LONDON (AP) — Liz Truss, currently the frontrunner to succeed Boris Johnson as British prime minister, failed in an attempt to win support for her record on gay rights.
A representative for her campaign contacted the official LGBT+ Conservatives membership organization to cooperate on an endorsement for Truss and her record on LGBT rights during her time as an MP, said a party insider familiar with the matter.
Truss’s campaign staff said they wanted to publish an article by Dehenna Davison, a rising star in the Conservative Party who is openly bisexual, supported by LGBT+ conservatives.
However, Davison had not been consulted in advance, according to the person, and the Truss team’s approach was rejected, in part because, as an affiliated membership group, LGBT+ conservatives cannot endorse one candidate over another.
A spokesman for the LGBT+ Conservatives confirmed this account, saying they had followed Conservative Party guidelines in reporting the incident in writing to the party chair.
They added: “As an affiliated group, LGBT+ Conservatives is neutral and does not endorse any candidate. We hope the elections produce positive dialogue and policies for the LGBT+ community.”
A Truss campaign official disputed this, saying: “LGBT+ conservatives were offered a call with Dehenna Davison to find out why she supports Liz, but declined. This offer to them remains open.”
Truss is trying to speak to as many Conservative Party members as possible over the next five weeks, including setting up calls between member organizations and supporting MPs.
Three party activists said the attempted opening was particularly misguided in view of the discontent of many LGBT members with her stance on transgender rights, which she has repeatedly raised to advance the view that trans women are not women.
At a campaign event on Monday, she told the audience: “I know a woman is a woman, that has become a controversial statement in some parts of Britain today.”
The rights of trans people have become a fierce battlefield in the so-called culture wars.
Truss’s phrase aligns her with the “gender critical” movement in the UK, which argues that sex is biological and should not be confused with gender identity. Critical gender activists tend to take the view that trans women should be excluded or restricted in women-only spaces.
Younger members of the party who fear the issue could be weaponized have privately shared their concerns about Truss’s views.
“I just don’t trust him with my rights, and I’m not sure many sane LGBT members wouldn’t either,” said one member. “She has been Minister of Equality for almost three years and I cannot point to anything that she has done for minorities.”
Another member said the move appeared to be prompted by a bad day for the campaign, with widespread negative coverage of a promise by Truss to reduce the pay of civil servants outside of London. “They are flapping,” the member said.
However, an ally of Truss said she was a “friend” of minorities and pointed to her voting record, which included support for marriage equality legislation.
Davison’s office declined to comment.