Who are the LGBTQ+ allies in Labour’s new front bench?

Labour front-bench MPs

Keir Starmer has reshuffled Labour’s shadow cabinet, ahead of the party’s conference in October and the looming general election. 

On Monday (4 September), the Labour leader revealed a swathe of changes to his top team, in an announcement which coincided with MPs returning to Westminster following their summer break and following Rishi Sunak’s recent mini Cabinet reshuffle, where Grant Shapps was handed his fifth role in 12 months. 

Key changes for Labour see deputy leader Angela Rayner handed Lisa Nandy’s levelling up brief, while Liz Kendall becomes shadow work and pensions secretary, and Thangam Debbonaire is the new shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport. 

The switch among Labour’s top figures comes at a trying time for the party in terms of support from the LGBTQ+ community. 

In recent months, Labour has faced scrutiny over its stance on trans issues and back-pedalling of long-held promises. 

In July, the party announced in a column in The Guardian that it no longer supports self-ID for trans people, a policy it was a firm supporter of in 2020

Starmer has also flip-flopped on his answer to the anti-trans dog whistle “what is a woman?”, in recent months.

He previously said for “99.9 per cent of women” their womanhood is “completely biological”, before changing his perspective to echo Sunak’s viewpoint and saying a woman is an “adult female”.

The party has also faced criticism from the LGBTQ+ community for MP Rosie Duffield’s comments on trans people.

What changes have been made to Labour’s shadow cabinet? 

  • Angela Rayner, the deputy leader, is given an extra brief as shadow levelling up secretary as well as being confirmed as shadow deputy PM
  • Lisa Nandy, previously shadow levelling up secretary, is demoted and takes Preet Kaur Gill’s role in international development
  • Liz Kendall, previously a shadow minister for social care, takes over Jonathan Ashworth’s role as shadow work and pensions secretary
  • Jonathan Ashworth is demoted to shadow paymaster general
  • Thangam Debbonaire, previously shadow leader of the House of Commons, is the new shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport
  • Lucy Powell replaces Debbonaire as shadow leader of the House of Commons
  • Steve Reed, previously shadow secretary of state for justice, succeeds Jim McMahon as shadow secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs
  • Hilary Benn becomes shadow Northern Ireland secretary
  • Peter Kyle, who formerly covered Benn’s new brief, becomes shadow secretary of state for science, innovation and technology
  • Shabana Mahmood replaces Steve Reed to become shadow secretary of state for justice
  • Pat McFadden is given the job of shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, as well as being Labour’s national campaign co-ordinator
  • Darren Jones succeeds McFadden to become shadow chief secretary to the treasury
  • Nick Thomas-Symonds is appointed shadow minister without portfolio

Who in Labour’s shadow cabinet are LGBTQ allies and what have they said?

Angela Rayner

The deputy Labour leader has a long record of supporting LGBTQ+ rights and speaking up for trans people, despite the wider party’s shifting stance on transgender rights.

Her voting record shows she voted in favour of extending same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland in 2019.

In 2021, Rayner condemned the government’s “campaign of hate” against trans people, describing it as an “opportunity to divide people [that is] disgusting, that is disgraceful”.

Last year, she shut down the controversial question about whether women can have penises, telling Sky News’ Kay Burley: “This really upsets me because I think about a young person who’s struggling at the moment, who’s struggling with their identity, and when we’re having a social media or a debate around what genitalia someone’s got, it debases the serious issues that people face in their lives.”

And just last month, the new shadow levelling up secretary stated that women’s rights and trans rights are not in conflict.

“I still stand by they are not in conflict with women’s rights,” Rayner said during an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “We have talked about the Gender Recognition Act, we have talked about reform, we have talked about a process. 

“Of course there has to be a process for people that is supportive and that is when you get into the weeds of how [to] ensure that we have trans rights that are compatible and compassionate and humane. At the moment, the process isn’t.

“We have acknowledged that there are problems with the process, and, therefore, there has to be a process… that recognises people can transition, and we do that in a way that is supportive of those people.

“But we have also, in the Equality Act that the Labour government introduced, had the safeguards for women-only spaces. That is absolutely appropriate and we have seen the conflict of what happens when those safeguards are not put in place.”

Lisa Nandy

Despite consistently voting in favour of LGBTQ+ rights – including allowing same-sex couples in England and Wales and later Northern Ireland to marry – Nandy has faced scrutiny for comments she made as a student.

