While agonising over how to begin this profile, I was rung by a friend who, on hearing of the subject on which I was working, declared:
“I hope you will say we are sick of being dictated to!”
That is not how I had thought of starting, for I am more timid and tactful than my friend. But it is actually quite a good jumping off point.
Stonewall finds itself in crisis because it has changed from an organisation which sought, with brilliant success, to persuade and to carry people with it, into one which insists on imposing a far from popular line.
The voluntary principle has been replaced by compulsion.
Nancy Kelley, since last summer Stonewall’s Chief Executive, recently compared gender-critical views to anti-semitism. In other words, anyone who maintains, as gender-critical feminists do, that “biological differences between the sexes make the continued provision of female-only spaces necessary”, is a disgraceful person.
Trans activists have set out to intimidate and silence the feminists, who in turn are appalled when trans women assert the right to enter female-only spaces, including women’s refuges, dormitories, prisons and sports facilities.
When Keir Starmer was running for the Labour leadership, he signed up to the list of ten pledges presented to the candidates by LGBT+ Labour, promising he would “campaign with you for the changes rightly prioritised here”:
“I will campaign to reform the Gender Recognition Act to introduce a self-declaration process… I believe that trans women are women, that trans men are men.”
A large number of feminists who think of themselves as Labour supporters find themselves without a leader who can articulate their concerns.
Not that Sir Keir is alone among politicians in preferring not to get involved in the debate.
Several influential Conservatives indicated this week to ConHome that they simply did not wish to play any part in the discussion.
Number Ten is watching developments carefully, but does not wish to have a public row. Boris Johnson’s approach to cultural issues of this kind, for example to the attacks on Winston Churchill’s statue, is not to intervene until people are pleading with him to do so.
Last September, the Government dropped plans to allow self-identification by trans people.
But a leading Conservative parliamentarian this week told me, on condition that their anonymity would be strictly preserved, that the trans debate is “extremely scary”.
In their view, Stonewall has completely dumped the LGB part of its mission, is now only interested in campaigning for trans, has become “an extremely unfriendly place for women”, and is viciously intolerant of dissent.
This presents, they argue, a danger for the Conservatives too: “The Conservative Party is terrified of another Section 28” – the law passed in 1988, towards the end of Margaret Thatcher’s prime ministership, forbidding the “promotion of homosexuality” by local authorities.
If the Tories were to become outspoken opponents of trans activists, they could once more come to be regarded as the nasty party.
So for several years, leading Conservative and Labour figures took great care to avoid the subject, as James Kirkup explained to ConHome in October 2018:
When James Kirkup became interested in transgender politics, people warned him that writing about it was too dangerous. He notes that the fear the subject inspires in many MPs of being attacked as “transphobic” has created a vacuum into which transgender campaigning groups have been able to move, and to push for the right of trans people to “self-identify” their gender, without the arguments for and against the reform being tested in rigorous debate.
In this interview, Kirkup says “nobody has really pointed out” that Professor Stephen Whittle – specialist adviser to the Women and Equalities Committee, chaired by Maria Miller, when it drew up its agenda-setting report on Transgender Equality – is “also the founder of a group called Press for Change, which was the first trans rights campaigning group in the UK.”
This avoidance of the subject is now breaking down. Victoria Hewson and Rebecca Lowe yesterday reported for ConHome, under their joint byline, Radical, some of the horrific information about Stonewall which has started to emerge as a result of Freedom of Information requests.
And Gary Powell recently declared on this site that, as a gay man, the LGBT+ lobby with its “extreme gender ideology” does not speak for him, and warned that we must “stop neo-Marxist identity politics being force-fed to children in British schools”.
Two of the original 14 founders of Stonewall, set up in 1989 in response to Section 28, have recently dissociated themselves from the organisation.
Stephen Fanshawe described in The Daily Mail how he had received a message from someone he “had always considered an ally in the fight for equality”:
“By expressing your views, you have put yourself outside Stonewall,” the terse message read when it landed in my inbox two years ago. Its Orwellian tone might make you wonder what “views” I could possibly have exhibited that would have set me at such odds with the organisation I proudly helped to form three decades earlier, to campaign for the rights of gay men and lesbians in a society that cruelly discriminated against them.
They must, surely, have been hateful and inflammatory? Not a bit of it. I had simply expressed the opinion that proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act for which Stonewall was campaigning — meaning people could legally “self-identify’” as whatever sex they chose, regardless of their biology — had serious implications for the rights of women.
And Matthew Parris explained in The Times why he thinks Stonewall has lost its way:
What is the charity I helped to found doing, getting entangled in attempts to deny free speech at a university? This column should avoid getting into the trans debate itself. My single, tight focus is on this question: why Stonewall?
