UK: Tory leadership race turns into transphobic spectacle

Leading the pack of hopefuls is Rishi Sunak, Britain’s former Chancellor of the Exchequer whose government resignation last week contributed to the resignation of Prime Minister Boris Johnson. After the second round of voting among Conservative Party lawmakers earlier this month, Sunak topped the list of five candidates who remain in the running.

One of Sunak’s first political commitments, after announcing his intention to run, was to protect “women’s rights”, he wrote in a Posting on Twitterreferring to an article in which an unnamed Sunak ally was quoted as saying the lawmaker was “critical of recent trends to erase women through the use of awkward, gender-neutral language.”
Sunak will create a manifesto, this ally told British tabloid The Daily Mailwhich will oppose trans women competing in women’s sport and “call on schools to be more careful in how they teach about sex and gender issues”.
The Johnson-led government has grappled with culture war issues during the pandemic as it tries to play to its traditional base of the southern Conservative Party and new northern English voters won over by the opposition Labor Party of center-left in the 2019 general elections. Even though polls suggest culture war issues, like trans rights, do not preoccupy the daily lives of the British public, with many candidates taking up the mantle of government, staking their positions in the debate over sex and gender identity.

Over the past week, Tory candidates are more likely to have been quizzed on ‘what is a woman’ by British journalists than to have been taken in by more traditional questions, such as the cost of a pint of milk. On Wednesday, Sunak’s biggest rival in the race, once relatively little-known Deputy Minister Penny Mordaunt, was asked if she would continue with culture war issues like trans rights.

“Let me address the issue floating in the background. It was (former UK Prime Minister) Margaret Thatcher who said ‘every prime minister needs a Willie,'” Mordaunt said. said in reference to Thatcher’s deputy, William “Willie” Whitelaw. “A woman like me doesn’t have one,” she added.
Mordaunt spent a lot of time this week revisiting his past pro-trans views. She told the online newspaper New roses in 2018, for example, that “trans women are women”.
In 10 parts Twitter feed posting last Sunday, Mordaunt backtracked, pointing out that trans women could legally be women under the law, but “that does NOT mean they are biological women, like me.” She added: “Biologically, I’m a woman. If I have a hysterectomy or a mastectomy, I’m still a woman. And I’m legally a woman.”

Descriptors like “biological female” are considered slurs by transgender advocates when deployed by critical gender activists, who believe that the sex one is assigned at birth is immutable, and that all rights or privileges associated therewith may not be extended to those who choose to identify as such.

The repeated gender abuse of trans people in the public sphere is not only detrimental to their well-being, but to suggest that gender does not exist and that a person is the sum total of their reproductive organs is reductive, erase the existence trans and non-binary people, say advocates.
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Yet these critical views on gender, echoed by a largely sympathetic British press, have helped to constrain efforts to expand trans rights, campaigners say. This includes trans people potentially excluded from plans to ban conversion therapy, and the Tory-led government disposal efforts to make life easier for trans people change their gender marker without medical requirements.

“Not in my adult life do I recall a situation where, in an election or leadership selection process, such attention was paid to LGBTQ+ rights measures,” Nancy Kelley, executive director of LGBTQ advocacy group Stonewall, told CNN.

The British public is more tolerant than some politicians or the press would like to admit, she said. “I think it’s part of a wider phenomenon that we’re experiencing in the UK where we have really progressive and positive public attitudes towards lesbian, gay, bi and trans people, but we have a lot of media and conversation pretty obsessive policies about trans people, and largely in a negative way,” Kelley said.

“Disproportionate and frightening”

Stonewall CEO Nancy Kelley told CNN
A study conducted by a think tank more in common, published in June, found that “few Britons spend much of their time thinking about gender identity issues”. He added that in focus group conversations “most Britons, even those who object to trans people using single-sex spaces, are looking for common-sense ways to deal with issues around changing rooms and toilets that involve being aware of people and treating each other with respect.”

Almost all focus group participants “asked why there weren’t now more unisex restroom options available, which to many seemed like a practical solution to the problem of single-sex spaces,” he wrote.

What dominates the 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 major G7 economies – and is expected to climb above 11% later this year despite a series of interest rate hikes. The country is experiencing the worst cost of living crisis in decades, forcing households to choose between eating and heating this winter when there has been no real wage growth for more than a decade, according to economists.

“We’ve got a major cost of living crisis, we’re facing a global climate emergency, there’s war in Ukraine… (and we’re) facing the aftermath of Brexit – the fact that the media are so obsessed with asking (trans) questions, and candidates are all expected to express their views on the place of trans people in society, it’s so disproportionate and scary, for a group that only represents about 0.6% of the population, Kelley said.

While Liz Truss has avoided culture war issues in her bid to lead the Conservative party, her allies have positioned her against Penny Mordaunt's pro-trans record.

Transphobia may not be an electorally viable strategy, but that hasn’t stopped this year’s leadership candidates.

Foreign Minister Liz Truss, who ranked third in the second ballot, was vocal in her opposition to make it easier for trans people to change their gender markers in England and Wales. While she avoided issues of culture wars in her leadership speech on Thursday, his allies were briefed against Mordaunt’s pro-trans record.
Behind Truss was former equality minister Kemi Badenoch, a feisty proponent of culture wars who warned in 2020 that teaching “critical race theory as fact” would be against the law. There is, however, no evidence that the schools did this. Vice News reported this week that Badenoch has urged the country’s financial services regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), to let go of politics on trans inclusion.

Badenoch’s spokesperson did not deny the allegation, telling CNN in a statement that “In response to a consultation from the FCA, and in his capacity as Minister for Equality, Kemi has written to the FCA on how she could comply with the Equality Act and improve women‘s representation. on municipal councils.

At the conservative Policy Exchange think tank, where Badenoch started her leadership campaign on Tuesday, reporters noted handwritten signs scribbled in black ink with the words “men” and “ladies” taped to doors of gender-neutral restrooms.

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