Veteran MP Ben Bradshaw urges Labour to ‘step up’ and be ‘true trans allies’

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw

Veteran Labour MP Ben Bradshaw has said his party “has to step up to the plate” and be “true trans allies” amid a rising tide of anti-LGBTQ+ hate. 

Speaking to PinkNews at the PinkNews Westminster Pride Reception on Wednesday (7 June), Bradshaw noted the huge amount legislative change he has seen over the years – but stressed that the battle for LGBTQ+ rights is not over. 

The Exeter MP, who has represented the city for more than 25 years, announced in February 2022 that he would not stand in the next general election as he would be approaching 70 by the end of the next parliament. 

During his time an MP, Bradshaw has witnessed a raft of legislative changes for LGBTQ+ people, including the repeal of Section 28, the Gender Recognition Act 2004, the Equality Act 2010 and the introduction of civil partnerships and same-sex marriage – with the potential to see a conversion therapy ban brought in this year. 

Bradshaw recalled some of the vile anti-gay rhetoric directed towards him during his 1997 election campaign before urging the Labour party to be “absolutely clear” about its commitment to equality against a backdrop of increasing anti-trans hostility in the UK.

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw.
Labour MP Ben Bradshaw. (Dan Kitwood/Getty)

“As somebody who was elected in 1997 against a deeply homophobic Conservative opponent – who said that Exeter’s children would be in danger if I was their MP and described me as a disease-ridden, sterile homosexual, who rode a bicycle, spoke German, worked for the BBC and was everything about Britain that is wrong – we’ve come a long way,” Bradshaw said.  

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The current anti-LGBTQ+ “backlash”, as Bradshaw describes it, is the result of a “culture war the government’s trying to stoke”, as well as a “war on ‘woke’” in which “their target are trans people”. 

Imploring his party to maintain its legacy as the party of equality, Bradshaw said: “The Labour Party really has to step up to the plate on this and be absolutely clear about our equality commitment, our commitment to the Equality Act, our commitment to removing the medicalisation of the transition process and be true trans allies in this battle.” 

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He added he wants to see a Labour Party which is “standing up for the trans community” and “sticking to its principles”.

Leading Labour politicians, including Keir Starmer, at London Pride 2022 (NIKLAS HALLE’N/AFP via Getty Images)

In recent months, Labour has faced criticism for being unclear in its position on trans rights, particularly for its non-specific promise to ‘modernise’ the Gender Recognition Act, with concerns from some members that the party will take a similar stance to the Conservatives in opposing self-ID.

In April, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was accused of “throwing trans people under the bus” in an interview with the Sunday Times.

Starmer appeared to agree with the notion of schools “outing” trans children to their parents, something which could pose a high amount of risk to children’s safety. 

“Look, of course I’d want to know. I say that as a parent. I would want to know and I think the vast majority of parents would want to know. 

“That’s why we have to have national guidance on it and they should try to make it cross-party, because it’s not helpful to parents or schools to have this as just a toxic divide when what’s needed is practical, common sense advice,” he said. 

In the same interview, the leader said: “For 99.9 per cent of women, it is completely biological … and of course they haven’t got a penis.” 

PinkNews CEO Benjamin Cohen touched on the criticism while introducing a speech by shadow secretary for women and equalities Anneliese Dodds at the PinkNews Westminster Pride Reception, stating that “many people in the community do feel a bit confused about exactly what the Labour Party’s policy is when it comes to trans rights”.

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Benjamin Cohen speaks at the PinkNews Westminster Pride Reception
Benjamin Cohen addresses the PinkNews Westminster Pride Reception. (PinkNews)

Cohen added: “We sometimes see different politicians from the shadow cabinet going on mainstream media, legacy media, and seemingly saying slightly contradictory things.”

Bradshaw told PinkNews on the night that he has been “reassured” whenever he has heard Starmer speak on the issue.

“I trust the Labor Party to do the right thing in government,” he added. “I mean, if you look back to 1997 we did a lot more in government than we said we would do either in our manifesto or before we got into government.”

Wednesday’s PinkNews Westminster Pride Reception also saw speeches from the mayor of London Sadiq Khan, shadow secretary of state for women and equalities Anneliese Dodds, minister for equalities Stuart Andrew, executive director of Kaleidoscope Trust Lady Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats Daisy Cooper and co-leader of the Green Party Carla Denyer.

The event recognises the immense contribution of the LGBTQ+ community in England in advance of the 2023 PinkNews Awards later in the year.

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