Leading LGBTQ+ activists and groups have welcomed Boris Johnson’s resignation, but some warned that his successor could be just as toxic.
On Thursday (7 July), Johnson stood outside 10 Downing Street to announce he is stepping down as leader of the Conservative Party. He plans to remain as caretaker prime minister until the autumn, while the Tories elect a successor.
It brought to an end a stormy 48 hours that saw a rebellion in his own cabinet and an unprecedented wave of resignations from all levels of the government.
As the nation waits with bated breath to learn who the next prime minister will be, LGBTQ+ activists responded with a mixture of jubilation and fear. The future of LGBTQ+ rights, they say, hangs in the balance.
Peter Tatchell, a veteran LGBTQ+ rights campaigner, told PinkNews: “Boris Johnson has a long history of anti-LGBTQ+ remarks and bad taste jokes about our community.
“He stoked the culture wars; using LGBTQ+ concerns as a wedge issue to appeal to bigoted voters. It is reprehensible the way he disparaged trans people and supported discrimination against them in sport and the provision of women’s services.
“He flip-flopped on banning conversion practices and was intent on excluding trans people from any ban.”
For Nadia Whittome, Labour MP for Nottingham East, seeing the back of Johnson’s head was an image she has long hoped to see. He was, after all, a prime minister who “played a ruthless game of divide-and-rule, regularly attacked trans people in an attempt to stoke a culture war which would deflect from his own failings,” she said.
So it was no surprise trans rights groups were especially relieved at Johnson’s ousting.
Gendered Intelligence, a trans healthcare charity, welcomed Johnson’s administration coming to an end. “The end of Boris Johnson’s term has been marked by constant attacks on trans people, including his sudden U-turn on the ban on conversion practices,” a spokesperson said.
LGBTQ+ groups have responded to his resignation with a mixture of hope and fear. (Wiktor Szymanowicz/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
“There are many social ills that need addressing in this country – the legacy of COVID, child poverty, the cost of living crisis – but trans people are not one of them.”
To Trans Activism UK, Johnson’s administration has been one that has actively “devalued vital human rights and marginalised communities” and threw Britain into a “spiralling cascade into the Stone Age”.
There were many examples of this, but the government’s decision to scrap vital reforms to the Gender Recognition Act and to exclude trans people from a conversion therapy ban were high on the group’s list.
“Johnson himself began to echo ‘gender critical’ dog whistles in interviews and statements that have made it abundantly clear that he does not stand by the scientifically-backed evidence that transgender women are women, and deserve full equal inclusion,” Trans Activism UK said.
When it comes to the question of who will succeed Johnson, some sounded a more cautious tone.
Among them was Tatchell. “The entire leadership of the Tories is toxic for our community,” he said, “we’ll probably end with another prime minister who will continue many of Johnson’s prejudiced policies.”
Campaigner and former government LGBTQ+ adviser Jayne Ozanne said: “We can only hope that whoever succeeds him is from outside of Johnson’s inner circle.”
So far, only attorney general Suella Braverman has confirmed her intent to run in the leadership contest, in which some 100,000 Conservative Party members will decide Britain’s next prime minister.
Attorney general Suella Braverman promoted alarm among lGBTQ+ groups for saying she would stamp out ‘woke rubbish’ if she becomes leader. (JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Liz Truss is expected to announce her run imminently, with Rishi Sunak and his successor as chancellor Nadhim Zahawi, Penny Mordaunt and Ben Wallace also being discussed.
Dominic Raab and Michael Gove have said they do not intend to run in the upcoming leadership contest.
LGBT+ Conservatives, the ruling party’s queer member’s wing, stressed it will remain “neutral” during the contest and hopes to work with candidates with their LGBTQ+ policies.
But setting the tone for her campaign, Braverman told ITV’s Robert Peston said she will “get rid of all this woke rubbish” – a remark that struck fear in some LGBTQ+ activists.
“Sadly we’ve already seen potential Tory leadership candidates talk about LGBT+ equality as ‘woke stuff’ they want to get rid of,” said Joe Vinson, national secretary for LGBT+ Labour, the opposition party’s official queer wing.
His solution was simple enough: “It’s clear that LGBTQ+ people don’t just need a change of prime minister, they need a total change of Government
Such fears of yet another populist and polarising Tory in power were felt by Whittome as well. “When you look at the candidates lining up to replace him, I have no faith that the next Conservative Prime Minister will be any better for LGBTQ+ people,” she said.
And she certainly has her reasons. “From Priti Patel who has made it harder for LGBTQ+ refugees to find safety here, to Ben Wallace who has voted against LGBTQ+ equality at every opportunity, to Liz Truss who opposed trans rights while Equalities Secretary, the list goes on and on.
“The Tories are not on our side.”
Gendered Intelligence, however, remains hopeful. “Many of the ministers who resigned – among them former minister for equalities Mike Freer – cited Johnson’s treatment of the LGBTQ+ community in their letters of resignation,” a spokesperson said.
“It was not so long ago that the Conservative Party were leading the campaign for Gender Recognition reform and promising to ban conversion therapy.
“We hope that they will realise that nothing stands to be gained from continuing the legacy of oppression, and instead focus on the challenges that affect all of us.”