Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2799

Conversion therapy and single-sex services—defending trans rights is a fight for us all

The Tories see trans rights as an easy target—refusing to ban conversion therapy and closing off single-sex services
Issue 2799
A large crowd on the trans pride march in central London in June 2021

Large trans pride marches such as this on in London last year show widrespread and growing support for trans rights (Picture: Guy Smallman)

As bitterness and anger grows over the Tories’ and bosses’ assault on living standards, politicians look for ways to divide the opposition among ordinary people. Their latest target is trans rights. But Boris Johnson faced a dilemma this week.

His government has for the last four years promised to ban LGBT+ conversion therapy in Britain. But last Thursday a leaked Downing Street briefing paper revealed he had blocked legislation banning the practice.

After confusion and backlash from within his own party, a double U-turn by a scrambling Johnson announced that the ban would go ahead. But this would only include a ban on gay conversion practices—not trans conversion therapy.

Johnson is trying to walk a tightrope. He wants to push division—but even the Tories know, with widespread sympathy for LGBT+ rights, there’s only so much bigotry they can get away with.

Hence the government plans to hold a global LGBT+ conference—Safe To Be Me—in June this year to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the first London Pride demonstration. Over 80 LGBT+ and HIV charities have said they will boycott the event over the government’s failure to promise a ban on trans conversion therapy.

The Labour Party pulled itself into a similar dilemma last week as its leading politicians struggled to say clearly that trans women are women.

On the same day as Johnson’s double U-turn, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) announced that trans people can be excluded from single-sex services. It said that as long as the reasons are “justifiable and proportionate” services can be limited to a single sex.

The guidance from the state equalities watchdog added this includes people who hold a gender recognition certificate. That means in practice that trans women in particular will be denied access to toilets, domestic abuse refuges, shelters, gyms and hospitals.

Far from providing clarity, the EHRC statement has created more confusion. But it will help the Tories push hostility towards trans people.

Their focus is on pitting people against each other. They want to push the idea that women and trans women have competing rights and interests, stopping them looking upwards toward a system that sets people apart.

The U-turning shows Johnson isn’t completely sure how far he can push his crackdown on people’s rights and what is best for his agenda. But the Tories clearly see trans rights as the easiest target. From there, they can push even more hatred and division.

That’s why their assaults on trans rights have to be met with united opposition.

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