New Tory equalities minister Amanda Solloway confronted over LGBTQ+ Afghan asylum failures

Equalities minister Amanda Solloway's official parliament portrait

Newly-appointed equalities minister Amanda Solloway was confronted by veteran human rights activist Peter Tatchell about the government’s failure to help LGBTQ+ Afghans.

Solloway gave a speech at the PinkNews Westminster Summer Reception on Wednesday evening (13 July).

Addressing MPs, activists and other attendees, Solloway said that “while no nation can boast a perfect track record” on LGBTQ+ rights, she is “proud of what we have done so far and what the UK has achieved”.

“I will continue to make sure that we absolutely improve on these achievements,” Solloway said, adding: “I’m extremely proud of our work with civil society organisations to help successfully resettle LGBT Afghan refugees.”

Tatchell interrupted Solloway’s speech, saying: “You’ve actually refused to settle hundreds who have applied to your government for permission to settle here.

“They’ve been vetted and approved by Afghan LGBT+ groups and your government has refused to help. I know you’re a good person, but can I please ask for you to take that back to the Foreign Commonwealth Office.”

Solloway replied: “I, of course, acknowledge your question and will take that back. But I cannot comment on that at the moment.”

The British government pledged to resettle 5,000 Afghans – LGBTQ+ folk included – from January as part of its Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme. But it has been plagued by controversy, including claims prime minister Boris Johnson prioritised rescuing animals over queer people.

Queer Afghans have faced increased violence since the Taliban took over, facing gang rapes, mob attacks and worse.

Tatchell later took to the podium to say: “The government has been given the names and all the detail of 860 Afghans at risk of murder by the Taliban. They have refused every single one, including a gay Afghan who worked for the British army as an interpreter, and is now being hunted by the Taliban.”

Also during her speech, Solloway paid tribute to predecessor Mike Freer, who resigned amid the mass exodus from Boris Johnson’s government citing a hostile environment for LGBTQ+ people, and who also spoke at the PinkNews Westminster Summer Reception.

“I remain fully committed to building on the existing work that Mike Freer carried out to advance LGBT rights both here in the UK and abroad,” Solloway said.

Speaking on the conversion therapy ban, Solloway said the government is still “considering” how best to move ahead with tackling trans conversion therapy.

“I know many of you will be following closely our efforts to ban conversion practices and I can reassure you that my officials and I will continue the work that the previous fantastic minister started,” she said.

“Together, with the minister for women and equalities, Liz Truss, [we will be] ensuring that we have a ban that protects from attempts to change sexual orientation.

“We are also considering how best to tackle transgender conversion therapy in a way that doesn’t negatively impact the legitimate support that is so important for those experiencing gender distress.”

Freer has said in previous statements that the government would conduct “separate work” on a trans conversion therapy ban.

Among other achievements of the government, Solloway said: “We have completed our work to modernise gender recognition certificate applications, moving the process online and also reducing the fee last year.”

The public overwhelmingly backed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act when responding to a public consultation launched by the government. This included moving to a self-declaration model as well as removing invasive medical demands.

But in 2020, the government scrapped many of the key reforms altogether, instead simply slashing the price of acquiring a certificate and moving the system online.

The PinkNews Westminster Summer Reception was sponsored by Gilead Sciences and Micro Rainbow as a charity partner.