This Saturday, Stonewall UK is holding a closed doors meeting with a hand-picked group of established UK trans activists about how it might begin to support trans communities. In spite of assurances to the contrary when the meeting was announced, the list has only just been published. Nevertheless, the meeting is taking place, and I’d encourage everyone who can to write publicly about it or contribute to Stonewall’s current consultation.
While the question of what trans communities in the UK need is a greater one, the question of what Stonewall can do for us is still broad. Accordingly, I’ve broken this post into three parts: What Stonewall (the LGB charity) should already be doing, what past wrongs it must address, and what it might do in future (with trans communities).
Right now, Stonewall is nominally a Lesbian, Gay and Bi charity, though its charitable remit is broader (human rights) and its work narrower (predominantly Lesbian and Gay). As it stands, the treatment of trans people in Stonewall’s work is inexcusably sparse, even if criticism is constrained to our intersection with LGB communities. To continue functioning as a credible LGB organisation, Stonewall’s political materials at the very least must permit the possibility of trans LGB people. It is no longer tenable to praise and form partnerships with organisations whose LGB-friendly stock is rising while they simultaneously do active harm to trans LGB people.
Just as trans people are lesbian and gay, whatever the crises of representation in our own organisations, we are also bi, and people of colour. If Stonewall is to include trans people in its current work (as it should), that means addressing longstanding criticisms of its bi inclusion, as well as its complicity in a colonialist and whitewashed discourse around LGB liberation. In short, it should properly reflect the movement from which it took its name.
(Disclosure: I’m white and queer, so please refer to and signal-boost criticisms from bi communities and communities of colour over mine)
While all of Stonewall’s resources should adequately reflect the diversity of gendered experience within LGB communities, it owes an acute duty to LGB young people. Growing up LGB without a word for it is difficult. Growing up trans and having your gender dismissed as a facet of LGB experience can be devastating. Whatever its plans for the future, Stonewall must urgently integrate the possibility and validity of trans identities into its work on sex and relationships education
Over the last 10 years, Stonewall has often cited its limited remit as a reason not to intervene on behalf of trans people, while on the other hand having conversations which materially affect trans lives in private. The basis for any trans work on Stonewall’s part must be one of trust, including an acknowledgement of where its past work has been to the detriment of the UK’s trans communities.
Most recent is the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act. Prior to a complete about-face on the necessity of same-sex marriage in the UK, Stonewall’s former CEO suggested that conversations were had around resolving the forced divorce aspect of the Gender Recognition Act. It is vital that Stonewall disclose which conversations were had on the subject, with whom, and to what end.
There must also be some explanation of the appropriation of “Equal Marriage” – adopted by bi and trans activists to describe the law we needed – to describe a law which failed bi and trans people. Stonewall’s tacit acceptance of the spousal veto – in both its praise for Baroness Stowell, and continued reference to “Equal” Marriage – is not acceptable.
Less glamorous, though even broader in scope, is the Equality Act. Rushed into law during the parliamentary wash-up, through a civil service hostile to trans women, it’s deeply flawed. Most troubling is the explicit absence of harassment protection for LGB and trans pupils in schools. Stonewall and others have accepted this, citing cases which would informally be described as “harassment” and could be prosecuted.
What has never been shown is the necessity of removing explicit harassment protections when they remain for other relevant characteristics, and the curriculum is explicitly exempted in all cases. There is simply no way trans pupils – a supposed rarity when the act was drafted – would receive stronger protections than LGB pupils. As with the Marriage Act, it is impossible to assume good faith without knowing which conversations were had about this concession, with whom, and why.
There are countless media mishaps (some bigger than others) which also bear addressing, but in the interest of comparative brevity I’ll avoid them here. Suffice to say that where Stonewall has briefed the media to the detriment of trans people, it should be open to discussion with those affected on how to rectify any resulting harm.
Part 3 will follow, spoons permitting.