Tories’ shambolic LGBTQ+ conference cancellation will cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands

The Tories’ cancelled Safe To Be Me conference could end up costing taxpayers more than £500,000, according to new reports. 

The government’s much-heralded LGBTQ+ rights conference was cancelled in April 2022, after more than 120 LGBTQ+ and HIV advocacy groups pulled out over Boris Johnson’s refusal to ban trans conversion therapy.

At the time of its cancellation, equalities minister Mike Freer, informed parliament that the event had already generated costs of £365,000.

It’s now emerged that the government will be liable to pay a cancellation fee to the venue of £200,000.

According to Evening Standard, officials are investigating whether VAT can be recovered to shrink the bill.

Tories’ LGBTQ+ conference was a ‘missed opportunity’

Touted as the UK’s first global LGBT+ conference, Safe To Be Me was scheduled to begin on 29 June.

But escalating problems soon emerged, with reports that no speakers or sponsors had been signed up three months prior to the event taking place. 

The government’s poor track recordon LGBTQ+ rights was cited as a reason for such reluctance, sources told Vice.

Further backlash ensued once news broke that Boris Johnson would drop a planned legislative ban on conversion therapy.

Although Johnson quickly U-turned, announcing that a ban would go ahead, trans conversion therapy was excluded due to an alleged complexity of issues“. 

Landscape image of protesters and protest signs at anti-conversion therapy demonstration.

LGBT activists and supporters protest exclusion of transgender people in a conversion therapy ban on April 10, 2022 in London, England. (Photo credit: Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

Soon after, the government’s LGBTQ+ business champion, Iain Anderson, resigned from his post. This LGBTQ+ advisory role was the first of its kind, introduced to support the conference in the lead-up to its launch.

In Anderson’s letter to the prime minister, he shared his deep concerns about the exclusion of trans people from the conversion therapy ban. “Trust and belief in the government’s overall commitment to LGBT+ rights has been damaged,” he wrote.

Virtually every LGBTQ+ and HIV advocacy group in the UK cut ties with the conference in protest at the move, effectively leaving it dead in the water. Its cancellation was confirmed by the government as a result.

A Stonewall spokesperson said: “The conference was a missed opportunity to help further LGBT+ rights around the world and it is a shame that the UK government’s actions have meant that resources and time have been wasted.

“We remain in ongoing dialogue with the government on a range of policy issues, but could not support this conference when the prime minister continues to ignore the medical and human rights consensus on the need for a trans-inclusive ban on conversion therapy.”

A Government Equalities Hub spokesperson told PinkNews: “We remain committed to strengthening LGBT rights and freedoms and will continue to support human rights defenders globally and to influence and support countries on the path to decriminalisation.

“We have incurred some costs as we prepared to deliver the conference. We are actively working to understand what costs can be recovered as a result of the decision to cancel the conference. The final position will be reflected in the departmental accounts in the usual way.