Tom Goodenough

Why are police spending thousands on Stonewall subscriptions?

Why are police spending thousands on Stonewall subscriptions?
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When police kit out their patrol cars in rainbow flags or when officers don pride polo shirts, two questions spring to mind: Should the police be doing this? And how much does it cost? Now, we have some answers to the second of these questions.

Among the top spenders on supporting and promoting LGBT causes (perhaps unsurprisingly given their high-profile involvement in Pride marches) was the Met Police. London’s police force spent £1,000 on 150 police ‘rainbow’ epaulettes; another £1,000 on ‘police with pride’ printed polo shirts; and over £300 on rainbow wristbands. The Met also spent £700 on stickers for its pride vehicle for 2020.

Perhaps controversially, the Met revealed it has spent around £12,500 on membership of Stonewall since 2017. Police subscriptions to Stonewall were a common – and costly – theme among forces across Britain, as revealed by the freedom of information requests made by Fair Cop. Merseyside police spent £7,500 on Stonewall subscriptions and donations. North Wales paid £1,500 for Stonewall membership. Dorset Police paid Stonewall £2,500. Leicestershire Police also spent £2,500 on Stonewall membership in the last year – and a total of £9,500 on Stonewall since 2010. Under its ‘LGBT expenditure' from 2010 to 2019, the force says it spent a total of £15,000.

In Avon and Somerset, for the most recent financial year, the force spent a total of £900 on rainbow branding and £4,200 on conferences and events. The force said a total of £2,500 was used for subscriptions and donations to LGBT+ organisations. Gwent police were also big spenders on ‘supporting and promoting LGBT groups and causes’. These activities set the force back £14,000 in the last three years. It also spent £700 on a flag and what it called ‘engagement items with rainbow branding’ in one year alone.

This is just the spending we know about, and it is likely to be higher given that some police forces did not respond to FoI requests. But what's interesting about any police expenditure is that it comes at a time when police forces are warning of the looming impact of funding shortages. London’s mayor Sadiq Khan said recently that police are facing a ‘new era of austerity’. He said that such cuts risked leaving ‘the police with one hand tied behind their back at the worst possible time’.

Others have warned of the risk to police forces from funding cuts. No doubt they are right that shortages of money could affect the police's ability to do an essential job. But it seems curious that forces such as Avon and Somerset, which warned a few years ago that it had reached a ‘tipping point’ after years of cuts, subsequently spend thousands of pounds on rainbow branding and membership of what are arguably political organisations such as Stonewall.

This also raises another difficulty. In the police’s ‘code of ethics’, officers are warned: ‘Police officers must not take any active part in politics. This is intended to prevent you from placing yourself in a position where your impartiality may be questioned’.

But is this advice being listened to by senior officers? While Stonewall does offer useful advice to people, some of its resources are clearly political, not least in its representation on trans issues. In a Q and A on its website, it answers the question of whether trans people should be able to use public toilets of their elected sex by saying

‘Trans people can and have been using the toilets that match their gender for years without issue. This is another media-generated ‘debate’, and it’s actually having a negative effect on many cis people too; people whose appearance doesn’t fit the stereotypes of male or female are increasingly being challenged for simply going into a public loo.’ 

But many women who are uncomfortable with the idea of people who were born male using a female toilet would disagree with the idea that this is an issue merely whipped up by the media. Should police forces really be paying out for membership of such an organisation?

Under another section on its website, Stonewall answers the question of whether ‘trans women (should) be able to sit on women-only panels or be on women-only shortlists?’ with this:

‘Yes, of course. Trans women are women, and because of that it makes sense that they should have the same opportunity to be involved in debates as any other woman.’

Yet the view that ‘trans women are women’ remains highly contentious and many would disagree with Stonewall's analysis on this point. Again, it seems worth asking the question of whether the police – a supposedly politically neutral organisation – should be paying for Stonewall membership given its insistence that 'trans women are women'.

At a time when police are under financial pressure, should they be spending thousands on resources which they could manage without? And at a time when police officers are also facing increased pressures on the frontline, does it help the bobby on the beat when cash-strapped forces spend their money in these ways? 

Stonewall says it works with the police and other organisations to make them 'more inclusive of lesbian, gay, bi and trans people'. This is a laudable aim. But does that inclusivity it seeks to foster apply to the many women who reject Stonewall's view that 'trans women are women'? 

Written byTom Goodenough

Tom Goodenough is the Spectator's online editor.

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