Lib Dem leadership hopeful Layla Moran on why she’ll never forgive the Tories: ‘You don’t get to pick and choose equal rights’

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

June should have been a joyous time for Layla Moran: first Pride Month as an out pansexual woman. Instead she was stuck at home, away from her girlfriend, pouring her discontent into a furious letter to Liz Truss over her “retrograde” plans for trans rights.

“I think the thing that really set me off was Liz Truss’ evidence that she gave to the Women and Equality Select Committee, where it became clear that she really hadn’t done her homework that she actually didn’t understand what this was,” Moran told PinkNews.

“She was rolling out well-known tropes and basically parroting some of the scare-mongering stories that we keep hearing and keep trying to fight.”

Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, is running to become party leader at an unprecedented time, both in terms of the pandemic, and for trans rights in the UK.

Liberal Democratic MP Layla Moran. (BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)

Hunkering down means she hasn’t even met some of her top campaign team members. But, dynamic and spirited, she’s believes that the coronavirus pandemic gnawing at normality will “bring out the best in society”.

“The crisis has exposed some of those inequalities in society that I think a lot of us knew about, but it’s exposed it even more, and this is the moment where we can actually turn things around and do things differently.”

Many of the things that she wants to do differently involve LGBT+ rights. The former teacher’s bid for the top seat involves welding her party back together with many progressive LGBT+ policies that would likely divide some other parties, where disunity over issues or sluggishness to fulfil promises are rife.

Speaking to PinkNews, she explained how she will “never forgive” the Conservative Party for its bungled handling of trans rights and for attempting to “placate” the LGBT+ community with a long-overdue conversion therapy ban, and how she would handle transphobia within her party if elected leader.

PinkNews: How was your first Pride Month since coming out as pansexual? Granted, this year wasn’t exactly an ordinary Pride. 

Layla Moran: I felt really sad because this was obviously the first Pride since I’d come out and I was really excited to go this year as an out person. I feel a little bit like that experience has been robbed from me, but hopefully next year I’ll be able to go and it will have a new meaning for me

Layla Moran, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Layla Moran, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

What would you say has been the biggest challenge for you during the coronavirus pandemic?

Trying to balance that sense of strange isolation that I think a lot of people have felt – being restricted, not being able to see loved ones.

My girlfriend, Rosie, lives in London and we recently moved in together. But before that, right at the beginning of lockdown, we couldn’t see each other because we weren’t allowed to and that’s been really difficult, not being able to see her and friends, and just not having that support network that you would normally rely on. I’ve very much missed hanging out in a pub garden.

Also, the work of an MP has gotten insane because there are so many people that need our help. That’s been a real challenge to keep that on track and make sure that we’re there for the community.

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Kylie Minogue or Britney Spears?


What would you do in terms of LGBT+ rights in your first year as leader?

There is so much that needs doing still. I wrote to Liz Truss just the other day to point out that banning gay conversion therapy needs to happen yesterday, but we need to be unafraid to stand up for all parts of the community.

The part that I’m deeply concerned about right now is obviously trans rights. It’s continuing to be a really divisive topic, it’s been politicised and it’s doing no one any favours whatsoever.

I’m really proud that in this leadership contest, there is nothing between me and Ed Davey and the people in the party about this issue. In other leadership contests, it has torn them apart.

But we need to now double down on the support for the trans community because they need it more than ever.

Layla Moran MP and her girlfriend Rosy Cobb, a former Lib Dem press officer

Layla Moran MP and her girlfriend Rosy Cobb, a former Lib Dem press officer

You’ve penned a letter to Liz Truss urging her not to use conversion therapy as a ‘pawn in the government’s culture war’. What prompted you to write this? 

I want the government to do the right thing as quickly as possible and the right thing would very obviously be to have made good on their word that they gave two years ago to ban conversion therapy, it should have already happened.

My message to Boris Johnson and Liz Truss is: You don’t get to do that. You don’t get to pick and choose equal rights. They all come together.

If conversion therapy was banned tomorrow, on a scale of one to ten, how ‘placated’ would you feel?

Zero. Nothing will ‘placate’ me.

My understanding was that there was a ministerial statement that was ready to go, but they decided to hold off because they were also going to roll back their commitment to the trans community to push through GRA [Gender Recognition Act reform], and that they felt that this would be a nice sweetener to that.

That’s just appalling. It’s horrific, that they’re even thinking of doing that. I think it’s disrespectful to the entire community that they think: ‘Oh, we’re just going to keep them quiet by giving them this one thing.’

We have to continue to fight for equality and if they’re going to do it with the guise of rolling one thing back so that they can feel that they’ve done their little bit, that they can use it to flag-wave that they are friends of the LGBTQ+ community, then I hope that everyone will band together and make them see that what they’re doing is completely unacceptable.

What have you made of the Conservative government’s handling of the GRA reforms? 

I am appalled that someone who has said what she said is allowed to continue in that role. For Boris Johnson to then say that he’s a friend of the LGBT+ community while keeping her in that role, I think, really stings.

I do not believe that the Tories will stand up for equal rights at all. I understand the complexity of the issues, the government itself is boiling this down to some sort of black and white choice between trans rights and women’s rights.

I think I will never forgive them.

A damning report by the European Commission ranked the UK’s legal recognition of trans people as among the worst in Europe. Is that something that shocks you?

Not shocked, sadly. The 2010 Equality Act, when it came in all those years ago, was itself quite groundbreaking at the time. But then we rested on our laurels, I think, as politicians and as a society.

Some of this is just detail. It’s about how can you allow a process where you don’t have a right of appeal, but it’s a really important detail!

It goes against natural justice. I just don’t see why this country is failing to get a grip of these really basic issues. In other countries where they have moved to self-ID, there has not been this sort of proliferation of attacks and anything else.

Layla Moran campaigns in Oxford West and Abingdon with then-Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron

Layla Moran campaigns in Oxford West and Abingdon with then-Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

It shows a lack of moral and political leadership by people who should know better. And that’s why I want to stand for leader.

It’s why it’s important that the Liberal Democrats are strong again. Because actually, we’ve always been a party that’s made the positive case for equal rights, no matter who you are, no matter your background, gender or sexuality.

It’s a core part of who we are. But because our voice has been diminished over the last 10 years, I feel that as missing from the debate and the way that we have been has not been helpful.

Hypothetical situation. A member of your party takes issue with the phrase, ‘people who have a cervix’, and brands criticism about that from trans people as a ‘communist pile-on’. What would you, as leader of the Liberal Democrats, do?

I fully accept that every political party will have people who have bought into some of these views that, frankly, run counter to our core liberal values.

I’ve always believed that the way you approach it in the first instance, is that you start by explaining to that person in a calm measured way, why what they’ve said is incorrect.

And more important than that, you make them understand what hurt they’ve caused by speaking and not engaging.

If someone says something that then has a sort of Twitter pile-on, it ends up being that they just don’t engage anymore in the conversation. You’re either right or you’re wrong. And yes, they’re wrong.

But if you’re going to change people’s minds, you don’t attack them. The best thing that you can do is to take them aside and make them understand that what they’ve said is deeply hurtful.

They probably didn’t mean it – or if they did mean it, maybe it’s born of ignorance, and not born of them not being a liberal.

That’s where I’d like to get to is a society, a place where we can have a more rational, compassionate debate around progressing rights of every single person, even if they are part of a teeny tiny minority.

When you do that, you actually improve equality for everybody. And it’s not a zero-sum game – what you are doing is you are improving the inclusivity of society, which is only going to make us a better country at the end of it.