TORY leadership contenders have been told to “call off the culture war” amid concerns that transgender people are being used as a wedge issue in the race to elect the next prime minister.

Before Boris Johnson had handed in his resignation letter, Attorney General Suella Braverman launched her leadership bid live on TV, adding that she wanted to get rid of “woke rubbish”.

And Braverman was not alone - former chancellor Rishi Sunak, writing in the Mail on Sunday, said he would “reverse” the trend of gender neutral language in his first policy pitch.

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Of the 11 original contenders, Grant Shapps, who dropped out of the race on Tuesday, Jeremy Hunt and Tom Tugendhat were the only ones who refused to be drawn into a debate on “culture wars”.

But for the other MPs, they have capitalised on the row in a bid to play to their membership, with Stonewall dubbing the move a “distraction technique”.

Both the SNP and Greens have hit out at “transphobic dog whistles” used by Tory contenders and raised concerns over how this may embolden hate groups.

Sasha Misra, associate director of communications and campaigns at Stonewall, said: “Worryingly, we are seeing the majority of Conservative leadership candidates framing their campaigns around anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda.

"But, with just 1% of Conservative voters listing trans issues as a priority, it’s clear that these distraction techniques won’t translate into public or party approval.

The National: Sunak was one of the Tory leadership contenders who have been accused of transphobiaSunak was one of the Tory leadership contenders who have been accused of transphobia

“There are many things the next Conservative government must do to improve the lives of LGBT+ people in the UK - from banning conversion practices for all LGBT+ people to tackling rising hate crime. They must start by calling off the 'culture war' and stop using our lives and our safety as a political football.

“All it will achieve is to compromise the safety of LGBT+ people, while risking cementing the Conservative Party’s legacy as the party than undid decades of progress on LGBT+ rights.”

Sunak, who has the most endorsements from fellow Tory MPs, said in his leadership pitch that “we must be able to call a mother a mother and talk about breastfeeding”.

Braverman, on ITV, slammed “woke rubbish”, adding that she wants to “actually get back to a country where describing a man and a woman in terms of biology does not mean that you’re going to lose your job.”

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On Sunday 10, Scottish Tory favourite Penny Mordaunt put out a lengthy Twitter thread on the issue, where she wrote: “Some people born male and who have been through the gender recognition process are also legally female.

“That DOES NOT mean they are biological women, like me.”

Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi has previously come under fire from equality campaigners for suggesting that teachers should out trans pupils to their parents.

In his leadership launch in The Spectator he wrote: “I will also continue to focus on letting children be children, protecting them from damaging and inappropriate nonsense being forced on them by radical activists.”

The National: Badenoch has been criticised on numerous occasions over her role as equalities ministerBadenoch has been criticised on numerous occasions over her role as equalities minister

Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch has been criticised over the issue and told to quit her position by LGBT activists for failing to listen to the community.

Badenoch defended controversial academic Kathleen Stock, has been criticised for her handling of the conversion therapy ban which excludes transgender people, and has reportedly held meetings with LGB Alliance and “ex-gay groups”.

In her leadership pitch, she railed against “zero-sum identity politics”, adding: “Exemplified by coercive control, the imposition of views, the shutting down of debate, the end of due process, identity politics is not about tolerance or individual rights but the very opposite of our crucial and enduring British values.”

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss did not mention “culture wars” in her paywalled leadership pitch in The Telegraph, but has previously campaigned against self-ID in gender recognition reform, opposing changes to the Gender Recognition Act (England and Wales), and led a push for government agencies to withdraw funding from Stonewall.

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In October 2021, Truss said: “I have full respect for transgender people, however it wouldn't be right to have self identification with no checks and balances in the system.”

Former health secretary Sajid Javid did not mention trans rights in his leadership bid, so far, but has previously said that he believes “biological sex matters” in order for people to get the right medical treatment. Javid has also claimed without evidence that gender-neutral language can cost lives.

Rehman Chishti, the least well known candidate who dropped out on Tuesday, has mostly kept out of the spotlight, but was the only Muslim MP to vote against same-sex marriage in 2013.

The National: Adam hit out at "transphobic dogwhistles" from Tory leaership contendersAdam hit out at "transphobic dogwhistles" from Tory leaership contenders

SNP MSP Karen Adam, a member of Holyrood’s equalities committee, said she was “utterly appalled” at the rhetoric used in the leadership race so far.

She told The National: “From what I can see they are using trans people to garner support with right wing colleagues. Transphobic dog whistles are becoming commonplace in their comms [communications] with no regard for how it can embolden hate groups.

“Trans people are already a marginalised group in society, they have been used and abused by so many for too long now.

“I have consistently tried to speak up and educate people on the similarities of the homophobic rhetoric of the 80s, the single mum attacks of the 90s and the anti-immigrant stance of the 00s. We find ourselves once again seeing a group used to create leverage with a toxic right wing cohort.”

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Scottish Greens MSP Maggie Chapman said that this is the latest example of the right “turning on minorities” when their “economic failings come to light”.

She added: "It is very ugly, with candidates trying to outdo each other in terms of who can be the most hostile to the LGBTQI+ community and other minority groups. It is a sign of how desperate and toxic they have become.

“They are using the so-called culture war and dog whistles and lies about trans people to distract from their appalling economic record and the numerous scandals that they are engulfed in.”

Chapman said the Tory’s record is “shameful”, adding: "What they should be talking about is how they can address the huge inequality that they have caused and tackle the climate crisis that they have totally failed to respond to - but instead they would rather spread misinformation and lies about trans people.”

The National have contacted each Tory candidate still running for comment.