Theresa May urges ‘respect’ for trans lives: ‘Just because an issue is controversial, that doesn’t mean we can avoid it’

Theresa May PinkNews Awards 2020

Former prime minister Theresa May has said that progress on trans rights should not be ignored simply because some see it as “controversial”.

The Conservative MP made her comments in an address to the LGBT+ community on the third and final day of the PinkNews Awards 2020, which is taking place digitally due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In her recorded video message, May said she was “proud” of her record on LGBT+ rights as prime minister and in cabinet.

“As home secretary, I was proud to join you in campaigning for equal marriage,” May said. While serving in that role in 2012, May came out in support of same-sex marriage at a time when many Tories disproved.

May praised her government for conducting a survey of the UK’s LGBT+ community and for launching the public consultation on reform to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) that was ultimately disregarded by the current administration. She said she was “grateful to everyone who took part”.

“When I spoke at the PinkNews Awards in 2017, I said that while we are taking steps forward, there remains much further to go,” she continued.

“Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools has not gone away. Violence against LGBT+ people is not a thing of the past. Around the world, people still face persecution because of who they are.”

May added: “I also said that trans people still face indignities and prejudice, when they deserve understanding and respect. Sadly, that statement remains as true today as ever.

“Just because a group of people is small in number, that doesn’t mean they should be overlooked, and just because an issue is controversial, that doesn’t mean we can avoid addressing it.

“Whatever our sexuality or gender identity, we are all of equal worth. We are all equally deserving of acceptance.

The former prime minister has previously defended her record on LGBT+ rights, her position evolving throughout her parliamentary career.

She voted against the repeal of Section 28 in 2000, which prohibited the promotion of homosexuality by schools and local authorities, and against equalising the age of consent for gay and bisexual men. May also voted against same-sex adoptions in 2002, but in 2010 said those votes were “some years ago” and that, if they were held again, she would vote differently.

In 2004, May voted in favour of same-sex civil partnerships and later was the cabinet sponsor for same-sex marriage in her role as Home Secretary and Minister for Equalities.

Friday (4 December) saw the final four PinkNews Awards of 2020 handed out, capping off a three-day event celebrating LGBT+ heroes from all walks of life.

Politician of the Year Award: Nadia Whittome and Layla Moran.

Labour MP Nadia Whittome and Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran were named as joint winners of the Politician Award at the PinkNews Awards 2020 by ITV political correspondent Paul Brand.

In his speech, Brand highlighted the “epidemic” of mental ill-health plaguing the LGBT+ community, saying two gay men he knows have died following their struggles with their mental health over the last year.

“It’s hard for us to come together as a community when we are actively being kept apart,” Brand said, before naming Whittome and Moran as joint winners of the award.

Whittome promised that she will always be a vocal ally for the LGBT+ community in her acceptance speech, and drew attention to the toxic commentary around trans people’s lives in the media and on social media.

She said the discussion had become focused on”manufactured short term outrage that ignores trans people’s voices and doesn’t allow for an intelligent, human understanding of their real, lived experiences”.

“We all have a respnosibility to listen to the lived realities of trans people, to amplify their demands, and to stand against anyone who weaponises any inequalities of gender to stoke fear, hatred and division.

“Because trans rights are human rights, they’re workers rights. This is a class issue, it’s a healthcare issue, it’s an issue of trans people disproportionately experiencing domestic violence, sexual violence, poverty and homelessness.

“Thank you once again for this award and I promise that in me, you will always have an ally and a platform in parliament.”

In her speech, Layla Moran reflected on her momentous decision to come out as pansexual this year, saying she hopes to be a role model to those who want to be “true to who they are”.

She also doubled down on her commitment to fighting for trans rights and banning conversion therapy.

“One of the biggest issues our society faces at the moment is the way the trans community is being attacked, partly because the government has allowed it to by rolling back on its promises, particularly on the GRA,” Moran said.

“I think what that has done is it has opened the door to those transphobes who want to trample all over the rights of trans people, and I will not stand for it.”

Broadcast or Documentary Award: Disclosure.

Fox Fisher announced Netflix documentary Disclosure as the winner of the Broadcast or Documentary Award at the PinkNews Awards 2020.

Presenting the award, Fisher thanked the nominated filmmakers for making “such impactful and meaningful films”.

“What incredible educational and emotional content,” Fisher said. “All of these give such valuable insight into our wider community and shows the life, the struggles and the obstacles that we endure and overcome as individuals.”

The award was accepted by Amy Scholder, producer of Disclosure, alongside executive producer Laverne Cox and director and producer Sam Feder.

Laverne Cox used her acceptance speech to deliver a powerful rallying cry to trans and non-binary people.

“I just want to send a quick message to all the trans and non-binary people out there. I just want to remind you that you are anointed, that in indigenous cultures all over the world, trans and non-binary people held a sacred space.

“As we work to find justice and to decolonise our lives, I think it’s so important for us to claim our spaces as anointed, as sacred, as necessary. You are deeply necessary. Don’t ever forget that. I love you so much.”

Television Award: Sex Education.

Dannii Minogue presented the Television Award to Netflix series Sex Education, praising the nominees for putting LGBT+ characters at the heart of their shows.

“The winner of this category highlights the importance of LGBT+ inclusion and provides LGBT+ young people with true on-screen representation on an international hit show,” Minogue said.

“We can’t wait for season three and more relevant, fabulous, entertaining LGBT+ stories.”

Accepting the award, Tanya Reynolds, who plays Lily on the show, said: “It means so much to us to see the amazing response that the show has been getting from the fans. Sex Education at its heart is a show about acceptance, from the diverse cast to the queer representation and the sexual health issues that it tackles.”

Patricia Allison, who plays Ola, said they don’t “shy away rom anything” on Sex Education.

“We hope that we’re able to help people all over the world by shining a light on these really human issues,” she added.

Influencer Award: Florence Given.

The Influencer Award was presented by Drag Race legend Courtney Act, who praised this year’s nominees as “wonderful, good, queer influences”.

Accepting the award, Florence Given said: “I can’t even begin to explain how proud the younger version of myself would have been if she knew that not only would she be out, but that she would be so out that she won an award for it!”

She also spoke about her book, Women Don’t Owe You Pretty, saying her work challenges “the narratives that we have been given since birth”.

“Most of it has been built on lies. Most of the lies that we believe and the lies that we are told about ourselves and about other people seek to reinforce and hold up oppressive structures and systems, such as white supremacy, sexism, homophobia,” Given said.

She said these are not “natural” phenomena, and said they have been “intentionally built so that people with privilege can maintain that privilege”.

Given closed out her speech by drawing attention to the shocking level of violence faced by Black trans women, and urged viewers to donate to, which provides Black trans people with vital funds for housing and gender affirming treatment.

The PinkNews Awards 2020 in association with Amazon ran 2-4 December, with Sadiq Khan and Keir Starmer also giving speeches advocating for LGBT+ rights.