The Queen’s Speech will set out the government’s plans for the year ahead – and LGBTQ+ rights are, once again, in the firing line.
Prince Charles will deliver the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday (10 May) at the State Opening of Parliament, stepping in for his mother, the Queen, who was forced to pull out due to ongoing mobility issues.
While the speech is traditionally read out by the monarch, it is written by the government and outlines the prime minister’s legislative priorities for the upcoming year in parliament.
Among the bills expected to be announced, four may shape LGBTQ+ rights in Britain for years to come, including a watered-down ban on conversion therapy and bill repealing the Human Rights Act. Here’s what to expect.
Conversion Therapy (Prohibition) Bill
LGBTQ+ activists and allies demonstrate outside Downing Street in a protest the government’s decision to exclude trans people in a conversion therapy ban. (Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing via Getty)
A conversion therapy ban was included in 2021’s Queen’s Speech – but in the year since, the prime minister has gone back on his vow to outlaw the practice for all LGBTQ+ people.
Instead, the government is pressing ahead with a ban covering conversion therapy that seeks to change a persons sexuality – legislation will not cover practices targeting a person’s gender identity, leaving trans people without protections.
The move shuddered rage through not only the queer community but the government itself, with one of its top LGBTQ+ advisers quitting in protest.
LGBTQ+ groups told PinkNews that excluding trans folk from the conversion therapy bill exemplifies how Johnson’s government has “neglected” trans rights. After all, it is the same government that scrapped vital reforms to gender recognition law.
“If the government decides to exclude trans and non-binary people from the ban, it is sending an extremely dangerous message to the wider public that our systematic persecution is acceptable and is securing decades more harm to be perpetrated against trans people,” a spokesperson for trans youth charity Mermaids said.
“The government has neglected its promise to the LGBTQ+ community to produce a ban that protects the entire LGBTQ+ community.”
The British Bill of Rights
Deputy prime minister Dominic Raab. (Hollie Adams/Getty Images)
Justice secretary Dominic Raab has revived a 2010 promise by then Conservative Party leader David Cameron to replace the Human Rights Act 1998, which incorporates the rights laid out in the European Convention on Human Rights, with a new piece of legislation.
The British Bill of Rights is described by the Ministry of Justice as a “modern” piece of legislation that will “revise and reform the flaws” of the Human Rights Act. The government has said it wants to strengthen the right to “free speech”, and wants to empower UK courts to ignore rulings by the European Court of Human Rights.
According to Liberty, the bill would remove the obligation on public authorities to respect rights, making it “more difficult for public bodies to protect rights, and for ordinary people to challenge decisions that violate human rights”.
The bill would add a “permission stage” to human rights legal cases, Liberty added, meaning the person whose rights have been abused will have to show they face a “significant disadvantage” because of the violation.
The proposed bill would also make it easier for the government to deport foreign nationals and deny them claims of mistreatment.
It is expected take aim at Article Eight of the ECHR, the right to family life, to give the government power to deport migrants even if they have a partner or children in Britain.
Scrapping Article Eight would throw queer asylum seekers into even further jeopardy, making it easier to separate them from their loved ones in Britain or to deport them to countries that see their very existence as illegal.
It would be the latest instance of the government harming LGBTQ+ migrants. The recently passed Nationality and Borders Bill, for example, will make it even more difficult for queer people to seek sanctuary in Britain and could potentially deport some to Rwanda.
Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s CEO, said: “Tearing up the Human Rights Act will unleash a Pandora’s Box of dire consequences for the UK and we desperately urge the prime minister to reconsider.”
“The Human Rights Act is the most significant piece of rights legislation in the UK and it plays an absolutely vital role in ensuring stability, justice and protection at home and abroad,” Deshmukh added. “This is no time to replace it with a watered-down substitute.”
The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech Bill)
Former education secretary Gavin Williamson. (Rob Pinney/Getty Images)
Delivering on the government’s 2019 manifesto pledge to “strengthen academic freedom”, the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech Bill) would curb what the government sees as an attack on free speech in college campuses.
It would create a statutory tort enabling speakers who have been “no-platformed” to sue universities for financial compensation.
It would also bulk up existing laws to force universities to protect freedom of speech and create a so-called “free speech champion” – an ombudsman – to sit on the board of the Education Department’s Office for Students and monitor so-called free-speech infringements.
Former education secretary Gavin Williamson, the bill’s chief architect, brought forward the measure to squash the issue of “no-platforming”, something he said amounts to censorship.
But critics quickly raised the alarms that the proposals would force universities to platform transphobes, homophobes, sexists, racists and more in the name of “free speech”.
Williamson pointed to one instance of an anti-trans writer being “no-platformed” by a university to justify the law – yet, the example never even happened. Another included a student punished for saying gay people are an “abomination”.
As much as Williamson argues the bill will curb censorship – once again – the government’s own research found that the degree of censorship described by the press doesn’t even exist.
The Online Safety Bill
Boris Johnson’s government announced it’s adding a proposed porn-block law to the draft Online Safety Bill. (Stock photograph via Envato Elements).
The Online Safety Bill is an apparent attempt to regulate Big Tech and improve internet safety, one that will place sex workers in the crosshairs.
The legislation, commonly known as the “porn block”, is being “carried over” from the last parliamentary session – there wasn’t enough time to progress it through parliament.
Among other things, it would introduce age verification checks for pornographic websites to stop under-18s from accessing content, described by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport as a way to shield youth from “harm“.
However, a porn block has been described as unworkable and potentially harmful to young LGBTQ+ people.
As well as potentially outing queer teens to their parents, such a system could also push young people into “harsher places” such as the Dark Web, warned Jason Domino, sex worker, porn performer and a representative of the trade union United Sex Workers.
Domino also warned of the harms the bill poses to sex workers. The bill would also force tech companies to crack down on those “inciting or controlling prostitution for gain”, meaning that sex workers may be unable to advertise their services safely and independently online.
A 2018 study of sex workers who use the internet to find clients or perform services found that just five per cent have experienced physical assault in the last year.
“Online, we can vet our clients, make them jump through hoops, get ID or information about them, see any red flags and see if they’re potentially abusive,” Domino said.
“Instead, [the bill] will drive us into situations where we’re more likely to work on the street or work with third parties, potentially in a brothel, where we’ll get the same work but be more vulnerable to being exploited.
“Most of us did this work believing that it was illegal anyway. Extra measures like this don’t mean we’ll stop doing it, but will make us more vulnerable because we’re having to hide more.”