The Equality Act: what do Oxfordshire’s politicians say?

The Equality Act: what do Oxfordshire’s politicians say?
Photo by Meg / Unsplash

It’s Oxford Pride on Saturday – less than a month before the General Election. And in the national debate, trans rights are front and centre.

Front-bench spokespeople including Kemi Badenoch for the Conservatives have been airing their plans in national media. Politico describes the tactic as “culture wars” and an attempt to grab the headlines. With the issue a key one for many voters in Oxford, we asked the main political parties for their position.

The census of 2021 was the first time a question around sexual orientation was asked. In Oxfordshire 88.4% of the county identified as straight or heterosexual, very slightly lower than the national average of 89.4%. Oxford has the highest concentration of trans people outside of London. It has an openly gay Lord Mayor.

We approached the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens.  We sent the same email to every party, with the same timelines. Where they did not respond, we have used publicly available positions.


The Oxfordshire Conservatives set out their stall in a recent social media posting. In the absence of a response from the party to our questions, we reproduce it below.

Protecting women and girls
On 3 June 2024, we pledged to define the protected characteristic of sex in the Equality Act as biological sex. Labour passed the Equality Act more than a decade ago, but it is now clear there is a lack of clarity in the law, leaving single-sex providers vulnerable to challenge, risking the safety of women and girls. That is why we will introduce primary legislation to clarify that the protected characteristic of sex in the Equality Act means biological sex, in addition to legislating that a person can only have one sex in the eyes of the law in the United Kingdom. This will ensure that single-sex services and single-sex spaces can be provided, ensuring protection for women and girls, as well as enabling the debate on these issues to move onto a more informed and constructive basis.

We are doing this by:

- Introducing primary legislation to clarify that the protected characteristic of sex means biological sex in the Equality Act to ensure proper protections for women and girls. This follows the recommendations of the Equality and Human Rights Commission who advised that defining ‘sex’ as biological sex for the purposes of the Equality Act ‘would bring greater legal clarity’ (ECHR, News, 4 April 2023, link; The Daily Telegraph, 2 June 2024).

- Protecting single-sex spaces such as women’s-only wards in hospitals, to ensure women are treated with dignity and respect. We believe biological women should almost always be accommodated on same sex wards with other biological women. There are very few circumstances in which mixed sex accommodation can be clinically justified. That is why we are making it more straightforward for hospitals to make a women’s-only ward a space for biological women, so they can be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.

- Protecting freedom of association for women and men. We are correcting the current situation to allow single-sex organisations, for example a women’s victim support group, to restrict membership to biological women.

- Ensuring that a person in the United Kingdom can only have one legal sex in the eyes of the law. We are one United Kingdom and it cannot be right to have people legally recognised as different genders in different parts of the country so we will establish in law that gender recognition in a reserved matter.

The Labour Party cannot be trusted to protect women’s rights with Sir Keir Starmer backing self-identification for years and repeatedly refusing to say whether a woman can have a penis. Keir Starmer previously pledged to reform the Gender Recognition Act to include self-identification and when asked whether a woman can have a penis, he said: ‘I’m not… I don’t think we can conduct this debate with… I don’t think that discussing this issue in this way helps anyone in the long run’ (Pink News, 20 February 2020; The Daily Telegraph, 28 March 2022).

Labour’s response: This morning, Labour called reforms to protect women a ‘distraction’ which is ‘not needed’. STUDIO: ‘And are, in your belief, the Conservatives right to promise to amend the Equality Act in that way?’ HEALEY: ‘No, he’s not right. It’s not needed. This is an election distraction’ (BBC Radio 5 Live, 3 June 2024, archived).

The Oxford East candidate, Louise Brown, also weighed in with this:

Liberal Democrats

Sitting Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon Layla Moran. Source Wikimedia Commons cc licence

A spokesperson for Oxfordshire Liberal Democrats said:

For most people, their gender matches their physical sex at birth, but there is a relatively small number of people – less than 1% of the population – for whom that is not the case, and the Liberal Democrats believe we must respect their identities too.

Unfortunately, this is part of a wider debate that’s become far too toxic and hostile. We need to get past that, and have a good-faith conversation about ensuring everyone’s safety and dignity. The Equality Act has been working well for over a decade. It protects both hard-won women’s rights and trans rights, and shows that the two are not in conflict. There is no case for unpicking those protections now, and doing so could cause serious harm.

