Is there any way back for the LGBT charity?
The year 2021 has been an annus horribilis for Stonewall. For much of the last decade, the charity could do no wrong in the eyes of those who mattered. Stonewall’s influence cut straight into the heart of government. As Nikki da Costa, Boris Johnson’s former director of legislative affairs, pointed out:
‘There is no other organisation — no business, or charity, no matter how big — that can pick up the phone to a special adviser sitting outside Boris Johnson’s office and get that person to speak directly to the Prime Minister. But that is the kind of access that Stonewall has’Nikki da Costa
Through its Diversity Champions Programme, Stonewall advised businesses, police, NHS Trusts and universities. Yet during the last twelve months, the wheels fell off the wagon: high-profile organisations sought to distance themselves from Stonewall; even the BBC opted to cut ties with the charity’s workplace equality scheme.
This reckoning was overdue: for too long, Stonewall has been on something of a trans-crusade. In doing so, it prioritised the T over the LGB. ‘Acceptance without exception for trans people,’ was one of its slogans. If that’s as far as it went, there would be no problem. But Stonewall has been pushing an ideology that goes much further: the promotion of gender identity over and above biological sex. 2021 is the year where the tide turned. So what went so wrong for Stonewall?
In May, Essex University apologised to two academics, professor Rosa Freedman and professor Jo Phoenix, following a damming report by barrister Akua Reindorf. The pair had been treated appallingly by the university: both were silenced for daring to question whether trans rights activists were stifling free speech. Reindorf was also highly critical of Stonewall-inspired policy adopted by the University:
‘The policy is reviewed annually by Stonewall, and its incorrect summary of the law does not appear to have been picked up by them. In my view the policy states the law as Stonewall would prefer it to be, rather than the law as it is. To that extent the policy is misleading.’Akua Reindorf
In her recommendations, Reindorf could not have been clearer:
‘The University should give careful and thorough consideration to the relative benefits and disbenefits of its relationship with Stonewall, bearing in mind the issues raised in this report. […] If the University considers it appropriate to continue its relationship with Stonewall, it should devise a strategy for countering the drawbacks and potential illegalities described above (in the report).’Akua Reindorf
This damning verdict caused many to finally reassess their view of Stonewall. An overdue question was asked by those who had allied themselves to the charity: could its advice be trusted and relied upon?
For some, this dilemma was answered by ‘Nolan investigates: Stonewall’, a podcast by David Thompson and Stephen Nolan. Released in the months after the Essex University debacle, it exposed the dubious relationship between Stonewall and the BBC, and – perhaps even more worryingly – Stonewall and Ofcom, the media regulator. Thompson and Nolan’s series of podcasts told a story of organisations in thrall to Stonewall. Shockingly, they revealed that Ofcom submitted rulings it had made against broadcasters to Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index.
Light is a powerful disinfectant. This year, Ofcom joined the BBC in walking away from the Diversity Champions Programme. They were far from alone in pulling out: the Equality and Human Rights Commission left in March, while Channel 4 withdrew in the summer.
Meanwhile Liz Truss, the equalities minister, called for all government departments to withdraw. That did not stop the Foreign Office – Truss’s other department – from signing up this year, presumably behind ministers’ backs, but the tide appears to be going out for Stonewall. The list of members is hard to come by, but Sex Matters curate a growing list of those reported to have left.
Times are certainly changing. 2021 was also the year that Stonewall stopped stonewalling and started answering tough questions. When its Chief Executive Nancy Kelley was interviewed by Radio 4’s Emma Barnett in November, we had a glimpse into Stonewall’s thinking.
‘Is JK Rowling transphobic?’ was one question which appeared to have Kelly stumped. To many, the answer is obvious: of course she isn’t. Yet instead Kelley had this to say:
‘I’ve no idea, no idea, I’ve never met her’.Nancy Kelley
Pressed by Barnett, Kelley went on to say:
‘Are some of the views that JK Rowling has expressed, do they echo very common forms of transphobia? Yes.’Nancy Kelley
Kelly didn’t cite any examples, but that should hardly come as a surprise. After all, this is an organisation that seems more concerned with feelings than facts.
Stonewall has moved so far away from its original calling that it even appeared to suggest that homosexual women refusing to date trans people might be comparable to racism. In response to a BBC feature that quoted several lesbians saying they’d been coerced into sex with male-bodied trans women, Kelley appeared to have little sympathy:
‘Nobody should ever be pressured into dating, or pressured into dating people they aren’t attracted to. But if you find that when dating, you are writing off entire groups of people, like people of colour, fat people, disabled people or trans people, then it’s worth considering how societal prejudices may have shaped your attractions.’Nancy Kelley
That truly jaw dropping comment should be a wake up call, if not to Stonewall then at least to its supporters and remaining clients. This is an organisation that is off the rails and on the ropes.
So what might 2022 hold for Stonewall? In some respects, Kelley’s willingness to be cross examined by Barnett was a positive step. This organisation is no longer aloof from the debate. If it goes back to its roots and campaigns for the gay and lesbian people who founded it then it might still have a future.
There have been glimpses that it is trying to make amends. Stonewall’s work with the government to airlift LGBTQ+ people out of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan is to be admired and applauded. But until Stonewall jettisons gender identity ideology it will remain part of the problem, not the solution. That would be a shame.
After all, our society faces many problems, not least the issue of this pervasive gender identity ideology which has had a catastrophic impact on the sex-based rights of women and the safeguarding of children. It has not even helped transgender people like me. We need to move beyond ideology and back to reality. If Stonewall can join those of us in that campaign we will get there faster.
But if Stonewall continues along the path it has trodden then we need to oppose it at every step. The rights of women, children and transsexuals, lesbians, gay and bisexual people are at stake.
Debbie Hayton is a teacher and journalist.