Election Special

From gender-affirming care to conversion therapy, where do the main political parties stand on LGBTQ+ rights?

Graham Robson June 15, 2024

As the UK prepares to go to the polls on July 4, the nation’s two main parties – the Labour Party and the Conservatives – have released their manifestos, with LGBTQ+ issues and policies featuring in both.

Key topics – such as gender-affirming care, conversion therapy and single-sex spaces – have been major points of discussion since Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced an election would take place.

The current opposition the Labour Party, led by Keir Starmer, is currently leading in opinion polls, with the governing Conservative Party – led by Rishi Sunak – trailing behind after 14 years in power.

What do the parties’ manifestos say?

The Conservative Party pledges to alter the 2010 Equality Act so that it only offers protection on the basis of biological sex.

At present, sex, along with race, disability and sexual orientation, is a protected characteristic and the act makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on those grounds.

The Conservatives do not want the term “sex” to apply to those who have changed their legal sex. This is to protect female-only spaces and competitiveness in sport, the party’s manifesto says.

In contrast, the Labour Party has said it supports the Equality Act as it is, including its exemptions that allow for the provision of single-sex spaces in certain circumstances.

The parties also differ in their approach to so-called conversion therapy, a widely discredited practice used to try and change a person’s sexuality or gender.

Labour has said it will issue a ban on conversion therapy that protects transgender people, but also leaves room for people to explore their sexuality and gender.

The Conservatives have not committed to a ban, and instead said they need more time to reach a final judgement on the “very complex” issue.

Labour has also promised to “modernise, simplify and reform” the process of changing legal gender, but said they would not implement a self-ID law, which would remove the need for a medical diagnosis.

Both parties have committed to work with the recommendations of the Cass Review, an independent report into gender identity services for children, which called for better care.

The Conservatives said in their manifesto they will also ban puberty blockers through private prescription.

The governing party has also stated that terms such as breastfeeding and mother will not be replaced by “chestfeeding and birthing parent” within the health service.

The NHS only uses such terms when referring to non-binary or trans patients in its guidance.

The party has said it will also introduce legislation to force teachers to follow controversial school guidance on supporting gender-questioning pupils, which says children cannot socially transition without parental permission.

Where do the party leaders stand?

Both Sunak and Starmer have repeatedly been asked about where they stand on trans issues as public discussion of this topic has become increasingly polarised in Britain.

During the Conservative Party Conference in October last year, Sunak said the public should not be “bullied into believing that people can be any sex they want to be”.

“They can’t, a man is a man and a woman is a woman, that’s just common sense,” he said.

Starmer previously said Labour was committed to introducing a self-ID system if they won power. This pledge was dropped last year.

During a television interview in April, Starmer said a Labour MP was “biologically” correct when she said that only women can have a cervix, having said it was “not right” and “shouldn’t be said” in 2021.

He also said trans women should not share female same-sex spaces in prisons or hospital wards.

In January, Starmer said he thought 16 was too young for people to begin legally changing their gender.

How have LGBTQ+ groups responded?

LGBTQ+ groups have emphasised the need for a comprehensive ban on conversion therapy, first promised by the Conservative government six years ago, as well as support for trans children in schools.

“LGBT+ children, like any and all children, deserve to be respected, valued and have the right to learn in a safe school environment,” said Laura MacKay, CEO of Just Like Us, a charity for young LGBTQ+ people.

Jayne Ozanne, chair of the Ban Conversion Therapy Coalition, praised Labour’s commitment to a ban while also leaving space for questioning people to explore their gender and sexuality.

“I am pleased (Labour) recognise the importance of allowing exploratory conversations, which for me, is a key part of ‘affirmative care’ so long as they don’t have a predetermined purpose,” she said.

Mermaids, a charity supporting trans and gender-questioning children, launched its own Trans Youth Manifesto ahead of the election, calling for improved access to gender-affirming care.