Tory leadership race: Where the next prime minister stands on LGBTQ+ rights

Rishi Sunak on the left and Boris Johnson on the right.

Britain’s next prime minister will be decided by the second Conservative leadership race of 2022.

After 45 days in office – a period shorter than the last Tory leadership race –  Liz Truss announced that she was resigning as prime minister on Thursday (20 October).

Having crashed the economy with a mini-budget that gave tax cuts to the rich, she will now become the shortest serving prime minister in British history.

With the party facing the prospect of outright ruin at the next election, the Tories are now faced with finding a new leader who can restore trust with a frustrated public.

The Tories seem to recognise that there’s little appetite for another drawn out campaign and have promised a new prime minister will be chosen by Friday (28 October).

Nominations will close at 2pm Monday (24 October) and those putting their names forward will require the support of at least 100 MPs.

MPs will vote on their preferred candidate on Monday, and if two candidates are left at the end, there will be an online vote of the party membership.

There are already reports circulating that Boris Johnson is trying to garner support for a return, while Rishi Sunak – who lost out to Liz Truss in the last leadership election just weeks ago – is another early favourite.

Amid the chaos, we take a look at some of the likely candidates’ records on LGBTQ+ rights.

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson makes a statement in Downing Street on the death of HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

Boris Johnson makes a statement in Downing Street on the death of HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. (Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street via Getty)

It’s thought that if Boris Johnson can swing the necessary 100 nominations, he’ll likely worm his way back into No 10.

This would be bad news for LGBTQ+ people. During his failed premiership, LGBTQ+ rights completely stagnated. Plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) were scrapped, and he never delivered on his promise to ban conversion therapy.

In fact, one of his worst moments on LGBTQ+ rights came when he clumsily decided to scrap a conversion therapy ban altogether. In the face of mounting backlash, he then did a quick U-turn, saying the government would push ahead with a ban, but one that excluded trans people.

Johnson – who is currently under investigation over whether he misled MPs over parties in Downing Street – ultimately resigned before any legislation on conversion therapy could be brought forward.

His government was bad news for LGBTQ+ people in other ways too – his home secretary Priti Patel spearheaded the Rwanda plan, an initiative that would see people seeking asylum who arrive via “illegal” routes deported. Advocates have warned the plan could have severe consequences on LGBTQ+ people fleeing persecution and violence.

It’s safe to say that the man who once described gay men as “tank-topped bum boys” likely won’t get a rapturous reception from LGBTQ+ people if he were to become prime minister again.

Penny Mordaunt

Britain's Leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt delivers a tribute to Queen Elizabeth II on the opening day of the annual Conservative Party Conference.

Britain’s Leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt delivers a tribute to Queen Elizabeth II on the opening day of the annual Conservative Party Conference. (PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty)

When Penny Mordaunt announced her leadership bid in the summer, there was some hope among LGBTQ+ people.

During her time as minister for women and equalities under Theresa May, Mordaunt was seen as a supporter of LGBTQ+ rights. It was during her tenure that the government began the process of reforming the Gender Recognition Act (GRA).

In one of her more memorable moments, she stood up in parliament and declared that “trans women are women”. It shouldn’t be a bold statement, but for a Tory minister, it was a welcome change of pace.

That momentum rapidly crumbled when Mordaunt tried to distance herself from her earlier support for trans rights.

In a Twitter thread, she spoke out against what she described as the “trans orthodoxy” and used her platform to argue that trans women shouldn’t be playing alongside cis women in sport.

Her short-lived summer leadership bid was dominated by crude “jokes” about genitals and a scramble to prove to party members that she wasn’t “woke”. If she does launch another leadership bid, LGBTQ+ people will remember how quickly she abandoned them last time.

Rishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak walks towards the camera in a suit

Conservative leadership contender Rishi Sunak. (Tejas Sandhu/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Rishi Sunak is already being tipped as Truss’ most likely successor – he’s the bookies’ favourite, a position which is bolstered by the fact that he warned voters Truss would damage the economy.

Sunak was also the candidate who came closest to beating Truss last time around. He ultimately lost out when the vote was put to the party’s membership.

Like Truss and other candidates, Sunak didn’t shy away from bleating anti-trans rhetoric during the last leadership race. He was quick to answer “no” when asked whether a trans woman was a woman.

Early on in his campaign, sources close to Sunak said he would reverse “trends to erase women via the use of clumsy, gender-neutral language” if he were to become prime minister. A ban on trans women in sport was also floated.

On the flip side, Sunak gave by far the most in-depth answers to LGBT+ Conservatives when asked what he would do for the community. He drew attention to hate crime and the goal to end HIV transmission by 2030 as some of his priorities.

He also said “prejudice against trans people is wrong”, adding that debate should never descend into “personal attacks”.

Kemi Badenoch

Kemi Badenoch wears a bright yellow outfit as she speaks at a podium during a Tory leadership election debate

Kemi Badenoch has been endorsed by Britain First in the race to become prime minister after the far-right group described the MP as “anti-woke”. (Channel 4)

Speculation is mounting that Kemi Badenoch could launch a leadership bid after her last attempt ultimately failed.

Throughout her short political career, Badenoch has made it crystal clear that she is not a supporter of LGBTQ+ rights. During her time as equalities minister, she met with the likes of the LGB Alliance, an anti-trans pressure group, to hear the organisation’s thoughts on a conversion therapy ban.

During her last leadership bid, Badenoch repeatedly courted anti-trans talking points. She said she wanted to abolish gender neutral toilets at a “free speech” event.

If Badenoch were to become the next prime minister – an eventuality that seems unlikely, given that only 59 MPs backed her last time – it could be disastrous for LGBTQ+ people.

Suella Braverman

Home secretary Suella Braverman wears a blue outfit as she speaks at the conservative party conference

LGBTQ+ organisations urged home secretary Suella Braverman to abandon a “dangerous” policy that would deport asylum seekers to Rwanda. (Getty)

It’s not yet known if Suella Braverman will launch a leadership bid, but if she does, it would most certainly spell bad news for LGBTQ+ people.

Braverman is about as far to the right as it’s possible to be in the Conservative Party. During her brief stint as home secretary in Truss’ cabinet, she said it was her “dream” to see people seeking asylum deported to Rwanda.

She has also emerged as one of the Tories’ most anti-trans politicians. During her last leadership bid, she spoke out repeatedly against “woke rubbish”, claiming that she wanted to bring Britain back to being a country “where describing a man and a woman in terms of biology does not mean that you’re going to lose your job”.

Braverman ultimately failed to make an impact on her fellow Tories, and she was ousted from the last leadership race early on. She was later promoted to home secretary by Truss, where she lurched from one blunder to the next.

In her exceedingly short time as home secretary, Braverman attacked police for encouraging trans people to report hate crime and spoke out against the “tofu-eating wokerati”, whatever that means.