The British Conservative Party has a legacy that stands opposed to LGBTQ+ rights. Section 28 was a shameful piece of legislation that achieved nothing but creating second-class citizens within educational institutions; allowing homophobic bullying to rise in schools unchallenged and putting queer kids at a disadvantage to their heterosexual friends. The prohibition of “promotion of homosexuality” covered all services provided by local authorities. Coming at the time of the HIV/AIDs epidemic, many have attributed Section 28 to preventing important discussions about sexual health because of the stigma it created.
Of course, some may argue the Marriage Equality Act passed in 2013 underneath Conservative PM David Cameron is thanks to them, yet Liberal Democrat Lynne Featherstone originated the law and bore the bureaucratic brunt of the work. The conservative contribution amounted to actively threatening the movement as majority blue MPs opposed equality, an indicator of the lack of Tory opposition to LGBTQ+ rights. Many MPs including Sir Roger Gale are still actively against same-sex marriage.
When marriage equality was passed, there was a collective sentiment that the hard part was over. There would be no more bashing of LGBTQ+ people for political point scoring or weakening of their protections. As with every political rule. the premiership of Boris Johnson changed this. Known for his homophobic writing of “tank-top bum boys”, mocking outed gay MP Peter Mandelson, and the vocal opposition to Section 28 being repealed, LGBTQ+ rights have been attacked underneath his administration. Being Boris Johnson, his political opinion uniquely fits to whatever will garner him political gain, explaining his vote to abolish Section 28 in 2003 but stopping short at any apology for his homophobic language- which he continued at a pride event in 2013.
The dramatic end to his premiership occurred because of his mistreatment of the Pincher groping scandal, where he knowingly promoted a conservative MP with a history of sexual misconduct to a position of welfare management. He had been criticised by some for not viewing the incidents seriously because the assault was between two men. As explained in the Sue Gray report, the head of Number 10 sets the tone for government and the attacks on LGBTQ+ communities are a result of a premiership built on stirring culture wars above all else.
Think I’m exaggerating? Underneath Johnson, a trans-exclusionary group dubbed ‘LGB Alliance’ gained charity status. The conversion therapy ban promised under Theresa May has been crafted with loopholes, failing to protect transgender people at all. Transgender people are increasingly targeted as J.K. Rowling continues in her TERF-emboldening controversy, writing a book where a serial killer is a man in a dress, and comedians like Ricky Gervais continue to provoke with jokes described as “dehumanizing myths about transgender people”.
The conservative leadership contest continued this trend with, instead of debating the cost-of-living crisis or climate change, huge amounts of time were dedicated to questioning candidates’ views of transgender people. Kemi Badenoch targeted Penny Mordaunt specifically on her record of supporting trans women, a record Mordaunt then distanced herself from because supporting a vulnerable group is now political suicide when the conservative membership have the deciding vote.
These trends are dangerous and must be tackled. Rishi Sunak, when he saw he was losing, changed his leadership campaign to target transgender people in a bid to “shield children” and protect “mothers” and “women”. To do this, he promised to review the Equality Act, a dangerous promise that could see already minimal levels of transgender protections repealed. This is not the first time the conservative party has used the defence of “for the children” when attacking LGBTQ+ people for political points: section 28 was introduced under nearly identical context
Other anti-trans Tories have mentioned a dangerous ‘transgender ideology’ that is apparently the cause of all this gender non-conforming that has emerged. Truthfully, transgender people have existed throughout history and across cultures. Indian Hijras and Native American Two-Spirit are beautiful examples of gender as a performance bound only by cultural restraints. We should be learning from these divergent experiences of human life, not making them difficult and dangerous.
The transgender community are part of the central LGBT alphabet because having a different sexuality is an act that transgresses traditional gender stereotypes. An attack on transgender communities is an attack that will come to harm lesbians, gay men, and bisexual people. We are already seeing this with an increase in homophobic sentiment accusing those that support transgender people as groomers and paedophiles – echoes of the Thatcherite dog whistles against LGBTQ+ rights. The emergence of monkeypox as a disease mainly affecting men that have sex with men will be a test to see if governments will learn from the lessons of the HIV/AIDs epidemics and target support in gay communities, and if the wider public will view it not as a ‘gay disease’ but a regular virus.
LGBTQ+ rights rest on an edge and appears more precarious every day. There are challenges for this community that appear to either worsen or manufacture when the Conservative Party is involved. With a new Prime Minister there is a possibility that things will change, but if the legacy of the Tory party teaches anything, it poses an urgent warning.