Stonewall’s reign of intolerance

The LGBT lobby group has stifled debate on trans issues for too long.

Jo Bartosch

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Topics Feminism Free Speech Politics UK

What were cracks at Stonewall, the UK’s largest LGBT lobby group, are rapidly becoming chasms. Yesterday it was revealed that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has dropped its membership of the Stonewall Diversity Champions scheme. While this might sound like willy-waving between a charity and a statutory body, it has important implications for freedom of speech and employment rights.

Stonewall counts some 850 employers as paid-up members of its Diversity Champions Scheme, including the Ministry of Justice and the Cabinet Office. Members pay Stonewall a fee, allow it to vet their internal policies, and, if approved, receive Stonewall’s imprimatur of woke virtue. For the EHRC to abandon it is significant. And it tells us far more about Stonewall than it does the EHRC.

Stonewall, which now has an income of £8million a year, has come a long way from the small, grassroots group which formed in 1989, principally in opposition to the then Conservative government’s Section 28, which prohibited the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ by local authorities. Over the years Stonewall honed a laser-sharp focus and pragmatic approach. It was successful in reforming the law and changing social attitudes towards lesbian and gay people.

But Stonewall faced a problem in the mid-2010s. The granting of same-sex marriage in 2013 marked the last legal hurdle to equality faced by lesbians, gays and bisexuals. When Ruth Hunt was appointed CEO of Stonewall in 2014, she found herself at the head of a charity rich in staff and cash but suddenly lacking a cause. Hunt found Stonewall’s new cause – and donors – in the ‘struggle’ for trans rights.

When Hunt left Stonewall in 2019 to join the House of Lords, her successor, Nancy Kelley, was left in an unenviable position. She leads a long-time gay-rights charity which now takes the view that some lesbians have penises – the logical corollary of the belief that ‘trans women are women’.

Stonewall still trades on its reputation from decades ago, when it was both relevant and necessary to the lives of homosexual and bisexual people. But today it seems more interested in raising awareness about straight ‘asexuals’ (ie, those with a low sex drive) and people who identify as transgender, than in lesbian, gay and bisexual equality.

Simon Fanshawe, one of the founders of Stonewall, has become a vocal opponent of the charity’s new direction of travel. ‘Instead of continuing to bring together the range of lesbian and gay voices (and for that matter the range of trans voices), it chose to divide us against ourselves’, he tells me. ‘Stonewall’s history is one of listening and finding common ground. Its current leadership have forsaken that for divisive sectarianism.’

Until recently, Stonewall’s Diversity Champions scheme was the rainbow seal of approval for employers seeking to appear as welcoming to people of all sexual orientations. But the case of Allison Bailey has tarnished its image. Bailey is a lesbian barrister and co-founder of the LGB Alliance, a group formed in part to challenge Stonewall’s obsessive focus on transgender ideology and niche causes. Bailey alleges her employer, Garden Court Chambers, colluded with Stonewall to remove her and is now suing both of them. Her case is due to be heard next year.

There are also concerns over the impact of Stonewall on organisational policy and freedom of expression. Last week, an independent report into the No Platforming of feminist professors Jo Phoenix and Rosa Freedman at the University of Essex was damning about the influence of Stonewall on university policies. Essex was advised to drop its membership of the Stonewall Diversity Champions scheme. Akua Reindorf, the author of the report, described a ‘culture of fear’ at the university, with academics concerned about voicing opinions that countered the Stonewall-approved line. Reindorf also noted that Essex had adopted policies which reflected ‘the law as Stonewall would prefer it to be, rather than the law as it is’.

This weekend, a letter from Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) chairwoman Baroness Falkner was made public by the campaign group Sex Matters. It confirmed that the EHRC would be leaving the Stonewall Diversity Champions scheme. While the EHRC denies that membership impacted on its impartiality, it noted that, ‘as a publicly funded organisation, we have to ensure we are making the best choices’. It seems Baroness Falkner has a wry sense of humour. The letter ended with a commitment to an ‘inclusive workplace’ where people with ‘protected characteristics are accepted without exception’ – a probable reference to Stonewall’s own strapline of ‘acceptance without exception’.

On social media, Stonewall’s response to the negative press coverage was to tweet screenshots of articles in the Daily Mail and The Times with the comment: ‘U ok hun? Just checking because you are spending a *lot* of time talking about us. It’s a bit creepy.’

This is characteristic of Stonewall’s hubris. It seems to believe the importance of its mission and reputation ought to protect it from scrutiny. Criticism, particularly from the right-of-centre press, is used by Stonewall as evidence of the ‘bigotry’ it faces. It seems that criticism only strengthens the faith of believers in the righteousness of Stonewall’s cause.

The EHRC may be the first to break away from Stonewall, but it seems likely others will follow. Stonewall’s head of communications, Jeff Ingold, is currently on a well-timed sabbatical. At the current rate of progress it seems entirely possible that there might not be a role for him to return to. For the past five years, Stonewall has promoted a woke and intolerant orthodoxy. Here’s hoping the growing criticism of the Stonewall Diversity Champions scheme signals the start of genuine tolerance and diversity of opinion in British workplaces.

Jo Bartosch is a journalist campaigning for the rights of women and girls.

Picture by: Getty.

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