Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak’s views on trans rights: What’s the difference?

Rishi Sunak filtered in blue, and Keir Starmer filtered in red, stare at each other.

The recent debacle surrounding Scotland’s plans to reform its gender recognition laws has thrust Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer’s views on trans issues into the spotlight once more.

Holyrood approved plans to simplify how trans people in Scotland can change their gender on legal documents in December, passing the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) bill following an 86-39 vote.

The bill intended to make it easier for trans people to acquire a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC), removing the need for a medial diagnosis of gender dysphoria – in line with the advice from the World Health Organization – and lowering the age that people can apply for a GRC from 18 to 16.

But in a massive blow for both democracy and trans rights, the Tory government’s Scottish secretary Alister Jack confirmed on Monday (16 January) that he will be using a Section 35 order under the Scotland Act to prevent the gender bill from becoming law. It is the first time such a move has been made since the Scottish Parliament was founded in 1999.

Since the bill’s passing last month, Conservative leader Sunak and Labour leader Starmer have opposed elements of the reform while simultaneously clarifying their stance on major issues surrounding the trans community today.

The similarities between their self-professed “concerns” over how the amendments would affect UK legislation has prompted questions as to how different their stance on trans rights really is.

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How do Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak want to legislate on trans rights?

Both Starmer and Sunak agree that, at some level, legislation involving the rights and legal recognition of trans and non-binary people needs to be updated. What’s concerning is the difference between their perceptions of what that reform would involve.

Starmer has routinely lauded the 2010 Equality Act and vowed to uphold it if he were to become prime minister.

He has also reiterated the urgent need to “modernise” the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) in England and Wales, including during an address at the PinkNews Awards, despite sharing very little information as to what Labour’s planned reforms would be.

Of the little information that has been shared, Labour has vowed to remove spousal consent from the bill and remains adamant that the age limit for obtaining a GRC should stay at 18-years-old.

Both politicians criticised Scotland’s decision to lower the age limit, with the Labour leader saying it was “too young”.

Rishi Sunak leaving Number 10, smiling.
Rishi Sunak has been routinely criticised for his anti-trans comments (Getty)

They have also both raised superfluous “concerns” over how a GRA reform could affect the Equality Act, despite there being provisions in Scotland’s bill to prevent that from happening.

As well as this, the two seemingly agree on a blanket conversion therapy ban which includes trans and non-binary people.

Meanwhile, Sunak’s perception of equitable legislation for the trans community involves removing legal protections from the Equality Act.

According to an October 2022 article in The Telegraph, the prime minister had planned to “review the Equality Act to make it clear that sex means biological sex rather than gender”.

His attempts to modify legislation to suit his view of biological sex have extended to his response to Scotland’s GRA reform, which he has routinely criticised.

Additionally, his government has already taken steps to review elements of the GRA that could see territories such as Scotland removed from the approved GRC list.

What do the two party leaders believe about trans people on a personal level?

When it comes to the party rivals’ view of trans people at a personal level, things are far more black and white.

The two still share worrying beliefs that “sex-based rights” are paramount in discussions about gender identity and that single-sex spaces are somehow under threat, but it is the disparity in their tone which is so shocking.

Despite Starmer’s past comments – which include several anti-trans dog whistles about “respecting safe spaces” and “upholding fairness” in sports – he still believes that trans women are women and trans men are men.

He has routinely parroted anti-trans talking points – including that he “respects” JK Rowling’s views – which has led to accusations that he is the “fuel to the flames of anti-trans rhetoric”.

Additionally, his often inability to act upon rampant transphobia within the Labour Party has caused a divide internally that has only widened with more anti-trans rhetoric spreading.

Keir Starmer in a suit and tie, looking off into the distance.
Despite affirming trans people, Keir Starmer’s views on several trans issues have been criticised (Getty)

But, despite these shortcomings, Starmer still fundamentally believes that trans people are valid in their gender identity and that they need to be protected from harm.

Sunak, on the other hand, has not only expressed his anti-trans views on a number of occasions, but has openly said that trans women are not women and that trans men are not men.

The PM denied that trans women are women during the 2022 leadership race, following Boris Johnson’s departure from Downing Street.

In a series of quickfire questions about various issues during the August TalkTV leadership hustings, he was asked whether a trans woman was a woman.

He simply answered: “No.”

His animosity towards trans people has been evident throughout his career, including during a Mumsnet interview where he said that the rights of women were being “eroded” and that “biology is critically important” when discussing trans issues.

In spite of both politicians’ stagnant views, the fact remains that leader of the opposition Starmer actually believes trans women when they say they are women.