It’s been yet another rollercoaster week for those that are transgender in the UK, and the true picture of the Government's current position was savagely exposed during last week’s Women and Equalities Committee (W&EC) meeting, which was taking evidence from former members of the Government's own LGBT Advisory Panel - a panel that had been set up by Theresa May's Tory administration in 2018 with the aim of providing the Government with a panel of knowledgeable LGBT stakeholders to work closely with Government Ministers offering valuable support, insight and advice on issues and policies concerning lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
However, in recent months three-panel members had resigned their positions on the panel out of frustration and amid strong criticism of both Cabinet Minister Liz Truss and Junior Minister Kemi Badenoch, with claims of the creation of a 'hostile environment for LGBT people among this administration'. Jayne Ozanne (Director, Ozanne Foundation), who was the first to resign, stated that she didn't believe that 'they understand LGBT people, particularly trans people' - last month, the panel itself was disbanded by the Government, and a replacement body or brief is yet to be announced.
This week's W&EC meeting was to take evidence from three of its former members, including two of those that had resigned, Jayne Ozanne and Ellen Murray (Executive Director, TransgenderNI), plus Paul Martin OBE (Chief Executive, LGBT Foundation).
The testimony they delivered was nothing short of a complete exposure and total condemnation of the current administration's position and commitment (or complete lack of it) with regard to supporting and protecting LGBT people – the exact people they were appointed to support and protect.
All three agreed that the panel had originally been set up in a truly positive way and was run like a formal department - following their initial meetings where the panel's aims, and an action plan was formulated, there was a tremendous confidence that the then Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, Penny Mordaunt, was genuinely committed to the LGBT cause. Penny attended regular panel meetings, and the mood was very positive, with a genuine belief that progress could be made with a Government that was willing to engage and listen to their appointed advisors.
Throughout the W&EC meeting, ‘September 2019’ was a date stated on more than one occasion by Jayne Ozanne as to when ‘everything changed’ and went ‘downhill tremendously’. She delivered a quote from another panel member who stated they were left deeply frustrated and that they never felt able to inform or critique policy. They felt that from that date (September 2019), everything had stalled, those decisions were then predetermined, and commitment from Ministers had waned.
So what happened in September 2019 to bring about such a dramatic change? A quick check of UK noteworthy political events recorded for that month showed that on 4th September, an alliance of rebel MP's voted to ban a no-deal Brexit and rejected Boris Johnson's call for a snap election. On September 24th, the UK Supreme Court ruled that the suspension of the UK parliament for 5 weeks by Boris Johnson's Government was unlawful. On September 15th Boris Johnson compared himself to Marvel character The Hulk! But clearly, none of these relates to the significant event that month that was to have such an impact on LGBT rights. The key date was, in fact 10th September 2019, and the event that, according to former LGBT Advisory panel members, sparked the complete U-turn in Government policy and commitment to LGBT issues, was the appointment of Liz Truss as the Minister for Women and Equalities.
As reported by Jayne Ozanne, under the new Secretary of State (SoS), there was now no minutes taken at meetings, no structure, no clear agenda and they were no longer reviewing the panels own action plan and having the SoS attend in person became a rare occurrence. As the evidence was given to the Committee, all three delivered statements that echoed their belief that whilst the previous SoS had been truly committed and regularly attended meetings, the new SoS managed to attend only 2 meetings and even then, it felt like her priorities were totally different and she had no real desire to engage with Stakeholders. They felt like the SoS was only attending because she had to, and there was no belief she even knew what their action plan was. It became very clear to them that the GOE's position on the GRA Reform had changed substantially under Liz Truss. The panel became so frustrated by the lack of engagement that several letters were written to the SoS expressing their concerns, but no response was ever received.
