Starmer and Sunak seem united against trans rights. So who do LGBTQ+ people even vote for?

Collage of Sunak and Starmer

With the next UK general election looming, LGBTQ+ people face a difficult choice on who to vote for to protect and advance their rights.

Just a few short years ago, it would have been unthinkable that the Tories and Labour would ultimately find common ground on LGBTQ+ rights.

Sadly, Britain’s two main political parties are currently singing from the same hymn sheet when it comes to trans rights.

When Rishi Sunak’s government blocked Scotland’s gender recognition reforms, Starmer rowed in behind. He said he didn’t believe 16 and 17-year-olds should be allowed to legally declare their own gender, and Labour MPs were directed to abstain from voting on the matter (11 MPs defied this, and voted against).

When Sunak appeared to support a right-wing report advocating for teachers to out trans children to their parents, Starmer told the Sunday Times he would “of course” want to know if his child had come out at school.

It all points to trans rights being further weaponised in the next UK general election, expected in 2024, and it’s now clearer than ever that Labour is no longer interested in opposing Tory culture wars. So where does that leave LGBTQ+ voters? 

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A photo showing LGBT+ Labour at Pride marching amongst a large crowd as they hold a banner that says "LGBT+ Labour"
LGBT+ Labour march at a Pride event with leader Keir Starmer. (AFP via Getty Images/NIKLAS HALLE’N)

For many who would have traditionally voted for Labour, the outlook is grim. A non-binary Labour member says the party has “decimated trust” with the trans community. 

“The Times interview, coming out against self-ID, and then complimenting [Rosie] Duffield was the final straw,” the Labour member, who asked to remain anonymous, told PinkNews. 

“Trans members are leaving at a higher rate than we’ve ever seen. LGBTQ+ voters are rightly looking at Labour and asking how we could possibly be trusted to defend their rights, let alone extend them.

“The situation has never been this bad. The Labour Party has become a dangerous place for trans people.”

Like many other LGBTQ+ Labour members, they are now considering their position in the party.

Trans people could be discouraged from voting in the next general election at all

Cleo Madeleine, communications officer at Gendered Intelligence, says reductive political discourse about trans rights could have long-term consequences – and it could ultimately make trans people feel like there’s no point in voting at all. 

“I think the real danger is, alongside the introduction of voter ID, that trans people in particular will become politically disenfranchised and that really is the last thing we want.

A photo of prime minister Rishi Sunak leaving 10 Downing Street
Prime minister Rishi Sunak. (Getty Images/ Carl Court)

“It’s one thing to feel like there aren’t great options when it comes to exercising your vote but it’s another if a whole group of people feel disempowered to vote at all.” 

Madeleine says there is an indication that many trans people no longer see a place for themselves in politics.

“I would say anecdontally, particularly in online spaces, trans people are feeling increasingly politically disenfranchised and let down by the political system as a whole.” 

What about the Lib Dems?

The polling site Electoral Calculus is projecting a Labour landslide in the next general election, with the party taking 457 seats, leaving the Tories on 113. With the SNP projected to take 36 seats, the Liberal Democrats would be a distant fourth place with 20 seats.

Humza Yousaf’s recent victory in the SNP leadership election was hailed a win for LGBTQ+ rights – he was the only candidate to support gender recognition reform, while his main rival Ash Forbes was criticised for her conservative views on same-sex marriage.

Things are less clear when it comes to the Lib Dems.

In November 2022, the party faced a revolt from LGBTQ+ members when it revised a statement on the definition of transphobia to protect “gender-critical” views.

Charley Hasted, chair of the LGBT+ Lib Dems, says that since then much work has been done at a senior level in the party to win back the LGBTQ+ community’s trust.

“The kickback against that seems to have woken a lot of people up. We’ve had quite a lot of meetings with senior people in the party to try to sort that out and I’m genuinely pleased with how it’s going. At the moment I think we’re the only party with a leader on record saying ‘trans rights are human rights’ and that’s what we need,” they told PinkNews.

While things are getting better within the Liberal Democrats, the problem still stands – that the UK’s two biggest political parties are increasingly aligned against trans rights.

Hasted describes Starmer’s comments in The Sunday Times as “shocking”.

“Genuinely, I cannot believe that the leader of the Labour Party is less socially progressive than Theresa May,” they said, referring to the former Tory prime minister’s support for self-identification.

Hasted would like both the Conservatives and Labour to stop using trans people as a “distraction” from other issues.

“LGBTQ+ people are being used as a ‘dead cat’ … It’s completely abhorrent to use a marginalised community that way.” 

The next UK general election is set to take place no later than 28 January, 2025.

PinkNews has contacted the Labour Party for comment.

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