There’s something perversely 20th-century about linking gays to trans. Gay men do not want to be women. We like being men. I doubt that being a lesbian is about not wanting to be a woman. Our issues have nothing to do with identification or changing our bodies: we know what we are and nobody disputes it. Most gay men would strongly resist the suggestion we’re boys who want to be girls. I can’t think of anything I’d like less. The whole history of the gay liberation movement is inseparable from what people do rather than what they are. Central to trans concerns is being, not doing. The one thing that links gays and lesbians with trans people is empathy with anyone excluded, oppressed, marginalised or rejected. Indeed this was what influenced some gay groups into supporting the 1984-5 miners’ strike, and Stonewall was perhaps drawn into the trans arguments because a group was fighting for what it considers to be its rights.
Stonewall, founded by a group of activists who met at the house of the actor Ian McKellen in Limehouse, in the East End of London, achieved in its first 20 years or so a series of legislative triumphs. It was named after the Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village in 1969, which erupted when members of the gay community in New York fought back against a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, and which led to the Pride marches which continue to this day.
In its original typewritten manifesto of 24th May 1989, Stonewall announced:
A Parliamentary Group has been set up to consider new, proposed or potential legislation on issues that may particularly effect lesbians and gay men; and to work with MPs and legislators to ensure equality.
Its central argument, that lesbians and gay men should enjoy equal treatment with heterosexuals, was so strong, and so in accordance with the way the world was moving, that a series of big reforms followed.
These included the lifting of the ban on lesbians and gay men serving in the armed forces, the equalisation of the age of consent, legal adoption by lesbian and gay couples, the repeal of Section 28 and the introduction of civil partnerships.
In 2001, Stonewall launched its Diversity Champions programme, which had rapid success in recruiting major employers, including banks, retailers and government departments, who wished to ensure that, in the words of Stonewall itself, “all LGBTQ+ staff are free to be themselves in the workplace”.
And in 2011, David Cameron confirmed, as Prime Minister, that Stonewall had been working with the grain of history by declaring his support at the Conservative Party Conference for same-sex marriage, which was passed into law in 2013.
As far as legal equality was concerned, Stonewall had by this point achieved pretty much everything it set out to do. It cast around for a new mission, and in 2014 it decided it had found it in trans.
One can hardly blame trans activists for accepting this huge accession of campaigning strength, and one can see why the people running Stonewall persuaded themselves that instead of winding down their organisation, and putting themselves out of work, here was another injustice which they should be able in the space of a decade or two to put right.
As Parris puts it,
Perhaps the truth is that, after success in our great 20th-century drive for equality, Stonewall was left with bricks and mortar, an admirable staff, a CEO and a fund-raising team and, unconsciously, craved another big, newsworthy cause. Well, sometimes a big army with only small battles to fight does best simply to scale back. I know many gay men have become embarrassed by Stonewall and see (as I do) the paradox that some of its activities are actually damaging the standing of the gay community. We don’t want to be associated with sallies in the trans wars. We want to feel proud, not hurt, not victims. Trans people cannot yet feel that: they need a support group. But that’s for them. Gays (to use the lingo) should not be colonising their issues.
It took a while for politicians to realise that the trans war was not necessarily going to end happily. Theresa May was generally favourable, during her prime ministership, towards the demands of the trans lobby.
Complaints that trans women were demanding the right to use facilities which ought to be reserved for biological women could at first be dismissed as transphobic, a charge all the more convincing because it is sometimes undoubtedly true.
So too complaints that children were being put under unfair pressure to discover that they were unhappy with the gender assigned to them at birth, and to have treatment.
Calm, open discussion of these issues was impossible, and most people felt they had better things to do than court confrontation with trans activists.
But there has now been an unmistakeable change in the political weather. Liz Truss, the Equalities Minister, is pushing for all government departments to withdraw from Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme, which includes 250 public bodies among its 850 members.
The Sunday Telegraph reports that the Ministry of Justice will lead an “exodus” from the programme. A source in the department told the paper:
“It’s a shame, as this was once an organisation that did incredibly important work, but it has totally lost its way and the ministers just don’t think it’s justifiable to give Stonewall taxpayers’ money.
“The department will be just as welcoming to LGBT people as before, but we really shouldn’t be paying thousands of pounds for controversial advice about pronouns and gender-neutral spaces.”
The Equalities and Human Rights Commission and the employment dispute service Acas have both withdrawn from Diversity Champions “for cost reasons”, a way of circumventing argument about the actual merits of what Stonewall offers.
But Lady Falkner, the new chair of the EHRC, has gone further, declaring in The Times in her first interview since taking up her post:
“Someone can believe that people who self identify as a different sex are not the different sex that they self identify. A lot of people would find this an entirely reasonable belief.”
When the editor of ConHome commissioned this profile, he asked: “Is the Government trying to kill Stonewall?” It seems to me it would be more accurate to say Stonewall is committing suicide.