Following a debate they held on the potential banning of Conversion Therapy (an area that Jayne has considerable knowledge and was why she believed she was appointed onto the panel), Jayne stated that the SOS didn’t seem to understand any of the serious concerns they had been raising for three years regarding religious practice, spiritual guidance or the role of prayer. She remained totally frustrated that the SoS had still not met with any survivors, and even though she understood there had been meetings with Evangelical Leaders (who Jayne believed were those more likely the perpetrators of Conversion Therapy rather than the abused), and meetings had not included any of her interfaith advisory board who'd written to Liz Truss five times requesting that they meet – the senior faith leaders that she could have met included the likes of the Bishop of Liverpool, Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, (former) President of a Methodist Conference, Chair of UK Baptist Council, Member of Hindu Council and Ambassador to Europe for Buddhism. According to Jayne, Liz Truss ignored all five letters. Jayne believes there was also no reason for any further delay (with a new consultation) as the required legislation has already been discussed in great detail for three years. She also pointed to Australia, where in December a bill regarded as the ‘gold standard’ has been implemented so she had simply no idea why we are now delaying even more with this further consultation – she stated, “We should not be determining public policy that protects individuals by public vote”.
The evidence regarding her commitment and understanding of the disastrous GRA Reform painted an identical picture. In just the two meetings with Liz Truss, it was revealed that one meeting did focus heavily on GRA Reform - the SoS incorrectly believed that Europe did not have any similar system in place, to which Jayne had to point out this was incorrect as Norway, Belgium, Malta and Ireland do, so there were already good case studies. She went on to say, “there were levels of…. I don’t want to be rude….lack of understanding, which we, as advisors were there to help with, but instead it was seen as competitive or that intervention wasn’t welcome”.
Twice during the evidence delivered, there was a reference to ridiculous discussions that were needed regarding ‘toilets’ and the SoS having a ‘quite basic misunderstanding on what this was all about’. This being a clear reference to statements that Liz Truss continues to peddle whenever discussing GRA Reform by linking any Reform with a need to ensure the ‘safety of women’ in the legally permitted use of single-sex spaces - e.g., toilets. This reference to toilets by Liz Truss is so damning on two levels - firstly because the Government made a clear statement at the onset of their GRA Consultation that this was only about the process to obtain a GRC to change Sex on a birth certificate... and that’s all. They gave clear and indisputable clarification on their own website that this process had nothing to do with the Equality Act 2010, which was not being changed and was not under discussion in this process (see link ref 1#) - and yet from the start of the consultation process we saw anti-trans hate propaganda groups spreading lies and scaremongering about the threat that so-called ‘Self ID’ would do to the ‘safety of women’ in places like ... women’s toilets.
So Liz Truss, our appointed Minister for both Women AND Equalities, was demonstrating views that aligned her views alongside the worst anti-trans hate groups – and in the absence of any clarification to the opposite, this still remains her position, and her recent endorsement on Twitter of the EHRC stance on supporting the ‘right to misgender’ (in line with the views of the Maya Forstater Court case awaiting her appeal decision), which in my opinion is the most basic and cruel of hate crimes against those transgender or non-binary, is just further proof. These are views, as the judge in the original Maya Forstater case stated, were ‘not worthy of respect in a democratic society’. Yet these are the views being expressed by Liz Truss. (see link ref 2# to the tweet that Liz Truss retweeted)
On top of this, she didn’t understand the remit of her own Governments consultation .... or alternatively it meant she understood, but was intent on changing it. A leaked report in the Sunday Times newspaper in June 2020 did indeed point in this direction with the reported Government intention to make legislative changes to the use of single sex spaces (see link ref 3#), but thankfully the backlash following this leak appears to have stopped this in its tracks.
The bottom line of hearing the evidence delivered at this meeting, if not too surprising, was deeply depressing and it delivered a truly damning indictment on the current Tory Administration and its clear lack of care or interest by Ministers for those they were specifically appointed to protect. I suspect that Liz Truss will not be looking forward to the awkward questions she will no doubt face tomorrow when it is her turn to face the Women’s & Equalities Committee, and that will no doubt be the story for this week.
A poignant part of last week’s meeting discussed the role of the Minister for Women and Equalities and whether this was a role that could be effectively conducted alongside another Cabinet post. The response delivered was that whereas Penny Mordaunt had displayed a level of commitment to believe it might be possible, Liz Truss had demonstrated that a role this broad really needed and deserved the full focus and commitment of a Minister who didn’t have another clearly demanding Cabinet position.
So can Liz be Truss-ted or is it time for her to be replaced? I really don’t think I need to answer that question.