Tory leadership frontrunners back trans conversion therapy ban, says ex-minister Mike Freer

Tory equalities minister Mike Freer.

Former equalities minister Mike Freer says he’s been assured by the Tory leadership frontrunners that they “support a fully inclusive ban” on conversion therapy. 

Freer spoke at the PinkNews Westminster Summer Reception on Wednesday (13 July), in his first major speech since resigning as equalities minister amid a mass exodus from Boris Johnson’s government.

Freer told attendees that he had personally spoke to the “four frontrunners” in the Conservative party leadership contest on the future of a trans-inclusive ban on conversion therapy

“They’ve all told me that they support a fully inclusive ban on conversion practices,” Freer said. 

While Freer didn’t name names, the top four candidates following the first vote among MPs are Rishi Sunak, Penny Mordaunt, Liz Truss and Kemi Badenoch. 

Tom Tugendhat and Suella Braverman also remain in the running after Wednesday’s vote.

Freer also reflected on his decision to quit, the “hostility” the LGBTQ+ community has faced and what the future holds for the Tory party.

He admitted he felt “deep frustration” at the government’s “lack of progress” and buy-in from top leadership on ensuring a “ban on conversion practices were fully inclusive”. 

He said the argument for trans-inclusive protections fell on “deaf ears” despite his protests and described how colleagues “vilifying” trans people brought him to the breaking point. 

“When senior colleagues had throwaway comments vilifying the trans community, that was simply not acceptable,” Freer said. “Not least because trying to pick a part of our community as a joke is bad enough, but it also unleashed a torrent of abuse.”

He continued: “It gave free rein to some of my colleagues who felt it was fair to vilify our community.”

Mike Freer recalled having a “consensual debate on Pride” in Parliament’s main chamber while there was the “most awful debate on sex education” happening in Westminster hall.

He said one of his colleagues “described the plus in the LGBTQ+ as representing kinks, fetishes and BDSM” during the debate. 

“Not only was it factually wrong, but it was deeply offensive,” Freer said. “And that hostility was intended by people believing it was right to have throwaway comments.” 

He added that “hostility” towards the LGBTQ+ community in parliament was “deeply” upsetting as it obscured the “good work” some MPs had been doing.

“All of that good work that was being done by the people in the equalities team was being lost and obscured by hostility and toxic jokes, making fun of our trans colleagues,” Freer said. 

Mike Freer said there is a “legitimate debate to be had on issues of concern” so cautioned against shutting down those who “disagree with us”. Instead, he called on people to “debate” and “educate” others to bring forward a brighter future for the LGBTQ+ community. 

“We must ensure that we respect, we educate, we engage and we explain – that is how we will win people over,” he said. “The great Harvey Milk said, ‘Hope will never be silent’, and neither will I.”

Freer’s replacement, Amanda Solloway, also spoke at the event. She said the government was still “considering” how best to move ahead with tackling trans conversion therapy.

Solloway was confronted during her speech by activist Peter Tatchell over the government’s failures to help LGBTQ+ Afghans.

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