TL;DR: At the Tory party conference this week, Health Secretary Steve Barclay proposed excluding trans women from ‘women only’ hospital wards. Several other leading Tories made transphobic comments at the conference as the party set out its stall ahead of next year’s general election.
“We will change the NHS constitution following a consultation later this year to make sure we respect the privacy, dignity and safety of all patients, recognise the importance of different biological needs and protect the rights of women.”
The words of Health Secretary Steve Barclay, delivered at the Conservative party conference on Tuesday. In a speech full of transphobic dog whistles and anti-union rhetoric, Barclay announced proposals that could see trans women barred from ‘women only’ hospital wards - BBC
Conference speeches do not necessarily translate into policy. As LGBT+ anti-abuse charity Galop said in a statement, “Nothing that has been said constitutes a change in any statutory guidance or national legislation, but it does add to the ongoing negative rhetoric in public life around trans people” - Galop
Whether or not these proposals are enacted, the transphobic comments made by Barclay and several other government ministers at the conference make clear that the party is committing to making ‘culture war’ debates a key part of their election strategy for 2024.
Can the government really segregate hospital wards?
Human rights organisations and legal experts have questioned whether Barclay’s proposals could actually be implemented under existing equality legislation.
In a statement to QueerAF, Jo Maugham, Executive Director of the Good Law Project, said:
"The proposals seem to us to be unevidenced, unlawful and impractical. The last thing the NHS – already suffering a shortage of beds – needs is further categories of segregated wards with all of the waste of staffing and space that comes with them."
Trans advocacy site TransLucent made 102 freedom of information requests to NHS trusts in the year to December 2022, asking whether cis women patients were complaining about being on the same ward as trans women patients - TransLucent
How many of these complaints had actually been made? Zero. Barclay is making anti-trans proposals to solve a ‘problem’ that does not exist.
As LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall put it in a statement this week, “This is a cynical attempt by the Secretary of State to ‘look busy’ instead of getting on with the graft of implementing the Women’s Health Strategy”.
What did this conference tell us about the Conservatives?
During her conference speech, Home Secretary Suella Braverman continued in the vein of last week’s attack on LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers. Andrew Boff, a Conservative member of the London Assembly, was escorted out of the room by security after quietly commenting that “There’s no such thing as gender ideology” - ITV News
Speaking to Channel 4 afterward, Boff said “I never, never thought we were that kind of party” - Channel 4 News
At this conference, it was made clear to anyone who was still in doubt just what kind of party the Conservatives are.
Ministers were repeatedly pulled up by the press for making claims that were demonstrably false, such as the idea that Labour had proposed a tax on meat. High-profile figures including author Philip Pullman have pointed out the similarities between this approach and that of fascist regimes - Philip Pullman on Twitter
In a telling slip of the tongue after being asked on Newsnight about false claims made by her ministerial colleagues, Science Minister Michelle Donelan said “we should stand up for things that are divisive and promote hatred” - Newsnight (quote at 7:17)
It is apparent that Tory ministers and leadership hopefuls will say anything in their attempts to retain power. However, fewer and fewer of the party’s rank-and-file members believe that they will hold onto that power during next year’s election - TIME
It remains to be seen whether Barclay’s proposals of hospital ward segregation will actually be implemented; for now, all that’s been confirmed is that there will be a “consultation later this year”.
What we do know is that we can expect much more of this kind of rhetoric as the election looms closer.
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