The government’s first LGBT business champion has resigned over the decision to drop plans to ban transgender conversion therapy.
Iain Anderson, who was appointed as government LGBT business champion in September for an initial 18-month term, stepped down on Tuesday after just seven months in the role.
Since Anderson quit, the government's Safe To Be Me event, billed as the first ever global LGBT conference, and which Anderson was helping to organise, has been cancelled.
Anderson, who founded the communications company Cicero/AMO, said he was resigning “with a very heavy heart” following a policy U-turn that means a long-awaited ban will only extend to conversion therapy addressing sexuality and not gender identity.
In a letter to prime minister Boris Johnson, posted on Twitter, the comms guru said he felt the “deeply damaging” decision had left him no other choice but to quit.
“It has been the honour of my life to serve as the UK’s first ever LGBT+ business champion,” he said.
“As a young gay man I lived through fear and oppression under the backdrop of Section 28. I could have never have dreamt then that a government – any government – would appoint an LGBT+ champion later in my lifetime.
“However, the recent leaking of a plan to drop the government’s flagship legislation protecting LGBT+ people from conversation therapy was devastating. Only hours later to see this plan retracted but briefing take place that trans people would be excluded from the legislation and therefore not have the same immediate protections from this practice was deeply damaging to my work.”
Section 28 was a law passed in 1988 by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government that stopped councils and schools from "promoting the teaching of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.
The government made two U-turns on its plans to ban conversion therapy last week, when a leaked document seen by ITV News revealed the prime minister had decided against making the practice illegal despite pledging to ban it in 2018. But hours later, it was reported that the government had partially reversed the decision to ban gay conversion therapy and not the equivalent for trans people.
Anderson said he has always made it clear that he is the LGBT+ business champion and not the LGB champion – and that he was appointed on that basis.
“So many LGBT+ people continue to face violence and discrimination but politics which creates dividing lines between LGB people and trans people will never be my approach,” Anderson added.
The communications expert said it was also “profoundly shocking” that the government’s U-turn on protecting trans people from conversion therapy happened on the International Transgender Day of Visibility and in the week in which Jamie Wallis became the first MP to come out as trans.
Anderson said he and equalities minister Liz Truss had made commitments to the LGBT+ community and business that the government was pursuing a trans-inclusive approach to policy just a week earlier.
The government’s LGBT conference will now reportedly not go ahead, after more than 100 groups including Stonewall pulled out over the conversion therapy row, saying they would only participate if Johnson includes transgender people in the legislation. The June-July event promised to bring together officials, policymakers activists and experts "to protect and promote the rights of LGBT people around the world".
Trust in the government’s overall commitment to LGBT+ rights has been damaged, Anderson said. But he said there remains an “opportunity to show UK global leadership” on LGBT+ rights, calling for a “comprehensive plan to support people to play their full part in society”.
A government spokesperson said: “It is disappointing to see partners withdraw from an international conference focused on the fundamental human rights issues facing LGBT people around the world and which provides a global platform to create positive change.
“The government is now considering how to proceed and will continue to work alongside global forums, including the [Equal Rights Coalition] and [European Governmental LGBTI Focal Points Network], to convene international partners and drive forward action.
“The UK has a proud history of LGBT rights and the prime minister has been very clear he is committed to bringing forward legislation to ban conversion therapy.
“He has made the point emphatically that people who want to make a transition in their lives should be treated with the maximum possible generosity and respect, but the complexity of issues requires separate work to further consider transgender conversion therapy.”
The spokesperson thanked Anderson for his contributions as LGBT business champion, whilst defending the government's "proud record on LGBT rights" and adding: "We remain committed to building upon that work with sensitivity and care."
In the champion role, which is an unpaid post, Anderson was tasked with working with business to support LGBT people at work and developing and sharing solutions to workplace discrimination.