Nancy Kelley on Woman's Hour

Is defeating Stonewall the end of the story?

The failure of Stonewall’s “no debate” strategy has given many a Wizard of Oz moment

Artillery Row

A couple of weeks ago Nancy Kelley, the media-shy CEO of the embattled trans lobby group Stonewall, gave a rare interview to Emma Barnett of BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. In it, she struggled to give coherent answers to questions on matters that have preoccupied public discourse for months, such as the hounding of Professor Kathleen Stock from her job at the University of Sussex, or her own suggestion that belief in the immutability of sex is as bad as anti-semitism.

Is Stonewall really in charge, or is the charity the puppet of other, less visible strategists?

Her stumbling, evasive responses — at one point claiming to have “no idea” whether JK Rowling was transphobic, as Stonewall’s supporters angrily insist, because she had “never met her” — reinforced the impression that hiding behind the mantra “No Debate” has done trans activists few favours; they are notably ill-equipped for debate once it eventually happens. As one widely shared tweet put it, Kelley’s interview was “a real Wizard of Oz moment” when the voice behind the mighty Stonewall was “revealed to be an easily confused woman who barely knew what day of the week it is”.

In the MGM movie classic, the illusionist behind the curtain is Professor Marvel, a bad wizard but an accomplished con-artist who is smart enough to have pulled off a major deception, so the parallel doesn’t entirely hold. But it does raise an important question for those of us battling to undo the havoc caused by gender ideology to schools, women’s refuges, prisons, sport, publishing, higher education and many other environments: is Stonewall really in charge, or is the charity the puppet of other, less visible strategists? If the latter, reining in Stonewall may not be the win we’re hoping for.

Kelley occupies a seat warmed for her by brighter predecessors, such as Angela Mason, architect of the first victories on lesbian and gay law reform, and my old journalist colleague Ben Summerskill, a strategic genius who completed the process.

Summerskill’s deputy, Ruth Hunt, was also formidably talented. When she took over in 2014, she and her board had to decide which way to go: wind the charity down because its work was done, or find new battles?

They chose the latter. That’s what “adding the T” to the initials LGB was all about. Since then, they’ve added an ill-defined Q and an explicitly open-ended “+”, while one member of their Diversity Champions scheme has even added a U, short for “undefined”. It’s all about creating new minorities, no matter how nebulous, to present as oppressed and needing support.

Quitting in 2019, Hunt is now in the House of Lords, as the first ex-Stonewall head to receive a peerage (Mason and Summerskill made do with the CBE and OBE, respectively). It soon became apparent that her successor did not have the same smarts. For example, Kelly took to Twitter to complain about the huge of amount of time Stonewall spends responding to Freedom of Information requests. This could surely only refer to requests made to Stonewall’s client organisations, which it had no business answering; admitting as much in public was remarkably inept. For journalist Jo Bartosch, who has made Stonewall and its ideology her specialist field, the interview with Barnett confirmed a long-held suspicion. “Nancy Kelley’s appearance on Woman’s Hour made it abundantly clear that anyone with the ability to lead Stonewall wouldn’t touch it,” she tweeted.

So who, if not Kelley, is the brains behind the charity’s strategy? Are there shadowy paymasters and string-pullers in the wings? I offered an answer of sorts in my novel The End of the World is Flat, which uses flat-earthery as an allegory to satirise gender ideology. In my version, a nut-job Californian billionaire provides unlimited cash to a once-respected geographical charity called the Orange Peel Foundation, with a brief to impose flat-earth ideas on the world, while a sinister lobbyist in a Bond villain lair in South London directs strategy.

But that was strictly fiction, where you need a small number of players in easily defined roles, and you also need a way of resolving the story neatly. Real life is not so simple.

What happens when the media starts to disobey the “No Debate” edict and opponents of gender ideology refuse to be cancelled?

We know there are some billionaire donors funding the extreme trans rights agenda, including Republican ex-army officer Jennifer Pritzker, who is trans; medical technology heir Jon Stryker, who is gay; and the investor and philanthropist George Soros. (For mentioning these three in her book Trans, Helen Joyce was accused of peddling an anti-semitic conspiracy theory, even though she didn’t say they conspired and made no reference to race or religion. As it happens, the idea that Stryker is Jewish seems to be fantasy on the part of Joyce’s detractors.)

As for strategy, the answer may lie in the so-called Dentons document, prepared for a group of trans lobbyists by the world’s oldest law firm, with the backing of the Thomson Reuters Foundation. It set out a cuckoo-in-the-nest strategy that is all too familiar to those of us who remember Stonewall when it was simply campaigning for lesbian and gay equality: find a more popular cause to piggy-back onto, and be discreet about it. “[A] technique which has been used to great effect is the limitation of press coverage and exposure,” the document advised. In other words, No Debate.

So what happens when that strategy unravels? When the media starts to disobey the “No Debate” edict, opponents of gender ideology refuse to be cancelled, and more and more people experience a Wizard of Oz moment?

My hunch is that the strategists never had a Plan B. Plan A was all about bullying, intimidation and legislation by stealth, because they knew they had no hope of foisting this stuff on the world by honest persuasion.

But the real unknown is what lasting impact Stonewall has had on hearts and minds. A generation of young people now believes that sex is a spectrum, that children have the right to choose a male or a female puberty, and that any man who says he’s a woman should be allowed in women’s spaces. These young people are already becoming teachers, policy-makers, journalists and politicians, insisting that anyone who disagrees is a bigot who must be cast out of society. Taking Stonewall out of the equation won’t stop them imposing these ideas on another generation.

That’s the pessimistic view, but there’s also a more optimistic one. It’s often noted that identifying as LGBTQ+ has become a fashion for teenagers.

Fashions are, by definition, transitory. What’s more, ideas change very quickly under stress. Sooner or later, a group of detransitioners will bring a class action against the doctors and/or pharmaceutical companies who have facilitated a mass medical experiment on children. If it succeeds, it will be hard to find anyone who admits to ever having cheered the experiment on.

That’s why it really is worth continuing to pull away the curtain to reveal the truth behind the Wizard.

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