UK government holding Wales back on LGBTQ+ rights, says Plaid Cymru politician
A Welsh politician has criticised Westminster’s monopoly on devolved LGBTQ+ rights, saying that Wales cannot become the most LGBTQ-friendly country in Europe with “one hand tied behind our backs”.
Plaid Cymru MS Sioned Williams was among those who discussed key LGBTQ+ rights issues, including gender law reforms, conversion therapy, hate crime and Wales’ LGBTQ+ Action Plan, at the PinkNews Summer Reception in Cardiff on Wednesday evening (5 July).
The reception, which took place at the Senedd, was the last in a series of Pride events held at all four parliaments across the UK – the others being Westminster in London, Holyrood in Edinburgh and Stormont in Belfast.
The purpose of the PinkNews Pride receptions was to bring together key politicians from all political parties across the UK to address current and new policy within the LGBTQ+ space, both regionally and nationally.
During her speech, Williams said that the commitments of Plaid Cymru – the national political party in Wales which campaigns for Welsh independence – to devolved powers over LGBTQ+ issues are “vital”.
She also criticised the UK government for ‘outrageously frustrating’ Holyrood’s attempts to reform gender recognition law.
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“We have seen in Scotland, even though they have greater autonomy to act than Wales in this area, the cross-party political census was undemocratically and outrageously frustrated by Westminster,” Williams said.
“How can we really, ultimately aim to be the most LGBTQ+ friendly nation in Europe with one hand tied behind our backs by Westminster?”
Williams was joined at the event by Kate Hutchinson, a trustee at Pride Cymru, Welsh Conservative MS Dr Altaf Hussain, Welsh Labour minister for education Jeremy Miles and PinkNews’ head of brand Alice Beverton-Palmer.
Her reference to Scotland’s landmark gender law reform, which was passed by an 86-39 majority by Holyrood in December, comes months after the UK government controversially blocked the legislation from gaining royal assent by using a Section 35 order. It was the first time in the history of devolution that such a step has been taken.
The then first minister Nicola Sturgeon lambasted the move as an attack on the decision-making of “our democratically elected Scottish parliament”, while one Green MSP likened the situation to a “constitutional crisis” and warned that Westminster’s actions could inadvertently drive more support for Scottish independence.
On the topic of justice and addressing anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes, Williams sought more devolved powers, saying: “Plaid Cymru believes the only sustainable way of creating an inclusive and safe criminal justice system for our LGBTQ+ community, that works for Wales, is creating a system here in Wales.”
Speaking to PinkNews following her address, Williams said it is “absolutely illogical” that if Wales aims to create the most LGBTQ-friendly nation in Europe, the tools to do that are reserved for Westminster.
During the event, a number of speakers specifically discussed Wales’ LGBTQ+ Action Plan, which was first published in 2018.
The plan contains a comprehensive series of government policies with the aim of advancing LGBTQ+ rights and becoming the friendliest nation in Europe to the LGBTQ+ community, according to Hannah Blythyn, the deputy minister for social partnership,
While most representatives of the Welsh parties were united in their views on LGBTQ+ rights in Wales – including the rights and protections of transgender people – there was still some division, with Williams pointing out that “two thirds of our Senedd are in favour, are supportive of the LGBTQ+ Action Plan”.
Many of the speakers acknowledged the progressive nature of the plan, while voicing concern over the “spectre” of Section 28 which is rearing its head across the border in England.
The event’s host, Lisa Power, said, as a veteran of the original Section 28 legislation, she can understand why people are afraid elements of it are resurfacing.
In recent months, activists have expressed concern over potential elements of the Conservative’s trans guidance for schools and review of sex and relationships education – which could see trans pupils outed to their parents and prevented from socially transitioning, and result in LGBTQ+ content being stripped from the curriculum.
Opening his speech, Hussain acknowledged that his party “has not always got it right when it comes to LGBTQ+ issues” – particularly Section 28 – before going on to point out the “massive strides” the Tories had made in advancing LGBTQ+ rights.
Hussain said Section 28 – brought in under Margaret Thatcher – was a “hateful piece of legislation” which should “never have been introduced by my party”. He added that being LGBTQ+ “is not a crime” or something to be “ashamed of”.
The Conservative MS went on to say that being LGBTQ+ is no reason for people to “physically or verbally abuse you” and that “homophobia and transphobia have no place in our nation”.
Hussain’s comments come just days after Tory home secretary Suella Braverman launched a transphobic attack on Labour leader Keir Starmer in the House of Commons, saying because of his views on trans rights, he could run as “Labour’s first female prime minister”.
During Pride month, prime minister Rishi Sunak was also revealed to have made disparaging, anti-trans remarks during a meeting of the influential 1922 Committee – footage of which was shared exclusively with PinkNews.
In response, Labour’s Miles called out Hussain and the Conservative Party directly during his speech.
He said: “The increasing dog-whistle politics of some of your colleagues on the front bench is a standing rebuke to your words, I’m afraid.”
Miles went on to say that every party has things to learn and to do, but that parties must stand together for unity and “inclusion not exclusion”.
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