02.07.24 UK Elections

Explainer: what do the UK party manifestos say about trans+ issues?

Trans people have become a significant focus of the debate in the lead up to the general election

Trans people were barely mentioned in political party manifestos in 2019, the last time the UK went to the polls for a general election. Five years on, this relatively small part of the country’s population – there are about 260,000 trans people in the UK – is a significant focus of the debate in the lead up to the vote on 4 July.

So, what does each of the major party’s manifestos have to say on trans-related policies?

Labour vows to ban trans conversion practices

In 2018, the Conservative party promised to ban conversion therapy, a term for any intervention that seeks to “cure” or change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, broadly recognised as a pseudoscientific and harmful practice. In the years since, there have been U-turns, delays and debates around whether the ban should include conversion practices relating to trans people.

Six years passed, and the ban failed to materialise. The prospect of new legislation was dashed again in May when prime minister Rishi Sunak called the election.

In its manifesto Labour says it will press ahead with the conversion therapy ban and will include trans practices as well. The party has also pledged to make hate crime against LGBTQ+ people and disabled people an aggravated offence.

On gender recognition, the party promises to reform “intrusive and outdated” laws to grant trans people legal recognition of their gender. They will not, however, remove the need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria, which the NHS describes as distress caused by a mismatch between a person’s sex characteristics and gender identity.

Many trans people live without this legal recognition but are already able to change their name and gender markers on ID such as passports or driving licences to male or female (the UK does not legally recognise non-binary identities). Yet, since the Conservatives opened a consultation in 2018, gender recognition law reform has been a catalyst for the debate around trans rights in the UK.

At the heart of this discussion is the question of whether a medical diagnosis should be needed. Or whether, as Theresa May’s government initially proposed seven years ago, people should be able to declare their own gender, or self-ID, without it. The former prime minister said at the time: “Being trans is not an illness and it should not be treated as such.”

The majority of respondents to the Conservative government consultation on reforming gender recognition laws, published in 2020, said a diagnosis of gender dysphoria should not be required. Labour’s manifesto goes against this view.

Labour says it is proud of the Equality Act, the law that protects people with different characteristics from discrimination, and the “rights and protections it affords women”. This implies reassurance that a Labour government wouldn’t attempt to overhaul relevant parts of equality law, which currently offers protection to trans people, as the Conservatives have pledged to do.

However, Labour’s definition of women could exclude trans women here. In the very same sentence of its manifesto, Labour says the party will continue to “support the implementation of single-sex exceptions”.

Finally, Labour says it will implement the recommendations of the Cass review, an NHS England-commissioned report on healthcare for trans young people. The response to the review from LGBTQ+ organisations and some academics, therapists and medical practitioners ranged from critical to damning. Criticisms included that the methodology was flawed, and that the analysis lacked clarity and was open to misinterpretation.

Conservatives make single-sex spaces a priority

In 2019, the Conservative manifesto made little mention of issues relating to trans people, except for two brief references to supporting LGBTQ+ people. Five years later, more than 600 words are dedicated to the topic, although you’d be forgiven if you missed this. The party’s latest manifesto does not use the word “trans” once. Instead, the Conservatives use similar language to anti-trans or gender-critical groups.

“Biological sex is a reality,” the manifesto states. The document does note that it “is right that we have in place provisions and protections for those whose sense of self does not match their biological sex”, but makes no commitments to maintain or improve these.

The party’s priority is upholding single-sex spaces. This includes introducing law to clarify the definition of sex in the Equality Act, which the Conservatives say, “means biological sex”.

There is no commitment to reforming gender recognition law, except a subtle mention on preventing this from taking place in devolved nations, with plans to “legislate so that an individual can only have one sex in the eyes of the law in the United Kingdom”.

On the Cass review, the Conservatives have also committed to implementing its recommendations. The party highlights its recent temporary ban on puberty blockers, and plans to introduce law to permanently prevent the private prescription and supply of these medicines for people with gender dysphoria.

Other relevant healthcare commitments include not allowing the word “woman” to be “erased by health services”, not introducing more inclusive language and ensuring hospital patients can request single-sex accommodation.

The manifesto confirms the Conservatives’ commitment to recent changes to relationships, sex, and health education guidance in schools that “guarantee the contested concept of gender identity is not taught to children”. These policies have been said to resemble the Thatcher era Section 28 laws against teaching children about homosexuality, which were overturned more than two decades ago.

The Conservatives also roll back previous commitments to promptly introduce a conversion therapy ban. The manifesto says legislation around this “very complex issue” needs more time.

Other manifestos go further, both for and against trans rights

The Liberal Democrats and Green party manifestos both commit to reforming the gender recognition process, and go further than Labour by allowing self-ID. They also want to end the veto that currently means people’s partners can stop them from getting a gender recognition certificate.

Both parties want legal recognition for non-binary identities, which Labour and the Tories are silent on. The Greens would change the law to allow anyone whose gender identity does not fall into the categories of male or female, such as non-binary or some intersex people, to use an X gender marker on their passport instead of M or F. A version of this policy was included in the Lib Dem manifesto in 2019 but is notably absent now.

The Greens also nod to the controversial Tory changes to sex and relationships education and commit to age-appropriate LGBTQ+ content and resources. The Lib Dems call for a ban on all forms of conversion therapies and practices.

Neither party mentions the Cass review, but the Greens explicitly include trans and queer people in their commitments around mental health and ensuring tailored provision is available for the needs of the community.

While these parties are encouraging more liberal policies on trans rights, Reform UK has taken a different direction. The party’s “contract” stands against what it calls “transgender indoctrination”. Reform essentially wants to ban children from transitioning in schools and ensure single-sex spaces in education and public settings. It also claims, “social media giants” are pushing “baseless transgender ideology” and should have no role in “regulating free speech”.

Where do parties in the devolved nations stand?

The Scottish National Party has promised to “protect and enhance the rights of LGBTI people”. It says it would have full powers to improve equality in law with Scottish independence. However, the manifesto makes no specific commitments on this, including around the gender recognition law reforms that were controversially blocked by the UK government.

In Wales, Plaid Cymru’s manifesto commits to a trans-inclusive ban on conversion therapy and calls for police forces to respond to increased transphobic hate crimes. Having already secured funding for a Wales gender identity clinic, which would provide support for Welsh people without travel to London, the party has committed to work to improve provision and timely access to gender identity services. Plaid Cymru also says it will seek powers to propose a “simplified, demedicalised gender self-identification system”, as the Scottish government attempted.

In Northern Ireland, the Sinn Féin manifesto makes no commitments specifically relating to trans people. But the party does express a desire to value and celebrate diversity. Meanwhile, the Democratic Unionist Party manifesto makes no mention of any policies about trans people or identities.

Reporter: Lucy Brisbane McKay
Bureau Local editor: Gareth Davies
Deputy editors: Katie Mark and Chrissie Giles
Editor: Franz Wild
Production editor: Emily Goddard
Fact checker: Somesh Jha