“The Worst of Politics” - British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s transphobic rhetoric

Image Credit: Wikimedia commons

Sunak’s cruel jibes are emblematic of the vulgar displays of chauvinism that pervade the British parliamentary tradition, writes Law and Politics Editor Michael Keating Dake.

Content Warning: This article features a discussion of sensitive issues including transphobia and physical violence, which some readers may find distressing. 

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s utterance of a transphobic joke in the House of Commons on 7th February encountered widespread controversy and condemnation. The comments were made in the context of a particularly heated session of Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs). While debating the Leader of the Opposition Keir Stermer (Labour), the PM accused his opponent’s party of engaging a tally of “broken promises” on a number of policy issues. These perceived “broken promises” included: “pensions, planning, peerages, public sector pay, tuition fees, childcare, second referendums, defining a woman – although in fairness that was only 99% of a U-turn.” [Emphasis added]

The joke, reportedly a reference to the Labour Party’s inconsistent stance on transgender rights and social inclusion, attracted audible cries of “shame” from MPs on the other side of the House. The jibe was made in the presence of Esther Ghey, mother of the deceased Brianna Ghey. Ghey was murdered in attack found to have been motivated by transphobic prejudice. The PM has not apologised for these comments as of the time of writing. Sunak was criticised by the Opposition, and later by activists in the media, for his perceived insensitivity and lack of empathy. The PM’s use of transphobic comments has drawn criticism from across the political spectrum, and arguably carries disturbing implications for members of sexual minorities in the UK.

Amanda Akass of Sky News reports that the LGBTQIA+ charity Stonewall has warned of the potentially troubling implications of “careless words of those in power.” The cruel jokes uttered in Westminster are not the first of their kind to have been uttered on the corridors of power. Indeed, the transphobic comments echoed by political leaders today evoke striking parallels with the homophobic hysteria that gripped politics in the 1980s at the height of the AIDS crisis.