The writing is on the wall for Stonewall

4 June 2021

Dr Carys Moseley comments on the demise of Stonewall.

Liz Truss, the Minister for Women and Equalities, wants all government departments to leave the Stonewall Diversity Champions Programme. This happened just after CEO Nancy Kelley’s comparison of gender-critical views with anti-Semitism in a BBC interview on Saturday. It is perfectly possible that this was the last straw for the government as regards Stonewall’s demands.

Truthfulness as ‘hate’

In an interview with the BBC over the weekend, Nancy Kelley said this:

“With all beliefs including controversial beliefs there is a right to express those beliefs publicly and where they’re harmful or damaging – whether it’s anti-Semitic beliefs, gender critical beliefs, beliefs about disability – we have legal systems that are put in place for people who are harmed by that.”

When the BBC journalists challenged her comparison, she doubled down on it.

This outrageous comparison proved to be the last straw for Liz Truss. It’s not hard to see why. Comparing insistence that there are only two sexes and that they are protected in law with anti-Semitism makes no sense at all. The effect of this would be to paint gender-critical people as extremists who should be referred to Prevent by their employers. This isn’t beyond the realms of plausibility. Currently Rev. Dr Bernard Randall is being supported by the Christian Legal Centre due to a colleague referring him to Prevent for telling school pupils they could question LGBT ideology.

The Stonewall Diversity Champions Programme

All this has happened in response to mounting public concern about the influence that membership of the Stonewall Diversity Champions Programme has on public bodies, charities and businesses. At Christian Concern, we have been highly critical of its effect on freedom of speech and protection of religious freedom for some time. It has affected academic freedom in universities, Crown Prosecution Service advice on school bullying and single-sex spaces, the politicisation of the police, and Relationships and Sexuality Education.

Lesbian lawyer Alison Bailey is suing Stonewall and her former employer Garden Court Chambers for investigating her for tweeting about her founding the LGB Alliance. More recently, a group of female barristers going by the name of Legal Feminist got thousands of people to email organisations listed on Stonewall’s website as Diversity Champions Programme members, and if so to publish the latest relevant documentation. They used the hashtag #DontSubmitToStonewall in the WhatDoTheyKnow website dedicated to facilitating Freedom of Information requests.

Report slams Essex University

Last month the Vice-Chancellor of Essex University publicly apologised for its treatment of two female law professors. Jo Phoenix from the Open University and Rosa Freedman from Reading University had had their visiting lectures cancelled due to accusations of transphobia from some staff and students. Phoenix was due to take part in a seminar on transgender rights and the criminal justice system in 2019. Freedman, professor of Law, Conflict and Global Development and a member of an Orthodox Jewish community, was invited to be in a round table discussion at Essex University’s Holocaust Memorial Week event. Freedman had previously been targeted in 2018 in a vile anti-Semitic attack where she was dubbed a ‘Nazi’ for opposing gender self-identification. All of this contradicts Nancy Kelley’s recent comparison between gender-critical views and anti-Semitism.

Essex University commissioned barrister Aku Reindorf to investigate what had happened. The report published last month slammed the university for no-platforming the two professors. Reindorf found that Stonewall’s legal advice to Essex University on the Equality Act 2010 was potentially unlawful as it had misrepresented ‘gender identity’ as being a protected characteristic under it, when this isn’t the case. It made numerous recommendations including that the university should reconsider its ties with Stonewall.

Equality and Human Rights Commission quits Stonewall

Since the Reindorf Report was published, public bodies have lined up to say they are leaving the Stonewall Diversity Champions Programme. Clearly they are afraid of lawsuits being brought against them by employees who feel they have been unfairly treated.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission was the first public body to quit, tactfully citing financial reasons as the motive. It announced this in a letter to the campaign group Sex Matters. Sex Matters had previously written an open letter to the EHRC asking it to leave Stonewall. Baroness Falkner, the new chair of the EHRC, had previously said that gender-critical beliefs, i.e. women’s concerns about the freedom to say who is male or female were acceptable beliefs to hold in modern society. This is not the view of transgender activists.

Diversity Champions member list hidden behind a password

In response to all this criticism, Stonewall hid the list of Diversity Champions behind a password. This means members of the public can no longer check so easily which employers are still members. What is known is that over 850 employers were listed members, 250 of which are government departments or bodies. If Stonewall loses the latter it will probably see its income halved. This means it will have to lay off a lot of its 151 staff and cut back on its myriad activities.

It seems that Stonewall does not want the public to scrutinise its list of member organisations. This is unsurprising given that these provide so much of its income.

Public bodies are leaving Stonewall

The press has started to learn that several other public bodies have pulled out either this year or last year. These include the House of Commons, the DVLA, the Crown Prosecution Service and North Wales Police. Sex Matters is crossing them off the list as information comes to light.

