Stonewall UK was established in 1989 in response to the now infamous Section 28, which prohibited councils from intentionally promoting homosexuality or teaching about the acceptability of homosexuality in schools. In the years since its founding, Section 28 has been repealed, the age of consent has been levelled, and equal marriage was secured in 2013. In other words, the key political goals of lesbians, gay and bisexual people have been secured in the UK.
This lack of a serious and meaningful campaign goal perhaps explains why Stonewall’s behaviour has been far less edifying in recent years. In 2015 Stonewall extended their remit to campaign for trans equality, and in doing so thrust trans people like me into the centre of a toxic and divisive political dispute. The problem is that their campaign isn’t really needed. To misquote Stonewall’s famous campaign slogan: some people are trans, but society has largely gotten over it. Mostly, in my experience, other people really couldn’t care that I am trans, and I get on with my life much like everyone else, far more bothered about Covid-19 than LGBT rights.
But while I have no need of Stonewall UK, an alarming number of businesses and public sector bodies seem to think differently. According to the charity, over 850 organisations have signed up to Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme, which claims to be the ‘leading employers' programme for ensuring all LGBT staff are accepted without exception in the workplace.’ And, the Sunday Telegraph reported last weekend that roughly 250 government departments and public bodies, including police forces, local councils and NHS trusts, pay thousands each year to be members of the programme.
It’s not clear to me why these organisations feel the need to sign up. Surely they don’t need Stonewall to tell them to treat LGBT employees and customers no less favourably because of their sexual orientation or gender reassignment status. It really isn’t difficult, as many employers – including my own – have discovered, without handing large sums of money over to the charity.
The cost of the Diversity Champions programme is not insignificant. Stonewall made over £3 million in fees last year, a large part of which came from the scheme. Private businesses can spend their money as they wish, of course, but is this really a good use of taxpayers’ cash? The amount that each organisation pays depends on its size but starts at £2,500 (plus VAT) a year and is estimated to cost the taxpayer at least £600,000. The benefits of signing up are listed on Stonewall’s website. Apart from the right to add the ‘Diversity Champion’ logo to promotional materials, and having policies reviewed by Stonewall’s ‘in-house team of experts for LGBT inclusion’ the other advantages are rather nebulous.
But there’s also the offer of discounted rates to Stonewall’s ‘empowerment’ programmes so staff can step up as allies and role models in the workplace. With a £65 discount, the ‘Workplace Trans Ally programme’ costs £410 per person for a one-day course. And for only £5,450 (discounted from £6,500) Stonewall offers in-house training to groups of 12 to 36 people.
Maybe I’m in the wrong job teaching science to children? But joking aside, one wonders what Stonewall are teaching civil servants in their training programmes. This is an organisation that is so convinced trans women are women, it believes we should be allowed to compete in women’s rugby, or sit on women-only panels or take up places on women-only shortlists. The idea that Stonewall may be reviewing public policies and training civil servants – while we are paying for it – is a terrifying prospect. With Stonewall advising our public bodies, no wonder the government has lost its way when it comes to trans rights.