As Theresa May prepares to exit her role as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, she leaves a complicated history on LGBTQ rights.
May last year said she “deeply regrets” the nation’s history of anti-LGBTQ laws, but the Conservative leader voted for many of them early in her career. But still, she evolved with her party and nation.
And as she prepares to step down after three years amid intense pressure over the nation’s failure to smoothly Brexit, she arguably leaves as an ally after arriving as an adversary.
May came into office last year after working closely with past Prime Minister David Cameron, who pressed to modernize the Conservative Party’s positions on LGBTQ issues. That meant a public evolution on May’s part as well.
The Independent in 2017 documented May’s early anti-equality positions.
Early in her career as an member of parliament representing Maidenhead, England, May in 1998 voted against making the age of consent for gay sex the same as for straights. She also voted in 2002 against allowing same-sex parents to adopt children, and a year later supported Britain’s prohibitions on “propaganda.”
She managed to miss a series of votes on LGBTQ issues for more than a year afterward. During that time, she seemed to have a change in heart, and in 2004 supported the first civil unions in Great Britain. But then she skipped a vote on Britain’s own Equality Act and in 2008 supported a law requiring a “mother and a father” before doctors perform in vitro fertilization treatments.
Her record led to a notable backlash when Cameron tapped her to be his equality minister, something documented in Pink News. That led her to publicly repudiate much of her voting record.
“If those votes were today, yes, I have changed my view and I think I would take a different vote,” she told BBC One.
The Advocate noted her shift on issues moving forward. May broke up an immigration agency turning away LGBTQ asylum seekers. She reversed her position on gay adoption. She backed full marriage equality in 2013. By the time she became prime minister in 2016, amid another Brexit-related transition of power, she issued a full-throated endorsement for LGBTQ rights.
“For me, equality is about fairness. It is simply wrong for anyone to face discrimination or abuse because of who they are or who they love,” she said. “A Conservative Government under my leadership would be unequivocally committed to supporting LGBT people, and continuing the vital task of tackling hate crime, homophobia and transphobia — both in the UK and around the world.”
During a Pride Week event just last year, May released an LGBTQ action plan including banning conversion therapy and workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. She budgeted £4.5 million for an "LGBT Implementation Fund" that would support enforcement of changes.
May plans to formally leave her office on June 7, but her pivot in LGBTQ acceptance should last longer than her tenure.