Five things Keir Starmer’s Labour government must urgently do to help LGBTQ+ people

An edited image of Keir Starmer infront of a pink and blue background.

Labour leader Keir Starmer has swept into 10 Downing Street after a momentous set of general election results overnight, bringing to an end an election campaign that has left many LGBTQ+ people feeling uneasy with the party’s tone on LGBTQ+ – and particularly trans – issues.

With two seats still to declare, Labour will have 412 MPs, 211 more than after the 2019 General Election, with close to 34 per cent of the vote share.

The Conservatives won 23.6 per cent of the vote, leaving them with 119 seats – the first time in the modern era the Tories have fallen below 30 per cent and a 20-point drop from five years ago. Among the big names to lose their seats were ex-PM Liz Truss, former leader of the Commons Penny Mordaunt, Grant Shapps, who was the defence secretary, and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Labour has promised “change”, with Starmer, as soon as the outcome was known, saying a “burden” had “finally been removed [from] the shoulders of this great nation.”

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer speaks during the launch of Labour’s general election manifesto on 13 June, 2024 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Anthony Devlin/Getty)

In an exclusive statement given to PinkNews, the new prime minister said: “Our manifesto commits to a full, trans-inclusive ban on conversion practices, a strengthening of the law so that LGBT+ hate crime attracts tougher sentences, modernising the gender-recognition process and upholding the Equality Act.”

But given Starmer and Labour’s track record on both LGBTQ+ rights and committing to their promises in the past, what can the new government do to better strengthen its position?

Introduce a trans-inclusive conversion therapy ban

Labour needs to immediately introduce legislation to completely ban so-called conversion therapy, practices that claim to be able to change a person’s sexuality or gender identity.

Starmer has committed to a “full, trans-inclusive ban on conversion practices” in the party’s manifesto, and re-emphasised this point in his statement shared with PinkNews.

A ban on abusive and scientifically unfounded conversion practices was first promised by the Conservatives in 2018 when then PM Theresa May backed trans-inclusive legislation. However, her successor, Boris Johnson, ditched those plans, before back-peddling and opting to push forward with a law that only protected gay, lesbian and bisexual people.

After a backlash from the community and allies, the government once again changed its stance and announced the ban would be inclusive of trans people.

However, it’s understood that the working bill currently contains a loophole for “consenting adults” – despite experts and advocates warning that such a clause could render the legislation useless – and has continued to face delays.

Labour must outlaw conversion therapy for all LGBTQ+ people. (Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Reform the Gender Recognition Act

The legal gender-recognition process is in vital need of reform.

In the party’s election manifesto, Labour promised to “modernise, simplify and reform the intrusive and outdated gender-recognition law to a new process”.

The manifesto went on to say: “We will remove indignities for trans people who deserve recognition and acceptance, [while] retaining the need for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria from a specialist doctor, enabling access to the healthcare pathway.”

Labour previously supported a fully demedicalised process – known as self-ID – but it became clear in July 2023 that was no longer party policy.

At the time, Labour’s shadow women and equalities secretary Anneliese Dodds wrote a column for The Guardian, outlining the party’s stance. “Changing gender is not a decision anyone makes lightly. The process is intrusive, outdated and humiliating,” she said

“So, we will modernise, simplify and reform the gender-recognition law to a new process. We will remove invasive bureaucracy and simplify the process.”

Waiting lists at gender identity clinics are dangerously long. (Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

Reduce trans waiting lists

Waiting times for first appointments at gender identity clinics are huge – in some areas more than five years long – and the government must act immediately to bring these down.

In the exclusive statement, Starmer said: “Waiting times across the NHS are too high. Labour has a plan to get the NHS back on its feet, with more staff, more specialist equipment, and staff paid more to offer 40,000 more appointments a week in [the] evening and at weekends. By doing this, we will create the capacity to reduce waiting lists across the board, and we will build an NHS that gets everyone the care they need on time.”

Research has shown that 86 per cent of trans people feel waiting times have negatively affected their mental health and these “extreme” waits resulted in a High Court case against NHS England, bought by four transgender people, the charity Gendered Intelligence and the Good Law Project. 

Tackle soaring anti-LGBTQ+ hate crime rates

LGBTQ+ hate crime rates have increased in recent years and the new government must tackle these figures to protect the community from harm.

Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics showed hate crimes against trans people rose by 11 per cent between 2022 and 2023 and by 186 per cent in the past five years.

Hate crimes on the basis of sexual orientation rose by 112 per cent in the past five years, despite this year’s slight decrease of six per cent.

Restore the UK’s standing on international LGBTQ+ rights

The UK was once a global leader in LGBTQ+ rights but we are now languishing behind other countries.

This is not something Labour addressed explicitly in its manifesto, but if the issues above are addressed quickly, the UK will begin to move back up the list.

The ILGA Rainbow Map and Index ranks all 49 European nations on their “legal and policy situation” for LGBTQ+ rights since 2009.

In 2015, the UK was ranked the best place in Europe for LGBTQ+ rights, with an 86 per cent rating, but today it sits in sixteenth place, with an overall rating of just 51.87 per cent. 

The United Kingdom’s changing position in the ILGA’s Rainbow Map and Index. (ILGA Europe)

To improve the situation in the UK, ILGA recommends the following:

  • Adopt a fair, transparent legal framework for legal gender recognition across the national territory, based on a process of self-determination and free from abusive requirements (such as sterilisation, GID/medical diagnosis, surgical/medical intervention, compulsory divorce or age restriction).
  • Introduce public policies and other measures on asylum that contain express mention of all SOGIESC (sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, sex characteristics) grounds.
  • Introduce policies to tackle hatred with express mention of SOGIESC grounds.

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