British prime minister says traditional understanding of gender is ‘common sense’

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak Prime Minister Rishi Sunak leaves following his speech during the final day of the Conservative Party Conference on Oct. 4, 2023, in Manchester, England. | Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak asserted on Wednesday that the fact that “a man is a man and a woman is a woman” is “common sense.”

Sunak, who assumed office last October and is leader of the Conservative (Tory) Party, made the comments during a speech at his party’s annual gathering in Manchester, England, Oct. 4.

“[W]e shouldn’t get bullied into believing that people can be any sex they want to be. They can’t. A man is a man and a woman is a woman — that’s just common sense,” Sunak said as reported by the Washington Post. 

He also asserted that “it shouldn’t be controversial for parents to know what their children are being taught in school about relationships.”

The comments drew ire from supporters of transgender ideology in the U.K., who have criticized Sunak in the past for allegedly making jokes at transgender people’s expense and for denying in an interview that he believes “trans women are women.”

Sunak, a practicing Hindu, has previously signaled support for his country’s “proud record of progress on LGBT+ rights.”

“I’m proud of the fact it was the Conservative Party that led the way and delivered marriage equality for LGBT+ people … I don’t want anybody in Britain to have to hide who they are or who they love out of fear. I want this to be the safest and greatest country in the world to be LGBT+,” Sunak said in a July 2022 statement prior to his election as prime minister. 

Sunak took part in King Charles III’s coronation ceremony in May, reading a passage from the Letter to the Colossians during the Anglican liturgical service. 

The Catholic view

The Catholic Church’s teaching on the topic of gender is that humans are created by God as inseparable composites of body and soul, and thus that a person’s biological sex is an unchangeable gift from God. 

Pope Francis has said that gender ideology is “one of the most dangerous ideological colonizations” today. He oversaw the Vatican’s Dicastery for Culture and Education (formerly the Congregation for Catholic Education) issuing of a sweeping denunciation of so-called gender theory and affirmed the principles of human dignity, difference, and complementarity in a 2019 document titled “Male and Female He Created Them.”  

The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, in response to what they described as “intense public debate about gender,” issued a statement in 2018 calling for a “renewed appreciation of the fundamental importance of sexual difference in our culture and the accompaniment of those who experience conflict in their sense of self and God-given identity.”

“We recognize that there are people who do not accept their biological sex. We are concerned about and committed to their pastoral care. Through listening to them we seek to understand their experience more deeply and want to accompany them with compassion, emphasizing that they are loved by God and valued in their inherent God-given dignity. There is a place of welcome for everyone in the Catholic Church,” the bishops wrote at the time. 

Changes in the U.K.

Sunak’s recent comments come following a move this summer by England’s National Health Service (NHS) to limit the availability of drugs meant to facilitate gender “transitions” to minor patients, citing a lack of evidence as to their safety and efficacy. 

This past June, the NHS announced it is limiting the use of puberty-blocking drugs for minors and will allow them only “as part of clinical research” following an evaluation of medical practices for purported “gender transitions.” The interim policy, announced June 9, states that there is not enough evidence to support the safety or clinical effectiveness of “puberty-suppressing hormone” as a routinely available treatment and that they should only be accessed as “part of research.”

More in Europe

Advocates of “gender-affirming care” worldwide have presented puberty-blocking drugs, cross-sex hormones, and purported sex-change operations as treatments that help those who identify as transgender. 

However, experts have raised concerns about the evidence for these claims, pointing out that puberty blockers’ interference with hormonal development could disrupt mental growth and brain development in areas such as critical thinking, sophisticated self-reflection, social skills, and problem-solving skills. There are also concerns about how the drugs affect bone growth and resilience.

More recently in the U.K., the NHS announced this week that transgender people will be given their own rooms and areas in hospitals rather than being placed in wards according to the gender they identify with under 2021 NHS guidance. Health Secretary Steve Barclay called the change part of “a commonsense approach to sex and equality issues in the NHS.” 

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