Government equality adviser quits over 'hostile environment' for LGBT+ people

Jayne Ozanne said LGBT+ advisory panel has seen “an increasing lack of engagement” from ministers
Jayne Ozanne is resigning from the government's LGBT+ advisory panel. Source: ITV

By Alain Tolhurst

11 Mar 2021

The government's leading equality adviser has announced she is resigning from its LGBT+ advisory panel, saying the government has created a "hostile environment" for LGBT+ people.

Jayne Ozanne said she was quitting over “an increasing lack of engagement” from ministers who have ignored the panel's advice.

Speaking to ITV News, she said she had been “astonished” at the “ignorance” of equalities ministers Kemi Badenoch and Liz Truss, who she said were “known among the community as the ministers for inequality”.

Ozanne, a prominent gay evangelical Christian, said: “I don’t believe that they understand LGBT people, particularly trans people.”

She revealed the catalyst for quitting her role advising government this week was a debate in parliament on Monday calling for a ban on so-called "gay conversion therapy". 

It was sparked by a petition signed by more than 250,000 people, who wanted to see promises made by Boris Johnson and his predecessor to stamp out the practise turned into action.

But after Badenoch said only that she wanted to "end" conversion therapy, and repeatedly avoided using the word “ban”, campaigners fear any policies brought forward will not go far enough.

"Frankly one of the reasons I’m resigning now is to appeal to the prime minister, who I believe is a friend of the LGBT+ community, to act,” Ozanne told ITV News UK editor Paul Brand.

“To understand that the proposals that are going forward on conversion therapy do not have the confidence of the LGBT community, do not have the confidence of many senior religious leaders who’ve also called for a ban.”

And she took aim at Badenoch and Truss, saying: “I’ve sat in meetings and I’ve been astonished about how ignorant they are on issues that affect the real lives, particularly of younger people." 

Ozanne, who has also resigned as a member of the Conservative Party, said she fears that rather than making progress on equality, this administration is “going back to the days of Thatcher, the days of Section 28 [which banned the 'promotion of homosexuality' by local authorities]”.

She added: “The language that I hear from them is of us being woke, or of being loud lobby groups, and what they don’t seem to understand is the reason we have to shout is because we are hurting, because there are people who are vulnerable who are going unheard and unnoticed. 

“I do not believe this Tory government, sadly, have the best wishes of the LGBT community at heart. 

“Instead we seem to have a Trumpesque mode of operation where they’re listening to the right-wing evangelicals and those, frankly, who want to take us back.” 

In response, a government spokesperson said: "The government is committed to building a country in which everyone, no matter their sexuality, race or religion, is free to live their lives as they choose.

"We have repeatedly made clear that we will take action to end conversion therapy and we are working to bring forward plans to do so shortly."

Yesterday, Badenoch gave evidence to the Women and Equalities Select Committee, and was asked about the department’s approach to hesitancy in the vaccine rollout among certain ethnic groups.

She said they are looking “broadly, not just at protected characteristics”, adding: “The Equalities Act is really around anti-discrimination but there are lots of disparities that aren’t related to discrimination that get left out of the picture. 

“We want to bring all of that in. We look at things from a regional perspective. You have areas in the north particularly that had very high levels of South Asian communities that were impacted in a different way to what we saw in the first lockdown. 

“We know that just looking at things within the boundaries of the Equalities Act and protected characteristics won’t be enough. There will be so many people who fall through the gaps.”

She also said it was “absolutely critical” the government’s Equalities Hub was be data led.

“We separate what the data actually says and tackle that differently from how people feel and what comes out of qualitative surveys which needs a different approach,” the minister explained.

“That second approach often relies on us not stigmatising groups. Many of the recommendations that I hear, that you see on social media, what people are actually talking about is segregated race policy, which is something I’m completely against.

“I don’t want to see the stigmatising of particular groups, whether they’re white or black, working class, or any specific religion. Sometimes the over focus on significant groups will stigmatise them.”

Alain Tolhurst is chief reporter at CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where this article first appeared.

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