New education secretary Gillian Keegan is rare LGBTQ+ ally in Rishi Sunak’s cabinet

Gillian Keegan pictured walking outdoors wearing a suit.

The new education secretary Gillian Keegan has a strong record on LGBTQ+ rights and has spoken out in support of the trans community.

Keegan was just one of a raft of new appointments made in prime minister Rishi Sunak’s cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday (25 October).

Among those appointed to senior cabinet positions were politicians with anti-LGBTQ+ records including Dominic Raab, Suella Braverman, Ben Wallace and Kemi Badenoch.

Keegan is one of a small number of ministers who have been vocal in her support for LGBTQ+ rights.

In 2020, the Chichester MP issued a statement in support of trans rights to the Chichester LGBT Forum.

“I recognise that more must be done to help transgender people with the unique and difficult challenges that they face,” Keegan wrote at the time.

“Trans women are women and trans people deserve equal and fair access to healthcare, safe spaces, and opportunities, as well as to live their life with dignity.”

The year before, she said the UK needs to do “much more” to ensure that society was “open and tolerant” for LGBTQ+ people.

In a debate at the time, Keegan quoted statistics from LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall which found that a third of queer employees don’t feel confident enough to come out in their workplaces.

“Given that many more people feel safe to come out at university or even at school, it is a concern that people feel that they have to go back into the closet at work,” she said.

Gillian Keegan in her official parliamentary portrait.

Gillian Keegan has supported LGBTQ+ rights for years. (Parliament)

Keegan continued: “Discrimination is harmful not only to the individual concerned, but to society as a whole. Discrimination has unpleasant companions, namely bullying and self-harm. Bullying is not only distressing and isolating; it can also affect education and damage mental health.”

Keegan voted in favour of extending same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland in 2019 – however, she has also voted in favour of stricter asylum policies that could make it even harder for LGBTQ+ people to settle in the UK after fleeing persecution and violence.

Others aspects of her record are likely to raise eyebrows – she voted against extending free school meals into the Easter holiday period for families on benefits, a move that prompted fierce backlash.

Many of Gillian Keegan’s cabinet colleagues have anti-LGBTQ+ track records

Still, even at that, Keegan has emerged as one of the most socially liberal ministers in Rishi Sunak’s cabinet.

It’s not exactly a major achievement given how many of Sunak’s ministers have poor track records on LGBTQ+ rights.

Home secretary Suella Braverman has repeatedly used her platform to speak out against what she calls “trans ideology”, courting many of the same talking points that “gender critical” feminists have been circulating on social media for years.

Another minister with a troubling track record is Kemi Badenoch, who once referred to trans women as “men” and met with the LGB Alliance while serving as a junior equalities minister. Her appointment as minister for women and equalities has left LGBTQ+ activists fearing for the future.

Others with troubling histories include Dominic Raab and Nadhim Zahawi, who sparked fears of a return to Section 28 when he launched his failed leadership bid in the summer.

In that context, Keegan is a welcome appointment – even if her record isn’t exactly flawless.

What remains to be seen is whether she will champion inclusive LGBTQ+ education in a cabinet that is dominated by those who have capitalised on the “culture war” surrounding trans rights.

After Sunak’s cabinet was confirmed, Robbie de Santos – director of communications and external affairs at Stonewall – said the prime minister must now “engage with the LGBTQ+ community and get the UK back on track by delivering on the government’s long-standing commitment to ban conversion therapy for lesbian, gay, bi and trans people”.