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New British Prime Minister Has Questionable LGBTQ+ Rights History

Rishi Sunak

Although Sunak has not had the opportunity to vote for or against much LGBTQ-related legislation, Britain's new prime minister has sent some mixed messages.

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The U.K. has a new prime minister in Rishi Sunak, a conservative member of parliament who previously served as chancellor.

The 42-year-old is Britain's fifth PM in six years, and he's the youngest prime minister since the 1700s. He's also the first person of color to take the role. However, despite all of the progress that his appointment rightly represents, his record on LGBTQ+ issues is not the best.

On Monday, he was elected leader of the Conservative Party, thereby making him the leader whom the king would invite to form a government as the next prime minister. On Tuesday, King Charles III did so, making Sunak's appointment official.

The conservative Tory legislator has essentially been neutral in his legislative history regarding LGBTQ+ rights, though he has broadly shown hostility toward transgender people. Still, his public statements have been relatively mixed.

In 2019, Sunak was absent from a vote that would have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples in Northern Ireland. Otherwise, he hasn't had the opportunity to support or oppose LGBTQ+-related legislation, according to British public voting data.

However, speaking to LGBT Conservatives this summer, he appeared to indicate support for marriage equality.

"I'm proud of the fact it was the Conservative Party that led the way and delivered marriage equality for LGBT+ people," he said. "I want to carry that torch forward and address the issues you face in day-to-day life. Because I don't want anybody in Britain to have to hide who they are or who they love out of fear. I want this to be the safest and greatest country in the world to be LGBT+."

LGBT Conservatives in Britain are similar to the Log Cabin Republicans in the United States.

Sunak has emphasized the importance of ending HIV transmission by 2030 -- an initiative the Biden-Harris administration has championed as well -- as one of the many areas that need to be addressed to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people in Great Britain.

In April, Sunak said that transgender people should be respected, but he framed the argument in terms of fundamental biology when it comes to who may access toilets and play team sports.

"I think biology is critically important as we think about some of the very practical functions, like toilets or sports," he said, according to Pink News. Critics labeled his comments "unseemly," the outlet reports.

However, some in the U.K. echo U.S. far right-wing talking points and are critical of Sunak's apparent refusal to engage.

"Rishi Sunak is the latest politician to refuse to define what a woman is. This is the trouble with the Tories. Most of them are just as woke as the daft Labour mob," Tweeted British TV presenter Kevin O'Sullivan. "I'm all for trans rights, live your life in whatever way makes you happy. But isn't a woman an adult female human?"

In response to a question by the LGBT Conservatives about combatting transphobia, Sunak appeared to acknowledge trans identities but phrased the conversation in terms of the debate.

He said that having open and honest debates in good faith is essential to achieving progress, bringing people together, and maintaining a culture of tolerance.

"As Prime Minister," he said, "I would strive to foster a space in which people feel safe, able to explore complex issues and find a path forward through common ground."

On Wednesday, a problematic video of a late August appearance by Sunak at a TalkTV-sponsored voter engagement resurfaced. As reported byIndia Today, the video shows Sunak's transphobic response to a question.

The host asked him whether he believed transgender women were women.

"No," he responds quickly and matter-of-factly.

Critics point to the incident as an example of Sunak's negative view of the LGBTQ+ community.

Note: This article has been updated to reflect Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's previous anti-trans comments.

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