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What could a Labour government mean for LGBTQIA+ rights?

What could a Labour government mean for LGBTQIA+ rights?

Jamie Wareham
Jamie Wareham
TL;DR: After winning a vast majority, Labour has the opportunity to transform the UK. But it took an 'on the fence' approach during campaigning, so it's unclear where the party stands on a number of crucial LGBTQIA+ policy points. Despite headlines from much of the media that seem to lock the party into policies, for now there is a lot we don’t know.

The Labour Party has won a landslide majority, shifting a 14-year Conservative into opposition with a vastly diminished set of MPs giving Labour a remarkable 170 seat majority.

It gives the party a sweeping chance to push policy agendas of its own forward, largely uncontested. But what exactly does the party stand for?

Early analysis from political pundits suggests while the first past the post system has delivered Labour a vast majority - their vote share is lower than any government has had in generations. That means this election was fought and won not on what Labour is about - but by a country that wanted to reject the Conservatives.

In a fragile era where the far right is growing right across Europe, including a significant vote share for Reform UK, with Nigel Farage becoming an MP on his 8th attempt - the Labour government will need to quickly show what it's about. As Starmer has acknowledged already, it's the only way to counter what is set to be a period of in-fighting and populism for where the right political class will look like.

So what does that mean for LGBTQIA+ rights? In an election where Starmer's on-the-fence approach means, though he's no ally - his party are not the same enemy that the Conservatives were.

Because of the way the media works, many of his on the fence words were twisted to try and shift and force him into policies the party hasn't actually confirmed, announced or even really said anything about.

So let's unpack what was, and wasn't said on the trail and what the party has committed to for this government:

Where does Labour stand on banning conversion therapy?

One of the few solid, unwavering commitments for the LGBTQIA+ community from the Labour Party is to ban conversion therapy, including for trans people.

That commitment, as well as being in the manifesto calling the practice abuse", was confirmed in January this year, where Keir Starmer said they will “implement a full, trans-inclusive ban on all forms of conversion therapy [and] fully support the view that conversion therapy is psychologically damaging abuse”.

The rest is where we have to report, with a great deal of caveats. In the Labour manifesto the party says they will "modernise, simplify, and reform the intrusive and outdated gender recognition law to a new process."

What we understand about where Labour's thinking on that is a shift from a panel of doctors signing off a gender recognition certificate to one doctor signing it off. It's a shift in the right direction for many trans people, but it is far from the growing international standard of self-determination with appropriate legal safeguards.

But it will still be a medicalised process, requiring a 'diagnosis' of gender dysphoria, despite the UN declassifying gender dysphoria as a disease in 2022.

What has Keir Starmer said about the Equality Act?

In the final days of the campaign trail, headlines across the media said Kier Starmer said that 'even' people with a legal gender recognition certificate should not be able to access single-sex spaces. This was something both right-leaning and LGBTQIA+ outlets led with. However, what he said was - as ever - a little more nuanced and on the fence. This is the original quote, before subjectively written up by the Telegraph, Mail et al which then was churned by the rest of the media:

Rowling posted a question for Labour on Twitter/X: “Do biological males with gender recognition certificates have the right to enter women-only spaces? It’s a simple yes/no question.”

Starmer is emphatic. “No. They don’t have that right. They shouldn’t. That’s why I’ve always said biological women’s spaces need to be protected.” Will he meet Rowling? “I’ve indicated a willingness [to meet her],” he says. “Hopefully we can get that organised.”

This is, in no doubt, a horrible answer and designed to speak to The Times's gender-critical editorial approach. But, technically and legally speaking only, he is correct: There have always been exclusions to who can access some single-sex spaces in the Equality Act. There has to be a well-justified and proven reason to do so, but that right - despite what the gender-critical movement would like you to think - already exists.

This was not a policy announcement but it is indicative of many in the Labour leadership who have either been captured by or feel the need to use gender-critical dog-whistles in order to keep the media and a handful of the electorate happy.

What will Labour do about gender identity in sex education?

Another more nuanced answer, spun by media into a policy announcement that never was is Labour's approach to Sex Education. It's all about the consultation on the Conservatives 'new Section 28' which could create statutory guidance preventing schools from teaching “about the concept of gender identity”.

A Telegraph headline that said 'Labour to rip up school trans ban' despite the reality being it 'could' set the agenda last week. This headline of course was written in the same vein that Labour could make us all wear pink on Wednesdays. We can write things that we imagine up.

But what Starmer said in response to questions on this headline is "ideology" should not be taught in our schools - including "on gender". Meanwhile the then shadow Education Secretary said she intended to complete the consultation. She said she would consider it with children's "wellbeing" as her paramount priority. Equally, she added that the guidance did have some "good and straightforward principles" while other language was too "partisan and unnecessary".

It was a classic, on the fence, Labour approach where the words 'gender' and 'ideology' were separated intentionally. It means the party hasn't committed to anything. But, it gave everyone something to claim. For the most right-wing UK press, this did however allow them to get Starmer on record as saying 'Gender ideology' should not be taught in schools'.

What will Labour do with trans youth and healthcare policy?

During the election campaign, the party also committed to keeping the Conservatives' emergency ban on puberty blockers for Trans youth and implementing the Cass Review in full.

Actions which, as we explored in the last few weeks - will increase gender dysphoria and likely add the the "explosion" of trans youth suicides, which some whistleblowers have said the NHS has tried to deliberately suppress information on.

Meanwhile, a largely missed part of the election coverage so far was that Dr Hilary Cass, who is facing international criticism of her methodology on a report that will decimate healthcare provision for trans people up to the age of 25, was given a crossbench peerage in the parliamentary dissolution list.

Analysis: Can things get better under a Labour government for the LGBTQIA+ community?

In the final week of this election period, a group of transgender kids took direct action and occupied the reception rooftop of the NHS England headquarters. Meanwhile, the LGBTQIA+ sector prepared to take - albeit a brief - sigh of relief.

Combine these and what you start to see is a pivotal moment for our community. It's a chance for us to do what we do best: Learn from the lessons of our past and march forward. To lead with our own principles and values, instead of wasting time countering their lies.

Kier Starmer and many of his leadership have not shown themselves as allies. But they are not the same enemy. This is a chance for our movement to take stock and shift from the defensive and back to setting our own agenda.

It's far from the 'things can only get better' moment of 97" and feels more 'surely things can't get worse?' But one thing is for certain, buoyed by the lessons of our past - 'the kids are alright', and they're taking their future into their own hands.

I for one, will be cheering them on the streets, along with asking: What do you need and what can we do? I hope you join us.

The word historic is sometimes overused in journalism. But this week’s election was, no doubt, a pivotal moment.

As we unpack in this week's newsletter, though, despite Starmer's Labour being far from an ally, our potential as a movement to shift and engage has been reset. And in other news this week:

  • A team of Trans+ journalists are producing vital investigative journalism,
  • Trans kids have been taking direct action in a move we haven't seen the like of for decades,
  • Plus the responses to our election watch series and our membership drive have been incredible.

All that has filled me with hope that this election is a pivotal moment for us. For the LGBTQIA+ sector to get off the defence, and go on the march forward.

We know how we'll be doing that:

Investing in LGBTQIA+ creatives to help you understand the news and helping them build careers so they can change the media.