Unravelling Stonewall

Stonewall UK, “the lesbian, gay and bisexual charity”, has recently – and not for the first time – found itself the centre of perhaps unwanted attention following a number of controversial statements by its executive chief, Ben Summerskill. The tale over recent weeks has been long and tangled and this post is more of an attempt to unravel it than anything else.

First, Mr Summerskill was reported to have said at a fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrats’ party conference last month that he was opposed to the same sex marriage (SSM) equality policy – which would allow straight and gay couples to have the option of both marriage and civil partnerships – because it could cost up to £5 billion.

To which the Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Gilbert, who proposed the policy, argued that it should not be subject to a cost/benefit analysis and was later reported as saying that “It should not be for me as an MP to lobby Stonewall to support gay equality, it should be for Stonewall to lobby me”.

The exchange was believed by some of those attending to be an argument against SSM by Mr Summerskill although he said he was still consulting with Stonewall supporters about it. The policy was subsequently adopted at the Liberal Democrats’ party conference.

Then, a week later, Mr Summerskill caused another stir at another fringe event, this time at the Labour conference in Manchester, when he attempted to defend Stonewall’s apparent lack of any position on marriage equality. He stated that Stonewall would not be “jumped into” declaring a position on the issue and that there remained a “wide range of viewpoints” on the matter.

At the same meeting a member of LGBT Labour, Darren McCombe, raised the subject of the current legislation enacted in the Gender Recognition Act which requires transsexual women and men to end their marriages in order to obtain full Gender Recognition Certificates. Mr Summerskill acknowledged the “terrible unfairness” of this situation but said he had been in talks with ministers and officials about amendments to the GRA. This sudden and unexpected interest in trans issues by the GLB charity caused an interesting variety of responses from members of various trans communities.

Now it seems that a further controversy is about to erupt following the announcement of the nominees for their 2010 awards. In 2008 there was a groundswell of opposition to Stonewall’s nomination of a journalist known to many TS/TG women and men for her transphobic views, and which culminated in the largest recorded public protest in Britain by TS/TG women and men outside that year’s awards ceremony in London.

Could history be about to repeat itself? I begin to wonder if it might be a possibility, now that the nomination of Bill Leckie for the same Journalist Of The Year Award has been made public. In 2007 Mr Leckie was criticised by, of all people, Stonewall Scotland for his writing on trans issues, which was held up by that organisation as an example of extremely transphobic writing. The following year, 2008, he wrote that those trans people who are convicted of criminal offences should be denied the right to assert their own gender identities.

Stonewall’s deputy chief executive, Laura Doughty, has now attempted to justify the nomination, claiming that it’s for Mr Leckie’s “recent, pro-equality journalism”. It transpires that Mr Leckie wrote an article for The Sun in December 2009 about a sports star which “showed a passionate, powerful defence of LGBT equality in sport”. So apparently just one relevant article in an entire year is enough to qualify Mr Leckie for a nomination for the Journalist Of The Year Award. I can think of a few people who might be somewhat less than impressed by that news.

Be that as it may, it will be interesting, to say the least, to see how this latest controversy continues to develop over the next few weeks as we count down to this year’s Awards Ceremony on November 4th. And for anyone wishing to Demonstrate against Stonewall duplicity and transphobia, there’s a Facebook event page here.

A baying mob, two years ago.

The photo is from 1queer1’s Stonewall Protest photo set and used in compliance with the Creative Commons License for non-commercial use.