The UK’s Minister for Equalities, Kemi Badenoch, has mocked LGBTQ rights, questioned gay marriage, and misgendered trans people in a leaked clip, obtained by VICE World News. The comments were made in 2018 in her parliamentary office, a year after she was elected as an MP, and a year before Boris Johnson appointed her as a minister. Badenoch is considered by some to be one of the Conservative Party’s rising stars.
The recording captures Badenoch saying, “It’s no longer about minority rights in terms of race any more or nationality, […] now, you know like, it’s not even about sexuality now, it’s now like the whole transgender movement, where, OK well we’ve got gay marriage, and civil partnerships, so what are transexuals looking for?”
The term “transexual” is thoroughly outdated and often considered offensive by the trans community. Badenoch also appears to be mocking marriage equality and the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, which was helped to fruition by several previous equalities ministers.
Badenoch goes on, “Even when, you know, so, people hear about, you know, like the whole bathroom thing, it’s actually more of an American thing but they have a similar problem, that, right so now it’s not just about being free to marry who you want, you now want to have men using women’s bathrooms.”
This misgendering of trans women as “men” could in fact go against UK equality laws. According to an employment tribunal ruling in 2019, "Calling a trans woman a man is likely to be profoundly distressing. It may be unlawful harassment." This statement was corroborated by an employment tribunal appeal in 2021 that ruled "the Claimant [cannot] go about indiscriminately “misgendering” trans persons with impunity".
Badenoch has occupied the role of Minister for Equalities since February 2020. According the UK government website: “The Minister for Equalities has overall responsibility for policy on sexual orientation and transgender equality”. Badenoch also has the responsibility of organising the UK’s first ever LGBTQ conference, which claims to focus on “kindness, tolerance and openness”.
A government spokesperson has claimed that, “This 2018 comment has been taken out of context, with the Minister making a clear point about striking the balance for equality and fairness when there are multiple and often competing demands between different groups. It should not be used to misrepresent her views.”
However, many still have criticisms of Badenoch’s views, with Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner labelling them “disgusting”. In a statement to VICE World News Rayner said: “Everyone should be able to be themselves and be celebrated, supported and loved for who they are […] The Equalities Minister should not be in her post if she does not believe that”, adding: “With hate crimes and transphobia on the rise we need an Equalities Minister who will stand up for trans people, not add fuel to the fire of abuse and discrimination faced by LGBT+ people in our country.”
SNP’s shadow culture secretary and deputy chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global LGBT+ Rights, John Nicolson, has also criticised Badenoch, stating: “This is someone who clearly harbours extreme hostility to trans people […] How can the UK Government Minister for Equalities pretend to be an honest broker when it comes to LGBT+ rights when she has expressed such views?”
This is not the first time Badenoch has been involved in controversy. In July 2020 she met with LGB Alliance, a group that campaigns against trans rights. In October 2020 she denied the need to teach about Black history in schools, saying she did not want white children taught about “white privilege and their inherited racial guilt”. She also backed the government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report, which has been noted as downplaying issues of racism within the UK.