In February 2020, The Times reported that the then Labour leader hopeful had queried gay rights in an article she wrote for the Newcastle University student newspaper, The Courier, in 2001, when she was the publication’s 21-year-old deputy editor.

The Rupert-Murdoch-owned title reported that Nandy – now the shadow cabinet minister for international development – queried whether it was “unacceptable” for the university’s LGBT society to receive funding despite not allowing people who aren’t LGBT to become members. In the student paper piece, Nandy also looked at other on-campus societies, including the Catholic Society and Austin Powers Society.

In response to the criticism, the Wigan MP said: “I am a staunch defender of LGBTQ rights, I always have been and I always will be. I wrote about a debate around top-down or grassroots funding at my uni almost 20 years ago, like a lot of student journalists do.

“The suggestion that I would do anything other than encourage greater understanding and tolerance is daft and offensive.”

That same week, Nandy signed LGBT+ Labour’s list of 10 pledges in support of queer rights, pledging her support “without the slightest hesitation”.

Liz Kendall

Liz Kendall has consistently voted in favour of LGBTQ+ rights and told PinkNews in an exclusive interview in 2015 that she wants to be a warrior for queer rights.

“All my life, before I became a politician, from the very get-go, I’ve always pushed for equality: equality for women, LGBT equality, equality for those with different ethnic or religious backgrounds. Equality runs through my veins, through my bone marrow,” she said at the time, when she was running to be Labour leader.

“If you believe in equality, that’s what you believe and you want to see made real – you don’t just think you want a little bit of equality here, but not there because it’s too difficult.

“You either think it’s right that people can live, love, express views and their passions, or you don’t.

“Either you feel it is completely wrong and unjust and unfair and you’re going to tackle it or you don’t. There’s no option for me because that’s who I am.”

The previous year, Kendall – now shadow work and pensions secretary – marked LGBT+ History Month by saying she was proud of voting for equal marriage.

Jonathan Ashworth

Jonathan Ashworth has consistently backed LGBTQ+ rights, voting for equal marriage in 2014 and 2019.

In April, he criticised government plans which suggested the Tories could ban trans pupils from single-sex schools, saying issues around transgender students need to be handled “sensitively” and politicians should not use them “as a political football“.

Prior to this, he has attended Leicester Pride, which takes place in his constituency, to show support and solidarity for the local community, and raised awareness of HIV testing Week.

Thangam Debbonaire

Debbonaire has voted in favour of LGBTQ+ rights, approving same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland in 2019.

Since becoming an MP in 2015, she has supported a variety of issues affecting the community both at home and aboard.

She spoke out against the treatment of LGBTQ+ people in Brune, where homosexuality is illegal and people found guilty of same-sex acts face whipping, caning and prison sentences.

Debbonaire, the new shadow culture secretary, has also expressed support for LGBTQ+ refugees, stating in a letter to then home secretary Sajid Javid: “No one should be deported back to a country where they would face persecution – and even death – because of their sexuality or their gender identity.”

Lucy Powell

The new shadow leader of the House of Commons courted controversy last year when she wore a “Never Kissed A Tory” t-shirt to Manchester Pride.

Powell, the MP for Manchester Central, was called juvenile for her choice of attire, with Conservative MP Chris Clarkson said it was “puerile, divisive and completely against the spirit of inclusion that Pride is supposed to embody”. 

Prior to the 2022 Men’s World Cup in Qatar, Powell called out foreign secretary James Cleverly for saying LGBTQ+ football fans should be “respectful” of Qatari culture.

At the time, the World Cup was facing significant scrutiny for the host nation’s anti-homosexuality laws and poor human rights track record.

Powell branded Cleverly’s comments “shockingly tone deaf”, writing on social media that “sport should be open to all”.

“The government should be challenging [governing body] FIFA on how they’ve put fans in this position, and ensuring the full safety of all fans attending, not defending discriminatory values,” she added.

She voted in favour of equal marriage in England and Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Steve Reed

An openly gay MP, Steve Reed voted in favour of equal marriage in both 2014 and 2019.

The new shadow environment secretary has spoken of protesting outside parliament against Section 28 in the 1980s and described his experience growing up gay at a time of “Tory-fuelled hate”.

Alongside veteran Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, Reed has criticised the Church of England’s stance on not allowing same-sex marriages to be held in church venues.

He wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that it was “unacceptable for the established Church to continue pandering to ancient bigotry – a faith that professes love should embrace loyal, loving and committed relationships that increase the sum of human happiness, just as public opinion and the law have done”.

Hilary Benn

A Labour MP since 1999, Hilary Benn is back in the shadow cabinet – as shadow Northern Ireland secretary – after serving as secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs under Gordon Brown until 2010.

During his lengthy career in Westminster, Benn has voted in favour of abolishing Section 28, introducing civil partnerships and same-sex marriage and extending equal marriage to Northern Ireland.

More recently, Benn – the son of Labour firebrand Tony Benn – issued a statement urging so-called conversion therapy to be banned by the government. He spoke out against Boris Johnson’s plans to exclude trans people from the legislation, stating at the time that he was “greatly concerned” by the matter.

In July, alongside a number of other MPs, he co-sponsored a bill put forth by Bradshaw and gay Christian and activist Jayne Ozanne to enable Church of England clergy to perform same-sex marriages on church premises.

Peter Kyle

An MP since 2015, and openly gay, Peter Kyle voted to extend same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland in 2019.

He slammed Qatar over their gay rights and human rights record around the 2022 World Cup, telling the Brighton Argus that the Middle Eastern country should not have been given the event in the first place.

In the same article, he hit out at James Cleverly for travelling to the tournament.

Kyle, who now shadows Michelle Donelan at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, said the foreign secretary’s comments showed “his own moral compass on the issue”.

Shabana Mahmood

In 2019, Shabana Mahmood faced a backlash for comments she made over LGBTQ+-inclusive lessons in primary schools.

At the time, a school in Birmingham faced mass protests over the queer-inclusive lessons, with swathes of parents pulling their children from lessons.

The new shadow secretary of state for justice has faced criticism over a speech she gave in Westminster when she relayed concerns from constituents about the “age appropriateness” of primary-level relationships education.

“Most of my constituents have been contacting me about the specifics of mandatory relationships education at primary school,” she said at the time.

“None of my constituents is seeking particular or differential opt-outs at secondary school level. It is all about the age appropriateness of conversations with young children in the context of religious backgrounds.”

In response to the backlash, the MP for Birmingham Ladywood published a blog post to clarify her stance.

“Nowhere have I backed the terrible homophobic banners and hostile protests at Parkfield School, because they are wrong, defeatist and feed the very prejudices I want to help eradicate,” she wrote.

“I do, however, have an unshakeable belief that all people deserve the full protection of the law, guarding against discrimination in any form. There is no point legislating for equality if those laws are not then adhered to.

“From equal marriage to workplace discrimination, financial entitlements to fostering and adoption, I have not only voted for legislation that rightly protects the LGBT community, I have been an advocate for its rigorous enforcement.

Pat McFadden

An MP since 2005, Pat McFadden – now shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster – voted in favour of equal marriage in 2013 and extending the legislation to Northern Ireland in 2019.

In 2017, the MP for Wolverhampton South East expressed support for Wolves Pride, describing it as a positive event for the city.

However, in 2020, he tweeted in support of Harry Potter author JK Rowling and has also expressed support for Rosie Duffield – who both hold anti-trans views.

Darren Jones

An MP since 2017, Darren Jones voted to allow same-sex marriages to be conducted in Northern Ireland.

The Bristol North West MP has previously shown his support for both Trans Day of Visibility and International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.

“You shouldn’t have to be courageous simply to be yourself. Today is the day to show support for a world where all trans people are safe to be themselves,” he wrote in one post, while seen holding a trans Pride flag.

He is the new shadow chief secretary to the treasury.

Nick Thomas-Symonds

Nick Thomas-Symonds voted in support of equal marriage in Northern Ireland in 2019.

Following the row over Kathleen Stock speaking at the Oxford Union earlier this year, the MP for Torfaen, in Wales, told Julia Hartley-Brewer on TalkTV that he does not agree with the gender-critical feminist’s views but believes she has the right to express them in a public forum.

When asked if “women can have penises” he echoed Keir Starmer’s language by saying: “For the vast number of people, it is biology… we have the Gender Recognition Act that allows people to go through a legal process to have a different gender.”

Now shadow minister without portfolio, he went on to say the current process of legally changing your gender is without dignity for trans people.

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