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Rishi Sunak’s troubling history of anti-trans comments proves he’s unfit to be prime minister

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Rishi Sunak pictured against a colourful background.

Rishi Sunak will be the next prime minister of the UK after winning the latest Tory leadership race by default.

His rival Penny Mordaunt pulled out at the 11th hour leaving Sunak unopposed in his bid to succeed Liz Truss as both leader of the Conservative Party and, by default, unelected prime minister.

Neither the general public or Conservative Party members have had their say on the new prime minister and party leader, with Sunak chosen largely behind closed doors by desperate Tory MPs.

Truss lasted just 44 days in the top job before she announced her intention to resign on Thursday (20 October). Her position became increasingly untenable after she crashed the economy and pushed her party to the brink of electoral collapse.

Just weeks after the last leadership race concluded, the Conservative Party once again launched a contest to decided its next leader. Penny Mordaunt and Rishi Sunak were the only two candidates to officially declare, with Boris Johnson saying it was not his time to return to office despite claiming to have the support of enough Tory MPs. Candidates needed the backing of 100 Tory MPs to make the final ballot.

Despite the fact that Sunak lost out to Truss in the first leadership race this year, he remained a popular figure in the party. First elected in 2015, Sunak has rapidly ascended through the ranks to become one of the most senior Tories in office – in recent years, he’s served as junior minister for local government, chief secretary to the treasury and as chancellor of the exchequer under Johnson.

Sunak’s popularity is unlikely to lead to any material benefits for LGBTQ+ people. Much like many of his party colleagues, Sunak’s track record on queer issues leaves a lot to be desired.

Rishi Sunak denied trans women are women

As chancellor, Rishi Sunak had little to do with advancing – or rolling back – LGBTQ+ rights, but he made his position crystal clear during the last leadership race.

Shortly after announcing he would compete for the Tory leadership in the summer, an ally of Sunak’s was quoted in the Mail on Sunday promising he would reverse “recent trends to erase women via the use of clumsy, gender-neutral language”.

The same source claimed Sunak would launch a “manifesto for women’s rights” if he became prime minister. Paradoxically, that “manifesto” for women’s rights would include a ban on trans women in sport, his ally said.

Worryingly, the same person claimed Sunak would urge schools to be “more careful” on how LGBTQ+ topics are taught.

In a somewhat confusing turn of events, Sunak later gave what were among the most in-depth responses to LGBT+ Conservatives when the group asked leadership hopefuls to answer questions on their LGBTQ+ commitments. Among the issues he drew attention to were rising hate crime and the goal to end HIV transmission by 2030.

I want this to be the safest and greatest country in the world to be LGBT+.

“I don’t want anybody in Britain to have to hide who they are or who they love out of fear,” Sunak said.

“I want this to be the safest and greatest country in the world to be LGBT+.”

When asked about the “rising problem of transphobia” within the party, Sunak said: “Prejudice against trans people is wrong. The Conservative Party is an open, welcoming family to everybody across society, no matter who they are and irrespective of their background.”

Those comments were largely at odds with other statements Sunak has made on LGBTQ+ issues. Towards the end of his leadership bid, he claimed that trans women aren’t women at a leadership hustings – a comment that sits starkly at odds with his claim that prejudice against the community is wrong.

Months before he launched his leadership bid, he said in a Mumsnet Q&A that trans people should be “respected”, but that “biology is important, is fundamental” when it comes to toilets and sports.

In that same Q&A he called on people to have “respect” for cis women who are “anxious that some of the things they have fought really hard for and rights that are important to them will be eroded”.

In short, with Sunak as prime minister, it’s a grim outlook for LGBTQ+ people. It remains unclear whether he will push ahead with a conversion therapy ban or gender recognition reform, or whether he will do anything to advance LGBTQ+ rights.

What is likely to be more pressing for many LGBTQ+ people right now is tackling the cost of living crisis, helping them to weather a storm that’s leaving the most vulnerable hungry and cold.

Only time will tell if prime minister Rishi Sunak will take meaningful action to better people’s lives.