Rishi Sunak reshuffle: Where does prime minister’s new cabinet stand on LGBTQ+ rights?

A photo of prime minister Rishi Sunak leaving 10 Downing Street

Rishi Sunak has announced a reshuffle of his cabinet, with equalities minister Kemi Badenoch being handed an even meatier role in government amid the on-going discussion around trans rights in the UK. 

The prime minister confirmed five new appointments had been approved by the King on Tuesday (7 February).  

These moves are as follows: 

  • Grant Shapps will be the new secretary of state for energy security and net zero. He was previously the business secretary.
  • Michelle Donelan will be the new secretary of state for science, innovation and technology. She was formerly the culture secretary.
  • Kemi Badenoch will be the new secretary of state for business and trade. She was international trade secretary, but she will stay on as the president of the board of trade and she will remain minister for women and equalities.
  • Lucy Frazer is the new secretary for culture, media and sport. She was previously a levelling up minister.
  • Greg Hands is the new Conservative Party chair. He was an international trade secretary.

Notably, both Frazer and Hands have been promoted to cabinet-level jobs, while the other ministers already held positions in the cabinet. 

These moves come following weeks of controversy around LGBTQ+ rights in the UK, with heightened tension and debate around trans rights in particular. 

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In December, Scottish parliament passed landmark reforms to its gender laws, which were passed by 86 votes to 39, and would make it easier for trans people to get Gender Recognition Certificates (GRC). 

However, in January the UK government in Westminster pulled an unprecedented move and used Section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998 to block the bill from getting royal assent.

The move was cited by some as a threat to the stability of the union of the United Kingdom as a whole. 

On 25 January, Westminster announced it would not house trans women with “male genitalia” in women’s prisons.

This announcement fell on the same day as news broke of the conviction of Isla Bryson – who raped two women prior to identifying as a woman – after a six-day trial at the High Court in Glasgow. 

Following Westminster’s blocking of the devolved nation’s Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) bill, both Scotland secretary Alister Jack and Badenoch were invited to give evidence to Holyrood’s equalities committee on the use of Section 35. 

Both snubbed the invite.

Rishi Sunak’s cabinet and LGBTQ+ rights

Grant Shapps 

Shapps voted for same-sex marriage but abstained from a vote on extending the right to equal marriage to Northern Ireland. (UK Government)

In July, during the leadership race after Boris Johnson’s exit, Shapps refused to be pulled into the transphobic tactics used by other candidates. 

After he announced his run, Sky News‘ Sophy Ridge asked Grant Shapps: “Are trans men men and are trans women women?” 

“I think we owe everybody love and respect. People should be able to get on and live their lives. There’s clearly a biological basis on your birth but if people want to… transition gender, that is their choice and they will always have my support for me.

“I think the country is far more interested in things like the cost of living, the bread and butter issues, jobs and the rest of it,” he responded. 

However, back in 2020, Shapps deflected accusations of homophobia and misogyny made against former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott who had taken on a trade envoy role with the UK government.

Voting records show Shapps voted for same-sex marriage but abstained from a vote on extending the right to equal marriage to Northern Ireland. 

Michelle Donelan

Michelle Donelan backed Sussex University professor turned LGB Alliance trustee Kathleen Stock. (UK Government)

In 2019, Donelan abstained from voting on extending equal marriage rights to Northern Ireland

As universities minister, Michelle Donelan was a vocal advocate for ‘freedom of speech’ at any cost, even to the point of defending holocaust deniers’ rights to speak at universities.

In June 2022, she sent a letter to vice-chancellors of universities across the country, encouraging them to withdraw from equality, diversity and inclusion schemes which could be “in tension with creating an environment that promotes and protects free speech”.

She has also backed Sussex University professor turned LGB Alliance trustee Kathleen Stock. 

Kemi Badenoch

Kemi Badenoch called trans women “men” and questioned their campaign for equal rights in a leaked audio recording. (UK Government)

Badenoch has a poor track record on LGBTQ+ rights and issues. 

The equalities minister has previously met with anti-trans pressure groups and once called trans women “men”, with members of the government’s equalities board quitting during Badenoch’s previous stint in the equalities office.

In July 2022, she spoke at a “free speech event” at which she called for the abolition of gender-neutral toilets.

When she launched her failed leadership bid in the summer, Badenoch had handwritten signs saying “men” and “ladies” taped to the doors of gender-neutral toilets at the venue.

Lucy Frazer

Lucy Frazer. (UK Government)

Unlike her colleagues, Frazer voted in favour of extending same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland

In 2017, local newspaper the Ely Standard reported that Frazer attended a workshop in her constituency that aimed to raise awareness about the issues affecting LGBTQ+ people. 

Greg Hands 

Greg Hands. (UK Government)

Hands also abstained from voting on extending same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland, however back in 2013 he voted in favour of same-sex marriage. 

In 2017 he wrote on Twitter: “I voted for same-sex marriage in 2013, and am shocked that any party leader could even consider gay sex as ‘sinful.'”

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