Tory MP flees Pride event with police escort as 20 students stage ‘peaceful’ protest

A student holding up a sign reading: 'End conversion therapy now'

A Tory MP abandoned a Pride event as 20 LGBTQ+ people peacefully protested against the government’s refusal to ban trans conversion therapy.

Jo Gideon, MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, claimed she suffered “non-stop abuse” from “extremist protesters” outside an LGBT+ Conservatives tent at Stoke-on-Trent Pride on 18 June.

Gideon left the event via police escort as a student-led protest at Hanley Park called out the government’s decision to exclude trans people from its conversion therapy ban.

She said in a statement to PinkNews: “These protesters were shouting non-stop abuse. After waiting for the protest to move on for 30 minutes, I decided the only way to diffuse the situation, and putting people’s safety first, was to leave.

“I was grateful for a police escort to my car. I received a number of messages after the event from constituents who were at Pride and saw the protest unfold and felt intimidated by the protesters’ actions.”

Gideon also alleged that a promotional banner of hers was vandalised by the students who had “blocked” the path outside the tent.

But members of Staffordshire University’s student LGBTQ+ society, the Staffs Uni LGBT Network, tell a different story.

Around 20 students held up flags and placards for the “cheerful” rally, protesters told PinkNews, and at one point they even formed a conga line to keep spirits up high as they huddled outside the Tory Pride tent.

Among them was Rhys Reynolds, a 22-year-old trans artist. Reynolds hit back at Gideon’s claims that their protest was not well-received by Pride-goers – in fact, he said, they loved it.

“People walking past joined in on our chants, stopped to watch and spoke to us,” he said. “We never received a negative comment on the day from any passersby.”

Gideon, meanwhile, ignored the demonstration, students allege. “Throughout the protest, Jo Gideon gave glances of distaste and disapproval,” said protester Sam Hutchinson, a 20-year-old criminology student. “She remained inside her tent and refused to speak to protest leaders.”

At one point, the university’s Student Union president, Hannah Blackburn, called on Gideon to speak with them. Reynolds claims the MP ignored them.

The Staffs Uni LGBT Network had already staged a protest on campus, but decided to organise a rally at Stoke-on-Trent Pride to make their views on the Tories’ trans-exclusionary conversion therapy ban clear.

Hutchinson said the rally was railing against the government – it certainly wasn’t against Gideon in particular. “I was personally unaware of any ‘non-stop abuse’ directed specifically at Miss Gideon,” he added.

Chants of “LGB with the T” and “Trans Rights are Human Rights” were shouted by the demonstrators for much of the protest. But they stopped completely whenever Gideon was interviewed by the press.

Both Hutchinson and Reynolds said that while they had heard “rumours” of people defacing the banner, they stressed that this alleged act was not done by any of the students. The banner was at the edge of the Pride event away from the protest, they claimed, and the students were in “plain view” of Gideon the entire time.

“Before too long, [Gideon] decided to leave the Pride event whilst the protest continued as we were there to make our voices heard by all,” Hutchinson continued.

A member of Staffordshire Police escorted Gideon away from the event.

A spokesperson for the force said: “There was a confirmed protest of approximately 20 people which ended when Event Security and Police attended. MP Jo Gideon left before the protest ended.”

Protesters had no clue why Gideon left when she did or why she needed a police escort. “We were honestly a bit shocked as it seemed like quite an overkill to a group of 20 students chanting for half an hour,” said Reynolds.

“We all remained at the protest for around 10 minutes before the parade came through and continued to protest as our protest was never aimed just at her, it was for the Conservative party in general.”

The students certainly had their reasons for mobilising that day. “I decided to join the protest after discussing with members of our LGBTQ+ society and just hearing that such a human rights violation was still occurring just solidified my resolve,” Hutchinson said.

Ministers have claimed that legislating a trans conversion therapy ban is too “complex“, and that “separate work” is needed to review how best to do it. All major medical bodies in Britain say the torturous practice should be banned without delay.

For Reynolds, the government’s excuses are not simply good enough. He said he feels the government abandoning trans people was just the latest example of it blindsiding the LGBTQ+ community, with trans folk especially being reduced to nothing more than a “culture war“.

“Excluding trans people is an act to deliberately harm them, harm the entire LGBTQ community and to gain voter support from people also seeking to harm trans people,” said Reynolds.

Gideon said she attended the Pride event in her capacity as an MP and as someone who “values diversity and equality”.

“These individuals found it necessary to vandalise my banner, block the Dementia and Stoke City Community Trust stands and refused to engage constructively,” she said.

“Potteries Young Labour representatives handed me a typed letter which they had prepared earlier.

“This was a stage-managed event that is the opposite of what Pride should be about. Even after I left, the traditional Pride parade was marred by hate cries against the Conservatives.

“Bigotry has no place in Stoke, and I will continue to be committed to doing all I can to give freedom, dignity and support to all members of our LGBTQ+ community across Stoke.

“I will also call out far left extremism, which simply attacks people because of their political beliefs.”