SNP members ‘deeply concerned’ by leadership contenders’ views on trans rights

Ash Regan and Kate Forbes

The future of trans rights in Scotland looks uncertain as two of the three SNP leadership candidates – Ash Regan and Kate Forbes – oppose Nicola Sturgeon’s flagship gender recognition reforms.

Sturgeon is stepping down as SNP leader and first minister, having spent much of her final months in office fighting for the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) bill.

As the leadership race gets underway, LGBTQ+ SNP members have expressed “deep concern” about the direction it is taking.

Ash Regan and Humza Yousaf were the first to formally throw their hats into the ring.

Announcing her leadership bid, Regan said the SNP needed to “draw a line under certain things and move past them”.

She went on to say she would not progress with the Gender Recognition Reform bill if she was to win the party leadership, arguing that the legislation has “caused a lot of division” and is “extremely flawed”.

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Kate Forbes followed Regan and Yousaf – she’s an evangelical Christian who has previously spoken against abortion and gender recognition reform.

Announcing her leadership bid in a video message, Forbes avoided commenting directly on LGBTQ+ issues – but she did promise to lead the SNP into “better days”.

Ash Regan quit government over gender recognition reform

Ash Regan served as community safety minister in the Scottish government until 2022, at which point she resigned over the SNP’s plans to reform gender recognition laws.

She was one of 15 SNP politicians who signed a public letter in 2019 calling on the government to delay it plans.

As the government’s Gender Recognition Reform bill progressed, Regan spoke out against it again in the Scottish Parliament. 

Ash Regan on the way to First Minister's Questions in the Scottish Parliament, on November 3, 2022. She is pictured wearing a pink blazer and a necklace.
Ash Regan on the way to First Minister’s Questions in the Scottish Parliament, on November 3, 2022. (Ken Jack/Getty)

“I would say to my fellow parliamentarians that it boils down to this: do you think women will be more or less safe as a result of this law?” she asked.

“And if you have any doubt – any doubt at all – that it will make women and girls less safe, then you can’t vote for it.”

Following her resignation as community safety minister, Regan said “healthy debate is important”, adding that Sturgeon had been “well aware” of her concerns about gender recognition reform for some time.

There is also concern among members about Regan’s opposition to sex work, which has been described as “aggressive”.

Kate Forbes’ name was one of the first circulated as a potential successor to Sturgeon.

Speaking to PinkNews, members characterised her as a candidate who keeps cards close to her chest, tending to avoid commenting in detail on her faith and her views on LGBTQ+ issues.

Nobody knows where Forbes stands on an issue like same-sex marriage – she was guarded on the topic when questioned about it on a Guardian podcast in 2020, saying there was a “forum for debate” within the party.

Kate Forbes outlines details of the Scottish Government Budget for 2020/21.
Kate Forbes outlines details of the Scottish Government Budget for 2020/21. (Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament via Getty)

Forbes was also among the 15 signatories to the letter urging Sturgeon’s government to delay gender recognition reform.

Speaking to The Times after the Scottish government voted in favour of reform in December, she said her view hadn’t changed and that parliament “risked creating bad law”.

Forbes has also been criticised for delivering a prayer in 2018 in which she said the “way we treat the most vulnerable – whether the unborn or the terminally ill – is a measure of true progress”. This was widely perceived as a comment on abortion.

Humza Yousaf is the third declared candidate in the SNP leadership race. He remains the only candidate to express support for gender recognition reform and for LGBTQ+ rights more broadly.

SNP leadership contest could lead to more anti-trans rhetoric

Heather Herbert is a Green Party member and Scottish activist – she’s “very worried” there could be an erosion in LGBTQ+ rights if either Regan or Forbes were to become first minister.

“While Kate Forbes is well known for her anti-LGBT+ and forced birther beliefs, the first we knew about Regan was when she signed an open letter critical of the Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) bill,” Herbert said.

Nicola Sturgeon addresses the assembled crowd at Glasgow Pride on August 19, 2017.
Nicola Sturgeon addresses the assembled crowd at Glasgow Pride on August 19, 2017. (Robert Perry/Getty)

“I personally don’t think she stands much of a chance, not just because of her ideology, but because her whole political ethos is unknown to the wider population.”

While Herbert doesn’t think Regan stands a chance, she’s worried the leadership campaign will lead to senior politicians attacking the trans community in the press.

“I fear the rhetoric from this contest will lead to an increase in violence towards the trans community,” she says.

Out for Independence, the SNP’s official LGBTQ+ group, said it plans to host a hustings with all candidates to give queer party members a better understanding of where they stand.

“Out for Independence will plan to host a hustings with all of the candidates to give them a chance to share their positions on issues that matter to the LGBTQ+ community: same sex marriage, abortion rights, trans rights, the conversion therapy ban, and of course challenging the Section 35 order not only as a matter of trans rights, but defending the sovereignty of the Scottish parliament,” a spokesperson said.

“We look forward to hearing more about the candidates’ policy positions in these issues.”