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Was Boris Johnson's transphobic dog whistle a sign of more to come?

Was Boris Johnson's transphobic dog whistle a sign of more to come?

Jamie Wareham
Jamie Wareham
Jamie Wareham, he/him, gay,queer,disabled I started QueerAF to fund queer media careers. Will you join our movement?
TLDR: The Conservatives try to talk a good game about LGBTQIA+ rights, but ever since Boris Johnson's government kicked transgender rights reforms into the long grass on day one of his premiership, they've been on the backfoot for most LGBTQIA+ people.

The Conservative party does not have a reliable political record on voting for LGBTQIA+ rights.

In recent decades it's tried to change that image. But many in the community remain unconvinced. You need only to connect the dots between a few stories this week to see why.

Firstly, there have been reports in the i of a new LGBT+ strategy from the Government this week. Good news surely?

The cross-government plan will reportedly cover issues like sex work, IVF, veterans, homelessness and healthcare for LGBT+ communities.

But as many have pointed out, this new plan follows on from the recently dropped 2018 LGBT+ Action plan. That plan was barely put into action at all.

Since 2018 we’ve seen three years of the government "dragging its feet" on banning conversion therapy, and rolling back planned trans healthcare reforms, while LGBTQIA+ staff quit the government equalities office in droves.

The new plan is an attempt to reset the dial on all of this. And yet, this week we may have got our first look at what that will really mean. In PMQs, while calling for respect for those who transition, Boris Johnson also repeated a blatant anti-trans dog whistle:

"We must recognise when people want to make a transition in their lives that they should be treated with the maximum possible generosity and respect,” he told the commons. But he continued, “when it comes to distinguishing between man and woman, the basic facts of biology remain overwhelmingly important.”

The comments look like an attempt to set himself apart from the Labour leader Keir Starmer, who recently said "trans women are women" while calling for a calmer discussion about trans rights.

And they sit in a broader context. The government is handing powers to regulate social media to Ofcom, who withdrew from Stonewall because the charity supports trans rights. Because of a press opt-out clause in new media regulations, our tweets will be more regulated than the Daily Mail.

They also just appointed a Conservative peer to lead the regulator, part of a broader wave of appointing Tory grandees to overlook cultural organisations. They tried (unsuccessfully) to do this at the BBC too.

They also did this at the Equality watchdog the EHRC. Since Tory-appointed Baroness Kishwer Falkner has been leading the regulator, a number of leaks have exposed a newly founded anti-trans culture within the EHRC, led from the top.

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It's why LGBTQIA+ organisations are boycotting the Government's upcoming Safe To Be Me event, which is supposed to showcase our 'world-class approach to queer rights' to the world.

Still, perhaps the new plan does hold some hope. After all, it's being spearheaded by Equalities and Exports minister Mike Freer. This week he also told the i that the “toxic” row around transgender rights harks back to old tropes that “gay men were paedophiles and predators.” That it's time the issue is “humanised” again.

Of course, it serves as a crucial reminder that at this point Freer works for an administration that shelved Theresa May’s reforms for trans healthcare on day one of Johnson's premiership. As Patrick Strudwick argues, the Conservatives talk a good game on LGBTQIA+ rights but seemingly refuse to pay up.

To this day, it seems the PM is happy to repeat dog whistles from divisive ‘debates’ that are spilling out onto the streets in the form of rising hate crimes.

They may have happened in 1998, but Boris Johnson's "bum boy" remarks still don't feel like something of the past.

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