Britain: The race for leadership of the Conservative Party turns into a transphobic spectacle
Britain’s Conservative leadership contest began this week, a week-long process that will lead to the country’s next prime minister. Alongside the usual promises of tax cuts or a streamlined state, there has also been an enthusiastic promotion of anti-trans positions, possibly signifying an intensification of the current government’s “war on the Awakened”.
Leading the hopes is Rishi Sunak, the former British Chancellor of the Exchequer whose resignation from government last week contributed to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s resignation. After the second round of voting among Conservative Party lawmakers earlier this month, Sunak topped the list of five candidates still in the running.
One of Sunak’s first political promises after announcing his intention to run was to protect “women’s rights,” he wrote in a Twitter postwhich references an article in which an unnamed Sunak ally was quoted as saying lawmakers were critical of “recent trends to obliterate women through the use of clumsy, gender-neutral language.”
Sunak will draw up a manifesto, this ally told British tabloid the Daily mailwho oppose trans women competing in women’s sports and “urging schools to be more careful in teaching gender issues”.
The Johnson-led government grappled with culture war issues during the pandemic as it sought to play off its traditional Southern Conservative Party base, and new northern England voters won in the 2019 general election from the centre-left opposition Labor party. Even if Polls suggest so Culture war issues, such as trans rights, do not occupy the daily lives of the British public, many of the candidates have taken the mantle of government and championed their positions in the gender and gender identity debate.
For the past week, Conservative candidates have been more likely to be asked ‘what is a woman’ by British journalists than to be brought down by more traditional questions like the price of a pint of milk. On Wednesday, Sunak’s biggest rival in the race, once relatively little-known junior minister Penny Mordaunt, was asked if she would proceed with culture war issues like trans rights.
“Let me deal with the issue that’s been floating around in the background. It was (former British Prime Minister) Margaret Thatcher who said that ‘every Prime Minister needs a Willie’”, Mordaunt said regarding Thatcher’s deputy William “Willie” Whitelaw. “A woman like me doesn’t have one,” she added.
Mordaunt has spent a lot of time this week reflecting on her past pro-trans views. She told the online newspaper Pink Messages In 2018, for example, that “trans women are women”.
In a 10 part Twitter thread Posting last Sunday, Mordaunt flipped out and stressed that trans women could be legally female, but “that does NOT mean they’re biological women like me.” She added, “I’m biologically a woman. If I have a hysterectomy or mastectomy, I’m still a woman. And I am legally a woman.”
Descriptions such as “biological female” are viewed as insults by trans advocates when used by anti-gender activists who believe that the gender one is assigned at birth is immutable and any rights or privileges associated with it do not extend to those can be expanded to identify those who wish to do so as that gender.
Not only does the repeated confusion of transgender people in the public eye harm their well-being, but the claim that gender does not exist and that a person is the sum of their reproductive organs is reductive. erasure of existence of trans and non-binary people, advocates say.
But these gender-critical views, parroted by a largely sympathetic British press, have helped limit efforts to expand trans rights, activists say. These include trans people, who may be excluded from plans to ban conversion therapy, and the Conservative-led government scrapping efforts to make it easy for trans people change their sex marker without medical requirements.
“I can’t remember a time in my adult life where there was so much emphasis on LGBTQ+ rights action in a leadership election or selection process,” Nancy Kelley, executive director of LGBTQ rights group Stonewall, told CNN.
The British public is more tolerant than some politicians or the press would like to acknowledge, she said. “I think it’s part of a larger phenomenon that we’re witnessing in the UK, where we have a really progressive, positive public attitude towards lesbian, gay, bi and trans people, but we have a lot of media and political conversations that are quite obsessively talking about trans people and mostly in a negative way,” Kelley said.
A study by the think tank More in common, published in June, found that “few Brits spend very much time reflecting on gender identity issues”. It added that in focus group discussions, “most Brits, even those who are opposed to trans people using same-sex spaces, are looking for sensible ways to resolve problems around changing rooms and toilets, which are about self-disclosure Being aware of people and treating each other with respect.”
Nearly every focus group participant “asked why there aren’t more unisex toilet options now as well, which many seemed to offer a practical solution to the problem of single-sex spaces,” she wrote.
Dominating public discourse is the state of the UK economy, where inflation hit a 40-year high of 9.1% in May, the highest among the leading G7 economies – and expected to be later this year despite a series of Rate hikes will rise above 11%. The country is mired in its worst cost-of-living crisis in decades, forcing households to choose between eating or heating this winter as there has been no real wage growth in over a decade, economists say.
“We have a major livelihood crisis, we face a global climate catastrophe, there is war in Ukraine… (and we are dealing with) the aftermath of Brexit – the fact that the media is so obsessively asking about (trans) issues, and all candidates are expected to express their views on the place of trans people in society, which is so disproportionate and frightening,” for a group estimated to make up only 0.6% of the population, Kelley said.
Transphobia may not be an electoral strategy, but that hasn’t stopped this year’s leadership candidates.
Secretary of State Liz Truss, the Third placed in the second ballot vocal in her opposition to make it easier for trans people to change their gender characteristics in England and Wales. While she steered clear of culture war issues in her leadership speech on Thursday, their allies have briefed against Mordaunt’s pro-trans record.
Behind Truss was former Equality Secretary Kemi Badenoch, a spirited culture war advocate who warned in 2020 that teaching a “critical theory of race as fact” would break the law. However, there is no evidence that schools have done so. Vice News reported this week that Badenoch had asked the country’s financial regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), to do so drop his politics on trans inclusion.
Badenoch’s spokeswoman did not dispute the allegation, telling CNN in a statement: “In response to an FCA consultation, and in her capacity as Equality Minister, Kemi wrote to the FCA on how it could comply with the Equality Act and improve women’s representation in the councillors”.
At the conservative think tank Policy Exchange, where Badenoch launched it guide During Tuesday’s campaign, journalists noticed handwritten signs scrawled in black ink with the words “men” and “ladies” on the doors of gender-neutral restrooms.