Violence by men against women and girls is far too prevalent in our society. Too many women feel unsafe walking down their own streets. That’s why Liberal Democrats are calling on the Conservative Government to make misogyny a hate crime, so it is treated as severely as crimes motivated by racial or religious hatred.

Liberal Democrats are committed to fighting for both gender equality and equality for all LGBT+ people. We believe in the safety, dignity and wellbeing of every individual.

Layla Moran, Lib Dem candidate for Oxford West and Abingdon, said:

Every time these kinds of issues are debated, I am contacted by local people who are scared about the repercussions, worried that just by having a debate the risk of violence and harassment against trans people increases. I have been extremely disappointed to see both the Conservative and Labour parties treating trans people’s lives like a political football. It’s incredibly important that politicians speak about these issues with care, and remember that there are real people who are affected by our debates. I am proud to represent a party that fights for the safety, dignity, and wellbeing of every individual.

Green Party

Oxford East Green Party candidate Sushila Dhall and Caroline Lucas at the Oxford Green Fair

Sushila Dhall, the Green Party's Candidate for Oxford East, responded:

It is sickening to see the Tories desperately seeking to prop up their disastrous election campaign by trying to stoke up a culture war over LGBT+ people. After years of right-wing attacks on trans rights from the government and the media, now the Tories are trying to use trans people as a political football. All it shows is just how low the Tories are willing to sink.

The Green Party is clear: Trans rights are human rights. Trans women are women, trans men are men and non-binary people are non-binary. Our proud support for the LGBT+ community stems from our commitments to creating a fairer, more equal and more dignified society for everyone. We support measures to improve the lives of trans people in this country, including by simplifying the legal process of gender recognition and dismantling the barriers trans people face in accessing healthcare.

In Oxford, we are incredibly proud of the work our local candidates, councillors and campaigners have already done in this area. It was Green councillors Lucy Pegg and Chris Jarvis that successfully got the City Council to adopt a pioneering policy on trans inclusion and secured commitments from the Council to take steps towards equality such as through the provision of gender neutral toilets.


Anneliese Dodds MP for Oxford East. Source Wikimedia Commons, cc licence. 

We did not receive a response from Anneliese Dodds, who up until the dissolution of Parliament was Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and we are ready to update this article if we do receive one. In lieu of this here are excepts from a Guardian article from 24 July 2023, written by Dodds. We have shortened it for brevity but have endeavoured to change neither the meaning nor the sentiment of the article.

Labour has committed to modernising the Gender Recognition Act. Changing gender is not a decision anyone makes lightly. The process is intrusive, outdated and humiliating. So we will modernise, simplify and reform the gender recognition law to a new process. We will remove invasive bureaucracy and simplify the process.

We will not make the same mistakes [as the SNP who worked on reforming gender laws]. The requirement to obtain a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria remains an important part of accessing a gender recognition certificate. That’s especially the case now that gender dysphoria is no longer classified – and stigmatised – as a psychiatric disorder. It can help refer trans people into the NHS for support services – nearly a quarter of trans people don’t know how to access transition-related healthcare. Requiring a diagnosis upholds legitimacy of applications and confidence in the system.

The current process also requires a panel of anonymous doctors to decide something of momentous significance, based on reams of intrusive medical paperwork and evidence of any surgery. This is demeaning for trans people and meaningless in practice. A diagnosis provided by one doctor, with a registrar instead of a panel, should be enough.

Let me be clear: we are proud of the Equality Act and will oppose any Conservative attempt to undermine it. We will protect and uphold it in government, including both its protected characteristics and its provision for single-sex exemptions.

We need to recognise that sex and gender are different – as the Equality Act does. We will make sure that nothing in our modernised gender recognition process would override the single-sex exemptions in the Equality Act. Put simply, this means that there will always be places where it is reasonable for biological women only to have access. Labour will defend those spaces, providing legal clarity for the providers of single-sex services.

These policies will not please everyone. They will be attacked from all sides, in good faith and bad. But responsible politics is not about doing what is easy, it’s about doing what is right. And about refusing to descend into the gutter where the Conservatives wish to take us. Everyone deserves to be accepted, without exception and treated with respect and dignity in society.

With the last-minute withdrawal of Labour’s Georgia Meadows from the Witney constituency, no trans candidates are standing for election in Oxfordshire. Nonetheless, the parties’ positions are strikingly contrasting – not just the policies themselves, but also the language they have chosen in their statements. The choice at the ballot box on July 4th will be starker than ever.

Are there other subjects where you’d like to see Oxfordshire’s politicians’ policies contrasted like this? Let us know.