Gay Tory MP Mike Freer calls on his own party to end ‘toxic’ culture war: ‘Human rights really are not debatable’

Mike Freer minister for equalities

Openly gay Conservative MP Mike Freer has called on his own party to end “toxic” debates over LGBTQ+ issues, stating that human rights are “not debatable”. 

In an interview with PoliticsHome, the 63-year-old former equalities minister spoke about campaigning for equal marriage in the UK 10 years ago, as well as his desire for LGBTQ+ rights to no longer be a “debate”. 

“We shouldn’t be debating women’s rights, we shouldn’t be debating inequalities in health outcomes, whether it’s for women, or for LGBTQ+ people,” Freer told the outlet.

“What I want is simply to stop having these heated toxic debates about inequalities. Human rights really are not debatable.”

In early 2023, GB News presenter and Tory party deputy chair Lee Anderson said that the government would fight the next general election on “a mix of culture wars and trans debate”.

Freer told PoliticsHome that today’s discussion of trans rights in the UK is similar to the homophobic rhetoric of the 1970s and ‘80s, “which makes me uncomfortable”.

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He added that measures should be implemented to improve healthcare for trans people, and ensure that trans people are included in the long-awaited ban on conversion therapy, though he explained legislation on the harmful practice may not be “perfect” right away. 

“My view is, no legislation is perfect. I’d rather have a piece of legislation that gets most of the issues addressed, rather than trying to come up with a perfect piece of legislation,” he said. 

Minister for Equalities Mike Freer has announced a support service for victims of conversion therapy
Minister for Equalities Mike Freer announced a support service for victims of conversion therapy in 2022 (Government Equalities Office)

Mike Freer, who in January voted to block Scotland’s groundbreaking gender reform bill, added that progress on LGBTQ+ rights would take time, and that bills like the legalisation of same-sex marriage “didn’t happen overnight”. 

“We have to realise it didn’t happen overnight, a lot of our changes on equalities took 30 years,” he said.

“Sometimes you have to work with the grain, stop, consolidate. Sometimes you push and then let people catch up, and that’s a hard thing to get right. Sometimes we push too hard and you get too much of a reaction against you.

“I appreciate that those outside parliament don’t always like it because others want to go further and faster, but inside parliament you have to know how to work with the grain.”

The MP, who converted his own civil partnership into a marriage in 2015 after the equal marriage legislation was passed, explained that the reason the campaign was successful was because it was humanised to parliament. 

“Where we make the biggest progress, particularly on more contentious social change, is by actually making it human so members of parliament really understand the human cost of acting or not acting,” he said.

He added that some of the response to the equal marriage bill from his own party had “hurt”, with 136 Tory MPs voting against same-sex marriage, and 127 voting in favour. 

During his speech in the House of Commons in 2013, Freer said: “I thought long and hard about seeking to speak in this debate. I genuinely feared the tone of the debate and how colleagues would seek to oppose the bill.

“So when colleagues talked about gay marriage making them physically sick – or when colleagues suggested it was a step towards legalising polygamy or incest … they need to remember that there are people involved and we should remember that the words spoken in this chamber hurt far beyond this chamber when we speak.

“I’m not asking for special treatment, I am simply asking for equal treatment.”

Freer added that the Tory party had overseen progressive changes, including extending HPV vaccines to gay and bisexual men and boys. He said that the party’s next steps would be to address IVF inequality for lesbian couples, after a lesbian couple sued the NHS claiming that IVF access was not equal for LGBTQ+ people. 

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