A senior Conservative MP has warned her party not to run the next general election on a trans rights “culture war” after the prime minister committed last week to rewriting the Equality Act to make it easier for venues to bar trans people from single-sex places.
Caroline Nokes, who serves as the chairwoman of the women and equalities select committee, said last night that trans rights should not be a “general election issue” and “difficult questions” should be addressed “on a cross-party basis consensually” rather than as part of a “culture war”.
She told TalkTV: “I think it is really important to reflect that trans rights and women’s rights are not mutually exclusive and we have to find a way that we can support those transgender people with or without a gender recognition certificate who need our support”.
“I don’t see this as a general election issue. This is something that would be much better decided on a cross-party basis consensually rather than trying to turn it into some sort of culture war”, she added.
It follows Rishi Sunak’s wide-ranging interview with ConservativeHome on Thursday in which he was asked for his views on trans rights. The prime minster said he takes “different view” to the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who said last week that “99.9pc of women don’t have a penis”.
Asked about Sir Keir’s comments, Mr Sunak replied: “The first thing to say is, we should always have compassion and understanding and tolerance for those who are thinking about their gender. Of course we should – we are a compassionate and understanding society and we will always remember that.
“But when it comes to these issues of protecting women’s rights and women’s spaces, the issue of biological sex is fundamentally important”.
He added: “As a general operating principle for me, biological sex is vitally, fundamentally important to these questions – we can’t forget that – and that’s why we need to make sure, particularly when it comes to women’s health, women’s sports and women’s spaces, that we are protecting those rights”.
Last week, it emerged that the government had asked the equalities watchdog, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), for advice on changing the wording of the Equality Act to specify that it protects “biological sex” rather than “sex”. It is a change that could exclude trans people from women’s sports events
Equalities secretary Kemi Badenoch had written to the EHRC earlier this year to ask them to provide their view on whether sex, a protected characteristic under the 2010 Equality Act, would benefit from clarification that it refers to biological sex.
The EHRC replied: “There is no straightforward balance, but we have come to the view that if ‘sex’ is defined as biological sex for the purposes of EqA, this would bring greater legal clarity.”
The news prompted anger from the LGBTQ+ group Stonewall, which said it “risks opening yet another chapter in a manufactured culture war that will see little benefit to women, cis and trans alike”.
Sex Matters, the gender-critical campaign group which started a petition to amend the Equality Act, said: “This is a measured and thoughtful analysis from the EHRC. We are confident that our proposed amendment will deliver substantial improvements in clarity and fairness, but for now we are content with the conclusion that it merits further consideration”.