In reality, this time-lag begs the question as to why some of these cases were not known earlier. Until a few weeks ago Stonewall had a list of Diversity Champions Programme members on its website. All these public bodies were still included in it. Information now obtained under Freedom of Information proves that this list was not being updated by Stonewall. Why not? In leaving it as it was, it was misleading the public about the nature and extent of membership.

Channel 4 leaves Stonewall

Particularly significant is Channel 4’s recent decision to leave. Channel 4 had been promoting all things LGBT in a big way. In 2014 it aired an undercover documentary by Dr Christian Jessen aimed at discrediting ‘conversion therapy’. Jessen has since lost a libel case against Arlene Foster, the former First Minister of Northern Ireland. He had tweeted false allegations against her and attacked her Christian faith.

Channel 4 has also been very positively disposed towards Jayne Ozanne, who campaigns for a criminal ban on ‘conversion therapy’. As the Ozanne Foundation works very closely with Stonewall on this campaign, it will be interesting to watch how Channel 4 now deals with it. Perhaps it is relevant that in January this year Channel 4 aired an in-depth interview with Dr David Bell exposing problems at the Gender Identity Development Service.

Policy implications

All these and many more areas of work are affected by Stonewall’s lobbying and its Diversity Champions Programme. If you, like Alison Bailey, can be hassled at work for setting up an organisation that does not see eye-to-eye with Stonewall, it clearly isn’t possible to say that the programme only exists to help employees be treated fairly.

If Stonewall loses government support what does this mean for those public policies that Stonewall has campaigned for and implemented? It is worth looking at two of the most pressing policies, compulsory sex education and the campaign to ban ‘conversion therapy’.

Compulsory RSE and RSHP

RSE is due to start in England in September this year. In Wales, primary schools are meant to have RSE in place by September 2022 and in secondary schools by 2025. In Scotland RSHP is due to start. Stonewall has been closely involved in the implementation of RSE and RSHP. The fact that it has been uncomfortably close to decision-making will be illustrated here by reference to Wales. The Welsh Government-appointed Sex and Relationships Expert Panel developed the Welsh RSE curriculum outline. This was chaired by Professor Emma Renold, professor of Childhood Studies at Cardiff University. Renold is a proponent of feminist, queer theory and post-humanist ideas. Cardiff University is a member of the Stonewall Diversity Champions Programme. As the above-linked documentation shows, Stonewall was also a member of the expert panel. Moreover there is clear evidence that it responded to the Welsh Government’s consultation on RSE guidance in 2019, as did Cardiff University.

Here we have Stonewall both lobbying for and helping create RSE, all whilst the key institutions involved are members of its programme. There is no distance between Stonewall and government here, nor does there seem to be any critical stance from academia. Given that the RSE curriculum is so contentious, this is not at all acceptable. To make matters worse, many universities are members of the Stonewall Diversity Champions Programme, and these same universities teach PGCE courses. This suggests trainee teachers do not have much freedom to object to unsuitable parts of RSE training.

Proposal to ban ‘conversion therapy’

Last summer, plans to ban ‘conversion therapy’ in England and Wales were leaked to the Sunday Times. A government source claimed that this was promised “to placate LGBT people” in light of the decision not to reform the Gender Recognition Act. At the time, I showed that what this probably meant was either placating Stonewall or the Government Equalities Office.

Now Liz Truss has turned against Stonewall and wants the government to stop funding it. This means the government would no longer be funding Stonewall’s campaign to ban ‘conversion therapy’. The promised consultation on ‘conversion therapy’ is due to be published in September. If government departments leave Stonewall it’s hard to imagine Stonewall supporters inside government getting a look-in on how this consultation is to be drafted. Indeed, with Stonewall sidelined the only NGO seriously campaigning for a ban will be the Ozanne Foundation. This will be interesting because it will show how the entire controversy is really spiritual at root. The battle over ‘conversion therapy’ in the Church of England is closely linked to the battle over defining marriage.

Where the decision lies

The Times has been told that it is the Cabinet Office that is responsible for co-ordinating government bodies’ Stonewall membership. This only confirms that something is afoot. For the Government Equalities Office works closely with the Cabinet Office. Government departments have not yet been reported to be leaving Stonewall.

Alison Bailey’s hearing has been pushed back to April 2022. The Welsh Government is still consulting on the guidance and code for RSE. However, things are changing by the day as far as Stonewall is concerned. Schools in particular may yet decide that membership is unwise, especially once they are confronted with the realities of RSE in the classroom. All eyes will be on Stonewall’s fortunes throughout this summer, as so much is at stake.

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