Artillery Row

Stonewall’s Ratner moment

Stonewall has become that dangerous thing: an organisation with power and resources floundering for survival

Stonewall, the venerable gay-rights organisation founded in the wake of Section 28, has had a rebrand. Out goes the proud revolutionary red, white and black; in comes an uneasy combination of candyfloss pink, toothpaste green and petrol blue.

Stonewall’s new identity comes in the middle of a crisis. It is having a “Ratner moment” after CEO Nancy Kelley said out loud that Stonewall does not represent lesbians who think that sexual orientation relates to people’s sex.

The charity set up to protect people in same-sex relationships from discrimination has become committed to ideas borrowed from “queer theory”: that straight males can be lesbians, that girls can grow up to be men and that doctors should facilitate this by stopping the course of puberty. Kelley said that disagreement with these positions is akin to anti-Semitism and should not be tolerated in the workplace. 

Stonewall, which expanded its remit in 2015 to include transgender people, has moved so far from its original values and aims that two of its founders, Matthew Parris and Simon Fanshawe, have said that it no longer stands for gay rights.

It’s been a tough couple of weeks for Stonewall. HR managers, Whitehall officials and politicians are finally starting to balk at its upside-down transformation. First the national equality watchdog, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, revealed that it had withdrawn from the charity’s Diversity Champions scheme. The EHRC had recently told the High Court that institutional policies saying that people must be allowed to choose which single-sex facilities to use on the basis of gender identity are not in compliance with the Equality Act. 

Then a report by barrister Akua Reindorf was published, which concluded that Essex University had adopted policies that reflect “the law as Stonewall would prefer it to be”, rather than the law as it actually is. That had created a culture of fear among staff who dissented from Stonewall’s positions.

Last week the organisation unveiled its new identity with a colour palette last seen when Care Bears, legwarmers and jelly shoes were in fashion, and a new strategy and mission. Out went the relative clarity of “advancing equality and acceptance for or lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) people”, and in came a new acronym: “LGBTQ+”.

In what looks like a pointed gesture towards the equality watchdog that spurned it, the charity chose a new logo that looks uncannily like the EHRC’s “equals” sign with an arrow driving through it. It also showed little regard for the sector’s regulator, the Charity Commission, which expects charities to pursue the goals they were founded for. On Twitter, Kelley dismissed concerns about Stonewall’s move away from gay rights, saying that “Very few charities with more than a decade under their belt are doing *exactly* the things their founder established them to do. Times change. Needs change. Charities change.”

One of its newly designed T-shirts, emblazoned with “We Are Stonewall”, evokes Millwall’s “no one likes us, we don’t care” chant. Another reads “Some people are lesbians, get over it”. It is available only in a boxy men’s cut, and is modelled by a man.

Asked in a BBC interview whether Stonewall had alienated “gender critical” lesbians, Kelley said that “we don’t claim to represent everyone in the LGBTQ community.” Challenged on whether it might be considered offensive to liken gender-critical views to anti-Semitism, she insisted the comparison was apt. Stonewall shows every sign of being that dangerous thing: an organisation with power and resources floundering for survival. In September 2020 Kelley told Forbes magazine that the charity’s mission would now involve working for intersex people and sex workers. 

People with intersex conditions largely said a resounding: “no thanks.” And perhaps so too did Stonewall schools (one of the fastest-growing sections of the Champions scheme). Promoting sex work as a career for girls and gay boys seems a step too far in accepting Stonewall’s edicts.

Stonewall’s disgust with the idea gender can be changed contradicts its view that gender is fluid

So out went the brief dalliance with intersex and sex work and in came “queer, questioning and ace”. LGBT has been scrubbed from the Stonewall glossary entirely, and replaced with LGBTQ+.

What is “ace”? Stonewall says it is an “umbrella term to incorporate asexual, grey ace, demi-ace and other ace-spec [spectrum] identities”. Still confused? “Ace is an umbrella term used specifically to describe experiences of a lack of, varying or occasional experiences of sexual attraction…Ace people who experience romantic attraction and occasional sexual attraction might also use terms such gay, bi, lesbian straight and quer [sic]”. 

Also added to the glossary are aromantic or “Aro” people: those who experience a lack of, varying or occasional experience of romantic attraction. Demi-sexual people “only feel sexually attracted to someone when they have an emotional bond with that person”. 

What are Stonewall’s strategic goals for this beleaguered group of people with any-or-all sexual orientations, or who would just sometimes prefer a cup of tea (as Boy George famously said)?

The answer is a legally enforceable ban on conversion therapy. It says that “Conversion therapy practices are rooted in disgust for LGBTQ+ people, and the lie that our sexual or romantic orientation, or our gender, can be changed.” This seems to contradict its view that gender is fluid, and that “questioning” and “varying” levels of sexual or romantic attraction are sexual orientations in themselves. 

Stonewall calls for new hate crime and hate speech laws, promising to work with unspecified international partners to develop platforms for anonymous reporting, and for changes to the law and policing to outlaw speech that it dislikes.  It also wants better guidelines on deciding LGBTQ+ asylum claims. A fairer asylum system is indeed needed, but it is not clear that “demi-sexuals” are persecuted. Gay people certainly are.

This extreme policy agenda is so far from Stonewall’s original goals of equality for same-sex attracted people as to be unrecognisable

Finally it wants “inclusive legal recognition”: self-ID, including allowing people to erase their sex from official records and to obtain strong confidentiality about their personal history if they identify as non-binary. It supports the call for babies to be registered as having no mother if the person who gave birth to them identifies as dad.

This extreme policy agenda is so far from Stonewall’s original goals of equality for same-sex attracted people as to be unrecognisable. It is designed to ramp up civil and legal persecution of people who disagree with the march of the gender lobby through our institutions. And it is dangerous because it piggybacks on the established position of an incumbent that has been adopted by 850 employers, including many Whitehall departments, local councils, police forces and much of the NHS, and that is wired into public-sector procurement criteria. It targets gender-critical women, the “wrong kind” of lesbians, and parents, teachers and therapists who don’t immediately affirm that a child with gender-related mental-health issues is a “trans child”.

A few days ago the Times reported that Liz Truss, the minister for Women and Equalities, has said that government departments should leave the Diversity Champions scheme. Sex Matters, the human-rights campaign group that I co-founded, welcomes her call.

Today Stonewall, together with Mermaids and other trans rights organisations flying under the LGBTQ+ banner, launched an extraordinary legal challenge against the charitable status of the LGB Alliance, a organisation that was set up to pick up Stonewall’s original mission of gay rights.

It is high time for responsible employers to reconsider their involvement with Stonewall. Times change. Charities change. Stonewall’s agenda is no longer the brave, and just, one it was founded to pursue: equal rights for gay people and a tolerant society for all.

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