UK is becoming ‘like Trump’s America’ as it spirals into anti-LGBTQ+ hatred, campaigners warn

(From L-R) PinkNews CEO Benjamin Cohen, Kaleidoscope Trust executive director Phyllis Opoku-Gyimah, former LGBTQ+ government adviser Jayne Ozanne, LVDNR CEO Christopher El Badaoui, Stonewall CEO Nancy Kelley at the PinkNews Great Expectations event

Top LGBTQ+ campaigners have warned that the UK is becoming “exactly like America”.

Stonewall CEO Nancy Kelley joined Kaleidoscope Trust executive director Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, former LGBTQ+ government adviser Jayne Ozanne and LVDNR CEO Christopher El Badaoui for the first PinkNews Great Expectations event.

The talk, held in London’s The Brewery on Thursday evening (19 May), saw panellists discuss whether the LGBTQ+ community can cooperate with a government seemingly at odds with their rights.

But one thing the panel stressed is that the UK must accept it is no longer a world leader when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights. It has plummeted in recent years – and risks being in company with a Trumpian America.

“I think one of the problems we’ve got in the UK is that we’re really smug going: ‘We’re not like America,'” Kelley said.

“Well, let me tell you, we are exactly like America right now. We have hundreds of people outside of abortion clinics in the UK right now.

“It’s time for everyone to wake up.”

Trans rights, the panel said, are being treated by politicians and the national press as a wedge issue to divide the left and whip up hatred among the right.

UK’s embrace of anti-LGBTQ+ hate is to please the voters keeping Boris Johnson in power

Ozanne, an evangelical Anglican and founder of Ban Conversion Therapy, described a culture in Westminster where Number 10 disregards pleas from government ministers, advisers and civil servants to support LGBTQ+ rights.

Instead, the bid to appeal to an older, right-wing religious voting base, just like Donald Trump and Mike Pence, has become the top priority.

According to a 2020 YouGov survey, those who oppose trans rights the most in Britain are Leave-voting Tories aged 65 and over. But even those 65 and over agree that a trans person should have the right to self-identify, a policy that the Conservative government scrapped.

The British government has also excluded trans and non-binary people from its conversion therapy ban, despite the majority of the public thinking trans people deserve to be protected from the barbaric practice.

“[Boris Johnson’s] number one priority is to keep himself in power, isn’t it?” Ozanne said, “just like Trump or Pence.”

British prime minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street

Campaigners say British prime minister Boris Johnson’s anti-LGBTQ+ stance is to appeal to hardline right-wing voters. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The UK, Ozanne warned, has taken a page from America’s playbook. Turning LGBTQ+ rights – trans rights, in particular – into a culture war for the sake of votes and deflecting from important issues, such as the economy.

“The right-wing Evangelicals – and I say this as someone once part of that movement – are willing to turn a blind eye to all the misdemeanours,” Ozanne said.

What Trump and Johnson offer these voters is a return to a world where a “man is head of the family and the woman is making supper”.

In the US, as much as the Biden administration has undone many of Trump’s anti-trans policies, state legislatures continue his legacy.

More than 240 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been filed in state legislatures this year alone, according to legislative tracker Freedom for All Americans.

Many of the bills have sought to ban trans girls and women from school sports – the Tories have increasingly taken aim at trans athletes for no real reason.

Ozanne said that the anti-trans movement is “well-organised, well funded and strategic”. Hardline Christian billionaires are pumping millions into such efforts in the US, an investigation by The Daily Beast found, while anti-choice and anti-abortion groups are funding the movement in Europe.

“We’ve got to counter religion with religion,” Ozanne added.

“What you have with the pool of voters Jayne is talking about is people who will vote on a narrow range of issues,” Kelley said. “For instance, on an anti-trans or an anti-abortion ticket, they will vote on that one issue.

Stonewall CEO Nancy Kelley. (Thomas Young)

“The vast majority of people in this country think transphobia is grim and are friendly towards trans people but will vote for MPs who pursue anti-LGBTQ+ policies,” Kelley said, adding that some voters may soon go: “They’re a bit crappy on trans people’s rights and lives but I like them on the economy.”

Opoku-Gyimah added that the UK and the US hold great sway over the Global South. The more both spiral into hatred, the more the anti-LGBTQ+ movement in the Global South may be emboldened.

“What’s not spoken about a lot in these international spaces is colonialism, racism and criminalising laws, which are wrong laws which have been left by the British, French, Spanish, whoever that may be, that we’re constantly having to right,” she said.

Among them is Ghana, a former British colony where activists told PinkNews that a “hate-filled” bill that will further criminalise being LGBTQ+ bears the “signature of US right-wing groups”.

“We’re seeing the anti-gender movement really rife within Europe and our Global South comrades and siblings are saying this is being exported outwards,” said Opoku-Gyimah.

“Which makes the work that they’re doing even harder in terms of navigating criminalising works.”

“It is a really grave concern for our comrades in the Global South,” she added.