Several MPs have spoken out against the UK government’s ‘wasted’ opportunity to champion LGBT+ rights after its flagship conference was cancelled.
The Safe To Be Me conference, which was billed as the “first-ever global LGBT conference in London, was scrapped late Tuesday night (5 April) after over 120 LGBT+ rights and HIV advocacy organisations pulled out because trans people are being excluded from proposed conversion therapy ban legislation.
Organisations including Stonewall and the Terrence Higgins Trust said they would no longer be supporting the event, which was set to take place in June, unless Boris Johnson included protections for trans people in legislation.
Tory MP Dehenna Davison tweeted that the government had “such a huge opportunity to prove the UK (and the Conservative party” is a “defender of freedom”.
“As a Conservative member of the LGBT+ community, it is so wrong it has come to this,” Davison added.
We had such a huge opportunity to prove the UK (and the Conservative Party) is a defender of freedom. As a Conservative member of the LGBT+ community, it is so wrong it has come to this. https://t.co/qrnjf1GYyH
— Dehenna Davison MP (@DehennaDavison) April 5, 2022
William Wragg MP, who is also vice president of the 1922 committee which organises Conservative leadership contests, criticised the government for its stance on a trans conversion therapy ban.
While Wragg did not explicitly comment on the Safe To Be Me conference, he said he sees “no logic in excluding trans people from legislation banning conversion therapy”.
Wragg, who is gay, added: “If banning conversion therapy will stop the likes of me being subjected to mental cruelty in repressing my true self, why not so for someone who is trans?”
If banning conversion therapy will stop the likes of me being subjected to mental cruelty in repressing my true self, why not so for someone who is trans? I can see no logic in excluding trans people from legislation banning conversion therapy. Let’s have some empathy.
— William Wragg MP (@William_Wragg) April 5, 2022
SNP shadow culture secretary John Nicolson said on Twitter that the cancellation of the event was a “humiliation” for Boris Johnson and the UK government.
Labour MP Emily Thornberry, who is also shadow attorney general, tweeted that she “urged” the government for years to use the “opportunity they had as a co-chair of the Equal Rights Coalition to take a global lead on LGBTQ+ issues”.
“For three years, they did nothing except talk up their ‘Safe To Be Me’ conference. And now where are we?” She wrote. “What a sickening waste.”
For 3 years, I urged the government to use the opportunity they had as Co-Chair of the Equal Rights Coalition to take a global lead on LGBTQ+ issues. For 3 years, they did nothing except talk up their ‘Safe To Be Me’ conference. And now where are we? What a sickening waste.
— Emily Thornberry (@EmilyThornberry) April 5, 2022
Health secretary Sajid Javid told Sky News that conversion therapy must be banned for “LGB people”. He claimed the government must be “more careful” with trans issues, but did clarify exactly what this meant.
Consortium, an umbrella group supporting the LGBT+ sector, said it was a “sad day” that the event was cancelled but laid the blame solely on Downing Street for what happened.
“The implications of the international LGBT conference being cancelled is solely at the doorstep of Number 10,” it said in a statement.
“LGBT+ organisations in the UK were left with no choice but to withdraw any support in order to stand in solidarity and partnership with our trans siblings and communities.”
Consortium advised that the government “take this as an opportunity to take a step back” and look at “where it gets its information on our communities from”. The LGBT+ body then proudly declared that trans rights are “not secondary to anyone else’s”, adding “trans rights are human rights, pure and simple”.
Earlier on Tuesday, the government’s first LGBT+ business champion Iain Anderson resigned over the conversion therapy ban excluding trans people, and said that “trust and belief” in the government’s “overall commitments to LGBT+ rights has been damaged”.
Jamie Wallis, a Tory MP who recently came out as trans, said on Twitter that he was “bitterly disappointed” by the decision not to include trans people in the conversion therapy ban. He added that, if the ban passes through parliament without any protections for the trans community, it would be nothing short of a “broken promise”.
PinkNews revealed on Tuesday that Tory equalities minister Liz Truss is “furious” with Downing Street for making a decision without her prior knowledge to exclude trans people from the ban.
It’s understood that the policy change was the idea of Tory MP Andrew Griffith, and PinkNews was told that Truss was “blindsided” by the announcement which came when she was on a flight.
Government sources told PinkNews that Truss and junior equalities minister Mike Freer are still hopeful that an agreement can be reached to include trans people in the eventual conversion therapy ban – but that the next steps on this legislation will be “heavily guided” by Downing Street.