UK

Boris Johnson parrots anti-trans ‘biological facts’ dogwhistle during PMQs

Maggie Baska and Reiss Smith March 23, 2022
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Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street on 23 March 2022 in order to attend the PMQ session at the House of Commons

Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street on 23 March 2022 in order to attend the PMQ session at the House of Commons. (Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty)

Boris Johnson has been condemned for his remarks on trans lives during Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs).

The prime minister declared that “when comes to distinguishing between a man and a woman, the basic facts of biology remain overwhelmingly important”.

He spoke after Conservative MP Angela Richardson raised the interim report from Dr Hilary Cass on gender-affirming healthcare in the Commons on Wednesday (23 March).

Rather than focussing on the interim report’s urgent recommendation that the NHS expand care for young trans people past a solitary, London-based clinic, the MP said Dr Cass had hightlighted “the need for more research into young girls, why so many of them are presenting with gender distress”.

Exploring why there has been an increase in referrals to the Tavistock GIC among children assigned female at birth has always been a part of the review’s scope.

Asked if he would meet with Richardson and other “concerned” colleagues on how they can “constructively support these young people who are experiencing gender distress”, Boris Johnson said he would be happy to, as it is an issue that requires “extreme sensitivity, tact, love and care”. 

Boris Johnson says trans people deserve respect – then contradicts himself

He added that people wanting to make a “transition in their lives” should be “treated with the maximum possible generosity and respect”, highlighting there are “systems in this country” that have been designed to help trans people in the UK. 

But then, he decided to espouse his own opinions on the lives of trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people in the UK by using the tired anti-trans dog whistle about ‘biological facts’. 

The trans-led charity Gendered Intelligence told PinkNews that Boris Johnson’s comment at PMQs “suggests at best ignorance, and at worst contempt for trans and non-binary people.”

“While we recognise that the prime minister couched his response in a call for kindness towards those who undergo transition, his reference to the ‘basic facts of biology’ recalls the worst arguments of anti-trans groups,” a spokesperson said.

“The Cass Review interim report, to which the prime minister was responding, says nothing about biology or the basic facts thereof. What it does say is that the current system of gender-affirming care provision in the UK is no longer fit for purpose.

“The prime minister’s comments do nothing to address the concerns raised by the report, but they do dehumanise trans people by reducing us to our body parts and suggesting we run counter to the ‘basic facts of biology’.”

Gendered Intelligence noted that “at the end of last year the Women and Equalities Select Committee published a report that found that the government’s failure to recognise and support the trans community had fostered division in the conversation around trans rights and allowed hate and prejudice to prosper”.

They continued: “Just yesterday minister Mike Freer announced a new LGBT+ strategy, but today the prime minister invokes anti-trans arguments. Time and time again this government has promised to do better by the trans community, but it is hard to see how sincere they can be when their most senior members continue to challenge our existence. We hope, of course, for the sensitivity, tact, love and care for which the prime minister calls, but when this is how trans people are talked about in parliament it feels very far away.”

Kai O’ Doherty, head of research and policy at young trans people’s charity Mermaids, stressed the importance of not attaching “so much weight to biology”.

“We were pleased to see the PM’s answer today included an important emphasis on ensuring we treat trans people with respect and generosity and that his latter comments were distinctly made within this context,” they told PinkNews.

“We believe it is in everyone’s interest to not attach so much weight to biology when discussing trans matters. Sex rights and trans rights are not at odd with one another.”

Veteran human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell echoed this, telling PinkNews: “Biological sex and gender identity are two different things. Both are equally valid.

“Boris Johnson seems to be siding with trans critics by insinuating that biology must take precedence.

“Despite saying that gender issues should be handled with ‘extreme sensitivity, tact, love and care’, he has not done that. He’s rejected reform of the Gender Recognition Act, which shows no love or care for the trans community. The prime minister needs to stop obstructing and start delivering on trans rights.”

A Stonewall spokesperson told PinkNews: “Trans people currently find themselves the subject of much debate, but what is evident and inarguable is that trans people exist. And their existence shows us that human lives and experiences cannot always be sorted into neat little boxes.

“We know that most people share our goal of a world where everyone is safe and free to be ourselves. Supporting lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer people to live freely and fulfil our potential means tackling the prejudices and stereotypes that hold so many more people back.”

There was much criticism of Boris Johnson Twitter, with many trans and queer people expressing their disappointment.

 

This is not the first time that Boris Johnson has been called out for statements impacting trans community. 

In October, the LGB Alliance shared a letter reportedly from Johnson’s office, thanking the anti-trans pressure group for its “incredible hard work”

The letter, signed by Mandy Godridge, said Johnson was “delighted to learn” about the LGB Alliance’s “groundbreaking” first annual conference, calling it a “truly momentous occasion”.  

Godridge said the prime minister was “unfortunately” unable to attend the conference because of “pressures on his diary”. However, Godridge thanked the group “on his behalf” for “their incredible hard work”. 

LGBT+ rights campaigner Peter Tatchell told PinkNews at the time that Boris Johnson made a “huge and shameful misjudgment” by “colluding with an avowedly anti-trans organisation”. 

“This letter signals that our prime minister does not respect trans people and is on the side of their oppressors,” Tatchell added. 

Earlier this month, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer declared “trans women are women” during an interview with The Times as he called for a more respectful debate on trans issues. 

“A woman is a female adult and, in addition to that, trans women are women, and that is not just my view – that is actually the law,” Starmer said. “It has been the law through the combined effects of the 2004 [Gender Recognition] Act and the 2010 [Equality] Act.”

He added that the “process that people have to go through” doesn’t need to be “looked at”, and there is a “real issue about respect and dignity” in the discussion on trans issues in the UK.

 

 

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