New Health Secretary Therese Coffey urged to tackle monkeypox

Therese Coffey. (Getty)

Therese Coffey is urged to build bridges with the LGBTQ+ community — and take serious action to crush monkeypox.

Coffey was named deputy prime minister as well as health and social care secretary in the first wave of cabinet appointments by Liz Truss on Tuesday (September 6).

The MP for Suffolk Coastal is the third person to hold the health portfolio this year after Sajid Javid, who resigned in July, and Steve Barclay, who replaced him.

A close ally of Truss, Coffey’s right record is littered with strong anti-abortion views and a history of repeated voting against LGBTQ+ rights – including same-sex marriage.

Thérèse Coffey – the new Deputy Prime Minister of the Conservative government and Secretary of State for Health and Social Affairs – has a long electoral record on the right. (Getty)

Coffey must take ‘urgent action’ against monkeypox

Among his most pressing responsibilities is the ongoing monkeypox outbreak.

Despite widespread concerns within the LGBTQ+ community about Coffey’s background, sexual health services are not yet ready to disbar Coffey – many believe she should get a fair shot and they hope she can change the government’s troubled course on monkeypox.

“We need urgent action on monkeypox from the new health secretary,” said Danny Beales, policy and campaign manager at the National AIDS Trust.

“The outbreak has so far not been given the resources and attention it needs. We have the tools to vaccinate, test and treat people with monkeypox, so people are suffering unnecessarily.

Sexual health services are “derailed” because they have to devote most of their resources to managing the monkeypox outbreak, Beales said.

“So far they have not received any additional funding and are having to cancel appointments and restrict PrEP, he said.

“They need additional funding and support. If urgent action is not taken, we will see more people unnecessarily diagnosed with HIV and monkeypox.

An outline of a man in front of a pink background with monkeypox cells
LGBTQ+ men have been primarily affected by the monkeypox outbreak. (Getty/PinkNews)

Katie Clark, head of policy and public affairs at the Terrence Higgins Trust, said the monkeypox outbreak “has not been dealt with the seriousness required” by the government so far.

“A second delivery of vaccines is expected to arrive in the UK at the end of the month, so what we really need to see is that the deployment of vaccines is better coordinated, better advertised and better organized than what we saw earlier this summer,” Clark said.

“There is an opportunity for the Health Secretary to lead this and make sure we get the vaccine to the people who need it.”

Professor Matt Phillips of BASSH (British Association for Sexual Health and HIV) agrees, adding: “It is a very difficult time in the NHS after COVID and with a recession looming. What I hope is that whatever past records there is now a clean slate to give it a good chance.

It is still not too late for this government to start repairing the damage caused

Cleo Madeleine, communications officer for Gendered Intelligence, said PinkNews Therese Coffey’s appointment “despite his public and continuing opposition to marriage equality is a disastrous look for the new Cabinet”.

“It’s hard to see how a minister who so freely and openly opposes LGBT+ rights could be entrusted with much-needed improvements to HIV and AIDS care, sexual health, testing services and other health issues that disproportionately affect the community,” she said. .

“She also made no secret of her anti-abortion stance and, as Secretary for Work and Pensions, attempted to suppress reports of deaths caused by Tory social cuts.”

As Health Secretary, Therese Coffey will likely soon have to speak out on the state of gender-affirming healthcare in the UK. She has not expressed an opinion on the subject, or on trans rights in general, in the past.

Therese Coffey wears a floral print scarf as she stands outside

Madeleine noted that Trans healthcare services in England are ‘already being expanded and updated in response to Cass Review recommendations’, with NHS England set to replace its only gender clinic for young people with a series of regional centers .

It would be a “costly and counter-productive approach” for Thérèse Coffey to “obstruct this progress”, noted Madeleine.

“More urgently, if the new Prime Minister is to have any credibility, his cabinet must rebuild bridges with the LGBT + community – and in particular the trans community which [outgoing PM] Boris Johnson burned,” Madeleine said.

“Coffey’s electoral record is cause for grave concern, but it is still not too late for this government to start repairing the damage done.”

Johnson’s Conservative government has come at loggerheads with the LGBTQ+ community

Relations between the Conservative government and the LGBTQ+ community are incredibly strained following Boris Johnson’s tenure.

With Priti Patel as Home Secretary, he cultivated growing hostility towards LGBTQ+ asylum seekers. Johnson’s equality minister and successor as prime minister, Liz Truss, has been axed gender recognition law reforms.

Truss also had the responsibility of banning conversion therapy – but after several delays Johnson took the issue out of his hands and decided that trans people would not be protected by the proposed legislation.

He claimed that a ban on inclusive conversion therapy was not possible because there is “complexities and sensitivities” around gender identity. Johnson also argued that it was a “reasonable option” for trans women to be excluded from women’s sports.

His time in power was increasingly fueled by anti-trans rhetoric towards the end, with dog whistles about basic biology‘ even popping up during PMQs.

Given Truss’s involvement in the previous government and her own history of anti-trans rhetoric — including when she said trans women weren’t women in a leadership race — the expectations are low.

People gather to protest against the Conservative government's attitude towards the trans community
Boris Johnson frequently used anti-trans rhetoric during his time as Prime Minister, and Liz Truss used comments attacking the trans community during the Tory leadership election. (Getty)

TransActual chief executive Helen Belcher said most trans people were “incredibly worried” about Truss as prime minister.

“We’re all too aware of her statements about wanting to ‘protect women’s spaces,'” Belcher said. “It’s nothing more than a code to exclude trans people from public life.”

Belcher urged the new prime minister to “govern for everyone” instead of pandering to “hate and bigotry” like his predecessors.

“We hear that she is fighting for a fully inclusive ban on conversion practices and supporting new NHS services,” Belcher said. “But we need to be reassured by active statements of support, rather than expecting to be appeased by silence.”

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