British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday that people born male should not compete in women’s sporting events, after a transgender cyclist was barred from a women’s race.
The debate in Britain over transgender rights has grown increasingly acrimonious, and other members of Johnson’s government have said it should be up to sporting bodies to decide who can compete.
But with splits emerging in both the Conservative and opposition Labor parties, ahead of local elections on May 5, Johnson went further, wading into the gender front of Britain’s so-called “culture wars”.
“I don’t think biological men should compete in women’s sporting events. And that might be a controversial thing to say, but it just makes sense to me,” he told reporters.
“And I also think women should have spaces that are — whether in hospitals, prisons, locker rooms, or wherever — that are dedicated to women,” Johnson added.
His intervention came after the government was forced into an embarrassing U-turn last week, hours after a report said it planned to drop legislation banning ‘gay conversion therapy’.
Following protests from Tory MPs who support a ban, Johnson’s government has said it will press ahead with the legislation – but exclude ‘transgender therapy’, to allow counseling for teenagers seeking a gender change.
The about-face came a day after Tory MP Jamie Wallis became the first UK lawmaker to openly say he was transgender, prompting messages of support from colleagues including Johnson.
The Prime Minister said he was ‘tremendously sympathetic to people who want to change their sex’.
“We will have a ban on gay conversion therapy, which to me is absolutely abhorrent,” he pointed out.
“But there are complexities and sensitivities when you move from the realm of sexuality to gender, and there I’m afraid there are things that I think still need to be worked out.”
Last weekend, transgender cyclist Emily Bridges was ruled out of a women’s race in England after the UCI, the sport’s world governing body, ruled she was ineligible.
The 21-year-old said she felt “harassed and demonized” after the UCI’s decision, which overturned the license given to Bridges by British Cycling, the sport’s main governing body in the UK.
The initial decision to allow Bridges to run had caused major controversy, with threats of a boycott from other runners if she was allowed to compete.
Critics say trans athletes have an unfair advantage even when testosterone levels have been lowered due to the impact of male puberty on the body.
The government’s decision to exclude conversion therapy for transgender people from the upcoming bill prompted its LGBT+ trade envoy Iain Anderson to resign on Tuesday.
It also led to more than 100 charities and groups pulling out of the government’s first international LGBT+ conference, which was due to take place in June, forcing the cancellation of the event.
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