Gay lawmaker John Nicolson has called out Tory leader hopefuls for resorting to anti-trans “nonsense” to kickstart their bids to become the next British prime minister.
On Wednesday evening (13 July) for the PinkNews Westminster Summer reception, the Scottish National Party (SNP) MP for Ochil and South Perthshire skewered the British government for botching LGBTQ+ rights.
In a fiery speech, Nicolson said that as much as Westminster is the “gayest” it’s ever been with more LGBTQ+ MPs than ever before, Boris Johnson’s government has stoked culture war after culture war. Often with trans teenagers in the firing line.
He said: “I’ve certainly been worried about the unleashing of culture wars under his administration – the most recent manifestation of which has been the decision to drop a manifesto commitment to ban trans conversion therapy abuse.”
Nicolson said he is one of the few MPs to have actually witnessed the pseudoscientific therapy being practised first-hand – and it haunts him.
“A vulnerable, suicidal young man was being fed psycho mumbo jumbo by an untrained pastor whose own son had committed suicide because his conversion therapy had failed. He was as gay after it as he’d been before it. But many times more miserable. Life ending so,” Nicolson recalled.
And with how the Tory leadership candidates are shaping up, it’s not going to get better anytime soon for LGBTQ+ rights. Though all four of the Tory front-runners have pledged to ban trans conversion therapy, former equalities minister Mike Freer said at the PinkNews Westminister Summer Reception.
Freer’s remarks came shortly after the first round of voting in the contest saw Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss, Penny Mordaunt, Kemi Badenoch, Tom Tugendhat and Suella Braverman all make it to the second round.
John Nicolson said: “Today, I treated myself to some of the Tory leadership hopeful campaign launch events. Nadhim Zahawi vowed to ‘protect children from inappropriate nonsense‘. What nonsense,” he said, adding: “It certainly did have the whiff of Clause 28 wording about it.”
Clause 28, otherwise known as Section 28, was a Margaret Thatcher-era policy that banned all local authorities from “promoting” homosexuality. It was repealed by Scotland in 2000 and the rest of the UK three years later.
John Nicolson blasted the Tories vying to become the next leader for taking aim at trans people. (Alistair Veryard)
Zahawi’s bid to be the next Tory leader came to an end on Wednesday as he failed to shore up enough MPs to back him.
“But it was Penny Mordaunt who most shocked my Puritanical sensibilities, I must confess,” Nicolson continued. “Because while I am gay, I’m a Presbyterian gay with generations of Hebridean ministers behind me.
“But back to Penny. Once a vocal trans right activist she cited Margaret Thatcher albeit in a different context and told us today at her launch conference that she didn’t have a willy. Thanks for that detail Penny.”
Mordaunt, former women and equalities minister, made an abrupt U-turn on her years-long support for trans rights only moments after announcing her leadership bid. She stressed she is anything but “woke” and stands against the “trans orthodoxy”.
Hammering this point home, she made a crude anti-trans jab during her leadership launch speech on Wednesday. “I think it was Margaret Thatcher that said every prime minister needs a Willie – a woman like me doesn’t have one,” she said, referencing Thatcher’s deputy prime minister William Whitelaw.
John Nicolson wasn’t impressed. He said: “I really don’t need to know about my colleague’s genitalia. When did we all become so distastefully prurient? There are clubs for that sort of thing.”
The SNP shadow culture secretary praised the Scottish government for often doing what the British government does not, whether that be including trans people in its forthcoming conversion therapy ban or pledging to reform the Gender Recognition Act.
He said: “Before devolution, some Unionists who opposed a devolved Scottish Parliament used to say that we needed Westminster to keep us liberal and stop us being dominated by the forces of conservative religion. No one says that now.”
Nicolson bemoaned British tabloids for spewing “nonsense about predatory trans people in the bathroom and what, for me, is a totally manufactured stooshie centring around one of the most marginalised groups in our society: trans teenagers”.
Having the press push the government’s culture wars about trans young people only exacerbates the discrimination they face, he said. Which makes LGBTQ+ Pride all the more important these days.
He said: “Pride has a glorious past. And it will have a glorious future.
“Perhaps these recent challenges will invigorate the movement – not least Stonewall which has pledged to take on more campaigning, perhaps less corporate role.”