Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch has used her first parliamentary appearance in the role to attack the CEO of an LGBT+ magazine.
Speaking in the Commons on her first full day in the job Ms Badenoch accused the founder of PinkNews of wanting to “insult or accuse” her.
She also made false claims about the media company’s legal history – the second time the minister has used her government platform single out a critical journalist.
PinkNews has been highly critical of Ms Badenoch’s record on LGBT rights, describing her in an article about her appointment as “vehemently anti-trans”.
In a post on social media on Tuesday PinkNews chief executive Benjamin Cohen had said Ms Badenoch’s appointment was one “many LGBTQ+ campaigners feared”, citing her abstention on same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland and record on trans rights.
Ms Badenoch was asked to respond “to the allegations made yesterday following her appointment by Benjamin Cohen of PinkNews” during an appearance in the Commons on Wednesday. She did not address any of the specific points, but said:
“I’m afraid that this particular individual is someone who uses Twitter as a tool for defamation. He has even been sued by the honourable member of Edinburgh West.
“What I would like to say, Mr Speaker, as we do begin a new era of equality, is that the Equality Act is a shield not a sword. It is there to protect people of all characteristics, whether they’re young or old, male or female, black or white, gay or straight.
“We are running a compassionate equality strategy, and we should not be distracted by people who use Twitter as a way to insult or accuse Members of Parliament. Before we come to Prime Minister.”
The minister’s claim that the media company’s CEO was sued by the MP for Edinburgh West, Liberal Democrat Christine Jardine, is false.
Approached by The Independent on why Ms Badenoch made the claim, the Government Equalities Office said Ms Badenoch had intended to refer to a different MP. However, PinkNews also disputed this account.
In a statement issued to The Independent following the minister’s comments, Benjamin Cohen, CEO of PinkNews, urged Ms Badenoch to apologise for the falsehoods.
“It is disappointing that one of the first actions of the new Minister for Women and Equalities is to use their Parliamentary Privilege to spread misinformation and untruths,” he said.
“They inaccurately stated that I use ‘Twitter as a tool for defamation’, also alleging that “Members of this House” have sued me.
“This is a disgrace and a complete fabrication, seeing as neither PinkNews nor I have ever been successfully sued by anyone.”
It is understood that Ms Badenoch intended to refer to the MP for Edinburgh South West, rather than Edinburgh West in her comments about PinkNews having been sued.
Mr Cohen said that this was also “untrue”.
“I would have hoped that a cabinet minister would understand the important legal distinction between a threat and actually bringing a court case against an individual or organisation,” he said.
“More than 100 million people around the world consume PinkNews produced content each month, with the majority of our revenue generated overseas. It is a shame that in her other role as International Trade Secretary, the Minister would choose to attack this British success story with false claims in this manner.
“I await a formal apology from the Minister, as well as for her to correct the Parliamentary record.”
In February 2021 Ms Badenoch was widely criticised for launching a public diatribe against a journalist at the outlet HuffPo who approached her for comment on an article. The incident led to a formal complaint to the Cabinet Office.
During Ms Badenoch’s previous tenure as an equalities minister she met with anti-trans campaigners, while the government ditched planned reforms of the gender recognition act and a full ban on LGBT conversion therapy.
She also raised eyebrows after putting up homemade signs sex-segregating unisex toilets at the venue of her failed leadership campaign launch – an apparent nod to opposition to gender neutral toilets.