The UK’s equalities minister mocked LGBTQ rights, questioned same-sex marriage, and called trans women “men” in an audio recording obtained by VICE World News.
Kemi Badenoch, considered a rising star in the ruling Conservative Party, made the comments in her parliamentary office in 2018, a year after being elected as an MP and a year before she was first appointed a minister by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“It’s no longer about minority rights in terms of race any more or nationality,” Badenoch says in the recording, “it’s 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 transsexuals looking for?”
The phrase transsexual, like transvestite and transgenderism, is often considered outdated and offensive by many trans people.
“Even when, you know, so, people hear about, you know like the whole bathroom thing,” Badenoch continues, “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.”
Labour called the comments “disgusting” and questioned whether Badenoch should be in her post.
Misgendering trans women may go against UK equality laws. An employment tribunal ruling in 2019 concluded that, "Calling a trans woman a man is likely to be profoundly distressing. It may be unlawful harassment." An employment tribunal appeal in 2021 backed this up, ruling "the Claimant [cannot] go about indiscriminately “misgendering” trans persons with impunity".
A protester takes part in a trans rights march in London earlier this summer. Photo: Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
In the recording, the minister also appears to mock gay marriage, and the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, which was spearheaded by several of her predecessors as equalities minister.
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A UK government spokesperson said: “The Minister for Equalities is working hard to deliver for LGBT people, whether that is modernising the process of applying for a gender recognition certificate, driving forward LGBT rights in the workplace or banning conversion therapy.
“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.”
Badenoch has been minister for equalities since February 2020. The UK government website lists her role as having overall responsibility for policy on sexual orientation and transgender equality, and “addressing the discrimination and inequalities that LGBT people face”.
She is also currently tasked with putting together the UK’s first ever global LGBTQ conference, which will celebrate “kindest, tolerance and openness” while aiming to improve LGBTQ equality around the world.
Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the Labour Party, called Badenoch’s 2018 comments “disgusting”.
“Everyone should be able to be themselves and be celebrated, supported and loved for who they are,” she told VICE World News, “The Equalities Minister should not be in her post if she does not believe that.”
Rayner added: “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.”
John Nicolson, the Scottish National Party’s shadow culture secretary and deputy chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global LGBT+ Rights, said Badenoch has “no credibility and a number of personal issues to work through on prejudice.”
“This is someone who clearly harbours extreme hostility to trans people,” he said. “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?”
Kemi Badenoch speaking in the House of Commons earlier this year. Photo: House of Commons/PA Images via Getty Images
This week Johnson, the UK Prime Minister, carried out a reshuffle of his senior ministers. Badenoch was expected to receive a big promotion such as education secretary, but was instead made a minister of state at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, as well as keeping her equalities brief.
Badenoch has been no stranger to controversy in her relatively short political career.
In July 2020, LGBTQ rights campaigners were “alarmed” by Badenoch organising a meeting with the LGB Alliance, a controversial group which campaigns against transgender people. It is unclear what they discussed that day.
During Black History Month in October 2020, Badenoch pushed-back against calls for more teaching of Black history in schools, saying she did not want white children being taught about “white privilege and their inherited racial guilt”. At the start of 2021, she was heavily criticised for publicly accusing a Huffington Post journalist of “creepy and bizarre” behaviour for asking questions about her role in a government vaccination campaign. And in March, she also heavily defended the government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report, which was criticised for downplaying racism.
To celebrate Pride Month in June this year, the Prime Minister hosted a reception in the garden of 10 Downing Street where Badenoch was in attendance. Speaking at the event, Johnson said he was proud to live in one of the most open and tolerant countries in the world and that LGBTQ equality was a key asset of the UK. “Whomever you love, however you identify, whether you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or trans – I want this government to have your back,” Johnson said.