Kemi Badenoch lashes out at PinkNews CEO in first showing as equalities minister

A photo of Kemi Badenoch speaking on day two of the annual Conservative Party conference on October 3, 2022.

Kemi Badenoch used her first appearance as equalities minister to attack PinkNews CEO Benjamin Cohen, while claiming she would work with “compassion”.

The new women and equalities minister made her comments when asked about a series of tweets posted by Cohen in response to her appointment in Rishi Sunak’s government.

In his tweets, Cohen criticised Badenoch for describing trans women as “men” and noted that she abstained on a vote to legalise same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, among other issues.

When asked to respond to the tweets, Badenoch said “this particular individual is someone who uses Twitter as a tool for defamation”, wrongly suggesting he had been sued as a result.

She continued: “What I would like to say Mr Speaker as we do begin a new era of equalities is that the Equality Act is a shield, not a sword.

“It is there to protect people of all characteristics whether they’re young or old, male or female, black or white, gay or straight.

“We are running a compassionate equality strategy and we should not be distracted by people who use Twitter as a way to insult or accuse members of parliament.”

A screenshot of equalities minister Kemi Badenoch during Britain's Next Prime Minister: The ITV Debate on 17 July

The newly appointed equalities minister Kemi Badenoch has a history of speaking out against trans rights. (ITV via Getty/Jonathan Hordle)

Cohen shared his disappointment in Badenoch spreading “misinformation and untruths”, and requested a formal apology.

“It is disappointing that one of the first actions of the new minister for women and equalities is to use their parliamentary privilege to spread misinformation and untruths,” Cohen said.

“They inaccurately stated that I use ‘Twitter as a tool for defamation’, also alleging that ‘Members of this House’ have sued me.

“This is a disgrace and a complete fabrication, seeing as neither PinkNews nor I have ever been successfully sued by anyone.

“She then referred to the member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) having sued me/PinkNews. This is untrue, and I would have hope that a cabinet minister would understand the important legal distinction between a threat and actually bringing a court case against an individual or organisation.”

He added: “I await a formal apology from the minister, as well as for her to correct the parliamentary record.”

Jayne Ozanne, a leading LGBTQ+ rights activist, questioned why Badenoch left out trans people when talking about protected characteristics during her first parliamentary questions.

“I was reassured to hear that minister Badenoch is committed to a compassionate equality strategy at question time today, but was concerned she chose to omit any reference to gender reassignment in her list of protected characteristics,” Ozanne told PinkNews.

“This will sadly only serve to heighten fears amongst the trans community and I sincerely hope that either she or the prime minister will take steps to alleviate those concerns with upmost urgency.”

Badenoch’s comments came less than 24 hours after she was appointed minister for women and equalities by prime minister Rishi Sunak, a move that has left campaigners “deeply fearful” for the future of LGBTQ+ rights.

The minister was due to be questioned on the government’s commitment to ban conversion therapy during her first parliamentary questions, but the question was ultimately not asked.

PinkNews has asked the equalities office to clarify whether the government is planning on pushing ahead with a conversion therapy ban, which was first promised in 2018 by Theresa May’s government.

Kemi Badenoch’s appointment evoked ‘grave concern’

LGBTQ+ activists expressed “grave concern” in the hours after Sunak announced that Badenoch would be the new minister for women and equalities.

Ozanne told PinkNews that the appointment would be “highly divisive”.

“When she held the role previously she sought to fuel gender wars and speak against the need for a full ban on ‘conversion therapy’, rarely meeting with those she was tasked to protect.

“I am now deeply fearful for the wellbeing of LGBTQ+ people in Britain and can only hope that our international partners will try to hold her to account as she seeks to do trade deals with them.”

Badenoch was just one of several appointments made by Rishi Sunak on his first day as prime minister that led to concern among LGBTQ+ activists.

Sunak appointed ministers such as Dominic Raab, Nadhim Zahawi, Therese Coffey and Ben Wallace to senior posts. All have mixed or poor track records on LGBTQ+ rights.

His decision to reappoint Suella Braverman as home secretary just days after she resigned after admitting to breaching the ministerial code was met with frustration from activists who had hoped for a fresh start.

Braverman is among the most vocal “gender critical” ministers in government, frequently using her platform to speak out against “trans ideology”.

She is also a firm supporter of the government’s Rwanda plan, which would see people seeking asylum who are deemed “illegal” by the state deported to Rwanda.