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Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak say trans women aren’t women as toxic leadership race draws to close

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Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak sit on stage during a leadership hustings.

Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak both denied that trans women are women during the penultimate Tory leadership hustings.

The would-be prime ministers made the claim during the TalkTV leadership hustings on Thursday (25 August). On multiple occasions, they reiterated anti-trans policies and rhetoric.

Hustings chair Julia Hartley-Brewer, who has her own history of calling trans women “biological men”, asked both candidates outright whether a trans woman was a woman. Both candidates simply answered: “No.”

The trans-exclusionary rhetoric didn’t stop there.

Both Sunak and Truss were asked a plethora of questions by audience members on LGBTQ+ rights and issues, as well as on how to deal with so-called “wokery“.

When an audience member wearing a “Liz for leader” shirt asked about balancing “rights of single-sex spaces” with trans autonomy, Truss said: “I improved the process for gender recognition to make it simpler and kinder, but I was very clear… under-18s shouldn’t be able to make irreversible decisions about their own future.”

Despite Truss’ insinuation, for the vast majority of trans under-18s the only available medical intervention is puberty blockers, which are “physically reversible”, according to the NHS website.

Hormone replacement therapy, which can have irreversible effects, is available to over-16s who have been on puberty blockers for 12 months. However, years-long wait lists mean that this is a highly unlikely occurrence, with many missing the boat for puberty blockers altogether. Gender-affirming surgery is only available for over-18s.

Liz Truss on M&S changing rooms: ‘It’s behind a curtain’

Julia Hartley-Brewer also asked Liz Truss if she supports shopping chain Marks & Spencer’s decision, announced this week, to allow customers to use any single-person changing room.

“I’ve made this clear in parliament that places absolutely have the ability to restrict access on the basis of biological sex, that is a very important right,” Truss said. “That should be true in the public sector, in schools, in domestic violence shelters.

“[Marks & Spencer] can decide their policies as they see fit, and I can decide to go into Marks & Spencer or not, according to whether I want to.”

When asked whether she would enter a shop where, as Brewer claimed, “a man could walk in”, Truss admitted she had used the changing rooms in Marks & Spencer and that no one had ever intruded on her.

“It’s always behind a curtain, Julia,” she said. “And no one has ever tried to open the curtain while I’m in there,” she added.

Despite multiple contributions from the audience, there were no further questions on trans rights – something that corroborates with a recent YouGov report that shows the so-called “trans debate” isn’t a pressing issue for the UK public.

However, in denying that trans women are women, both PM hopefuls demonstrated a clear misunderstanding of – or purposefully ignored – UK law.

The 2004 Gender Recognition Act states: “Where a full gender recognition certificate is issued to a person, the person’s gender becomes for all purposes the acquired gender (so that, if the acquired gender is the male gender, the person’s sex becomes that of a man and, if it is the female gender, the person’s sex becomes that of a woman).”

Under the Equality Act, trans people are protected from discrimination regardless of whether they have a gender recognition certificate (GRC) or not. It’s believed that less than one per cent of trans people in the UK have a GRC – applicants must undergo complex medical and psychiatric evaluations and are required to “prove” their gender before they can have their gender legally recognised.

Sadly, Truss and Sunak’s remarks are entirely consistent with the Tory leadership race to date.

Three former Tory ministers have told PinkNews they are “appalled” by some of the anti-trans talking points put forward by both candidates in recent weeks.

One former minister described the leadership race as “shameful”, saying Truss and Sunak were “pandering to bigots” and tarnishing the progress made on LGBTQ+ issues under prime ministers David Cameron and Theresa May.

Either Truss or Sunak will be declared the new Tory leader and prime minister on 5 September, with one final hustings to be held in London on 31 August.