The government’s flagship LGBTQ+ conference has been cancelled after falling into disarray, with more organisations pulling out and a key government adviser accusing ministers of waging a “woke war”.
Iain Anderson, the government’s LGBTQ+ business adviser, said he was “completely shocked” by the decision last week not to press ahead with outlawing practices aimed at those questioning their gender identity.
He suggested Downing Street appeared to be “trying to drive a wedge” between those who are gay or bisexual and those who are transgender.
Anderson said the Safe to Be Me conference, which was due to be hosted in June, should not take place, admitting: “Trust has been eroded.”
He added that he had taken the advisory job “on the basis there’d be a policy for everyone in the LGBT community, but apparently that’s not going to happen”.
The move will come as a further blow to Boris Johnson, who faced a backlash from Tory MPs after last week’s decision not to pursue the ban on conversion “therapy”.
Reacting to the cancellation, the Conservative MP Dehenna Davison expressed dismay at the decision to cancel the LGBTQ+ conference. “We had such a huge opportunity to prove the UK (and the Conservative Party) is a defender of freedom,” she posted on Twitter. “As a Conservative member of the LGBT+ community, it is so wrong it has come to this.”
For Labour, the shadow attorney general, Emily Thornberry, said the cancellation of the conference was a “sickening waste”.
A partial U-turn came hours after Anderson’s resignation, but Downing Street only committed to cracking down on conversion practices for those questioning their sexuality, not their gender.
Anderson told ITV News: “Britain needs a strategy for trans people and I can’t see one at the moment. We have a tabloid debate going on about people’s lives. It’s not a respectful debate; it’s turned into a woke war. It’s turned into a wedge issue … I was LGBT business champion, not LGB or T, and that’s why I’m walking away.
“I feel what the government is doing is trying to create a wedge between LGB people and trans people. I think it’s the wrong approach and I disagree with the policy.”
Members of the trans community are reeling from the decision, with some considering leaving the UK.
“Every single trans person I speak to, without exception, is incredibly demoralised,” said Katy Montgomerie, an activist and YouTuber, who said she had recently applied for a gender recognition certificate “just in case I have to leave the country”.
She said: “People message me every day saying ‘I can’t stop crying, can you give me some hope?’ Do I have to call ahead to pubs now to see if I can use the toilet? It’s disgusting and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. It’s horrific to be told you are a second-class citizen.”
In his resignation letter, Anderson told Johnson that conversion practices were abhorrent and said it was “deeply damaging” that the government had briefed that trans people would be excluded from future legislation.
The news came a day after the Conservative backbencher Jamie Wallis became the UK’s first openly trans MP. Wallis said he was “bitterly disappointed” at the government’s backtracking, saying that it “cannot be described as anything other than a broken promise”.
Jennie Kermode, a film-maker and the secretary of Trans Media Watch, said: “There had been some hope around Jamie Wallis coming out last week, and the possibility of more trans people in parliament, but the past few days have been extreme.
“Trans people are feeling hurt, scared and threatened and some are talking about leaving the UK. But we are also feeling buoyed up by the support we’ve received from the wider LGBT community and allies.”
A senior government source said the issue had turned into a “complete mess”. They said there would probably be “a fight in the Commons” from those Tory MPs who may propose amendments to widen the ban.
More organisations announced on Tuesday that they were pulling out of the Safe To Be Me conference.
Government sources said it was “inevitable” the event would have to be scrapped after key stakeholders, such as Stonewall, pulled out.