapy. Since then, government ministers have repeatedly failed to deliver on their promise.

Truss’ office has dragged its heels on the issue for years. Officials have repeatedly said they were busy conducting research, but that research appears to be never-ending. In 2021, the equalities office once more said it plans to ban conversion therapy – but it said it would be engaging in a consultation process first.

In October, there was widespread backlash when the government announced proposed plans to outlaw conversion therapy in England and Wales. Worryingly, the plans included a loophole which would allow “consenting” adults to undergo religious forms of conversion therapy.

In November, Truss defended the decision to continue to permit conversion therapy in religious settings and where it is performed on “consenting” adults (campaigners say the concept of consent in conversion therapy is a fiction).

“What is important is that we make sure people are no coerced into conversion therapy,” Truss said. “But it’s also important that we protect freedom of speech, the ability for adults to consent, and the freedom to express [religious] teachings.”

It remains to be seen what a conversion therapy ban will look like and what its impact will be.

6. Liz Truss’ appointments to our equalities watchdog

As equalities minister, Truss has the power to appoint new commissioners to the board of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), an ostensibly independent body that “promotes and upholds” equality law across England, Scotland and Wales.

She has used this power to make two appointments that sparked worry in the trans community. In November 2020, Baroness Kishwer Falkner was named chair of the EHRC, and promptly said that her watchdog would protect “freedom of belief”, including “gender critical” beliefs, and that it is “entirely reasonable” to question trans people’s gender identity.

In December 2021, Truss appointed the barrister Akua Reindorf to the board of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Reindorf is known in the community for her review of the “de-platforming” of two anti-trans speakers at the University of Essex, which was highly critical of Stonewall’s trans inclusion advice.

Appointments to the EHRC are likely to outlast Truss’ role overseeing equalities, and paints a troubling picture for the rights of trans and non-binary people.

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