Keir Starmer accused Conservatives of having a “blind spot” on LGBT+ issues, including the conversion therapy ban delay, after several government advisers resigned over Tory “hostilities” towards LGBT+ people.
Three members of the government’s LGBT Advisory Panel has quit in the last two days, saying the government created a “hostile environment” for LGBT+ people and that ministers are ignorant or uncaring of issues affecting the community.
“The lack of engagement … coupled with the rhetoric used in ministerial statements, leaves me with no confidence that the UK government wishes to protect the existing quality of life and human rights of LGBT+ people,” wrote adviser James Morton in a damning resignation letter.
Starmer addressed the growing scandal at a Labour campaign launch on Thursday (11 March), where he pointed to “pattern of behaviour” from Boris Johnson’s administration.
“The government has clearly got a blind spot here,” he said. “It’s got a problem and the prime minister needs to address it, not least because it’s a pattern of behaviour.”
MP Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow equalities secretary, added her voice to the mounting criticism.
“To lose one advisor could be regarded as misfortune, but three is a clear statement that this Government does not understand, let alone care about, inequalities or the great harm that is being faced by LGBT+ people,” she said in a statement.
“The prime minister must act now to address these escalating issues. Further inaction is simply not acceptable.”
The catalyst for complaints was the government’s apparent reluctance to legislate against conversion therapy, highlighted in Monday’s (8 March) parliament debate, almost 1,000 days since the Tories first pledged to “eradicate” the torturous practice.
Keir Starmer described so-called conversion therapy as “abhorrent” and stated that Labour would enact a ban “in law”.
“We’re 100 percent against it,” he confirmed.
It marked a clear difference between the government’s oft-stated yet still undelivered pledge to “end” the practice, rather than implementing an outright ban.
Campaigners say only a complete ban will ensure the safety of vulnerable people, who often consent to the therapy without realising the damage it does, while vague promises to “end” it leave openings for religious and spiritual forms of the practise.
Either way the government is still refusing to give a timeline on when any form of conversion therapy legislation is likely to be advanced, almost three years after the issue was first raised in their LGBT+ Action Plan.
Stonewall CEO Nancy Kelley said it was “upsetting” to hear that LGBT+ advisers felt they had to resign in response to the government’s continued lack of action on conversion therapy.
“We stand in solidarity with them and are grateful for all the work they have done to hold the government to account, work that we will all continue to do as we fight for LGBT+ equality,” she said.
“It is appalling that in 2021 our communities are still being subjected to these harmful practices, putting lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, intersex and asexual people at risk of lifelong trauma.
“In the last week alone, almost 20,000 people have emailed their MPs and urged the UK government to stop dragging its feet and bring in a full legislative ban of LGBTQIA+ conversion therapy.
“The trust and support of our communities cannot be taken for granted. It has been almost one thousand days since the UK government promised to ban conversion therapy, but actions speak louder than words. We have waited long enough, now is the time for the UK government to act.”