At the heart of Stonewall, the UK’s biggest LGBT advocacy organisation, there is a paradox; it is at once a success and a failure. Focused and effective, over its thirty-one year history the charity has made staggering legal gains and transformed life for those in same-sex relationships. With the granting of same-sex marriage in 2013, legal parity between hetero, homo, and bisexual people was finally achieved. And yet, social structures are more stubborn, and with its narrow approach to reform, Stonewall has failed to address the source of prejudice. Exposing the relationship between sexuality and sexism was beyond the scope of Stonewall; and so into this ideological void was poured the politics of victimhood and money. Today, evidence of Stonewall’s errors are written in the scarred bodies of young lesbians who are increasingly identifying as men; it seems despite significant social changes in 2020, it is more acceptable to pretend to be a man than it is to live proudly as a lesbian. Despite record funding and acclaim, Stonewall has failed those it was founded to represent.
Today, government departments including M16 and the Cabinet Office, and huge players in the worlds of finance, media and the arts, all proudly display their membership of the ‘Stonewall Diversity Champions’ program. Indeed, the influence of Stonewall can be traced from the statute books right down to the rainbow laces worn by Premier League football players. Arguably, the increasing popularity of Stonewall maps onto their decline in relevance; rainbow lanyards and platitudes are cheap and present about as much of a threat to the status quo as a vacuous celebrity pledging to ‘save the polar bear.’
The world into which Stonewall was born was quite different. When at the point of ‘coming out’ and gaining acceptance, the burgeoning gay community was ripped apart by the AIDS crisis. The sex wars of the 1980s had split lesbian feminists from those who were antagonistic to the idea that sexuality could in any way be socially constructed. And there were marked differences between the focus of women and men within the movement; as Stonewall co-founder Pam St Clement pithily noted in 1994, "the women were into politics and the men wanted to cruise." Despite this, some new alliances of grassroots activists were formed between lesbians, gays and bisexuals; Stonewall was one of these.
Pundits and politicians regularly point to animosity over Brexit and the ongoing culture wars as evidence that the UK has never been more divided, but this is not necessarily true. In 1989, when Stonewall was formed, there was great antagonism between what were deemed the "loony left" excesses of the Greater London Council and the Conservative majority.
"The women were into politics and the men wanted to cruise."
The release in 1983 of the book Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin became a flashpoint for these tensions, and perhaps a microcosm of the wider debate. Ostensibly the children’s story was a black and white photobook of a little girl with two dads, but one photo showed the child in bed with the naked adult men. In Trigger Warning: My Lesbian Feminist Life scholar Sheila Jeffreys explains the response of some lesbians to the book. "We tried to get the gay men to understand that the photos of the girl in bed was disturbing to women who had suffered child sexual abuse," she said. Gay men did not seem to appreciate why the image was deemed problematic, and this prompted a further division. As is often so the way, the lesbian feminist analysis neither supported the patriarchal status quo nor the "malestream" liberal reaction to it.
Literature that sought to normalize adults’ same sex relationships to children became the source of much moral panic. In 1988 legislation was passed to ban the "promotion" of homosexuality by local authorities and in schools; this was the infamous Section 28 of the Local Government Act. Then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher made the case for the new legislation, arguing that children were "being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay… cheated of a sound start in life."
Tensions within the lesbian and gay communities mirrored suspicion from the outside, a hostile government and media made folk devils of homosexuals, portraying them as deviant and dangerous. Given this, it is perhaps not surprising that the approach Stonewall took was based on the simple aims of legal equality and best practice. It is easy to criticize Stonewall’s aversion to political or ideological analysis, but arguably, given the very real threats that same sex attracted people were facing, the pragmatic approach offered the best chance of making life better for those they represented.
Whilst most support came from the left, Stonewall had a presence at each of the political party conferences and, ultimately, it was their non-partisan approach that led to campaign success. When the progress toward same sex equality is considered, the obvious wins such as repeal of Section 28, and the lifting of the ban on homosexuals serving in the armed forces, are often at the forefront of discussions. But one very significant step forward was the overhaul of the Sexual Offences Act (2003) which was undertaken by the Labour government following lobbying by Stonewall in the 1990s. Consequently, in May 2004 the sexual offences of gross indecency and buggery, which had been used to unfairly target gay men engaging in acts that were legal for heterosexuals, were deleted from the statutes.
Changes under the new Labour administration happened quickly, and over ten years Stonewall grew in reputation and scope. When the Conservative administration passed the The Marriage Act in 2013, which recognized same sex marriage, there was little left for Stonewall to do. Whilst equal marriage enjoyed support from many within the lesbian, gay and bisexual communities, those with a feminist analysis felt let down. Academic and author Nicola Barker was quoted at the time in The Guardian as saying "What gets lost in the celebrations about 'equal marriage' is that marriage is not about equality; it's about perpetuating privilege… Same-sex marriage fits comfortably within the conservative ideology of the self-sufficient family and contributes to the politics of state austerity."
In the years between 2003 and 2013, Stonewall had gained charitable status and grown to an income of £4,334,054, triple what it had been a decade earlier. Whilst the promotion of "good practice" had long been embedded in Stonewall’s work, it became clear that if the charity were to continue to grow a new cause was needed.
"In the year after the T was added to the LG and B Stonewall’s income rocketed, most notably with a donation of $100,000 from the Arcus Foundation"
When Ruth Hunt took the helm in 2014 she canvassed support from high profile members of the lesbian community within the UK. It has been alleged that to secure support Hunt promised to make sure that Stonewall would retain its focus on advocating for same-sex attracted people rather than acceding to the demands of the transgender lobby. Later that year, after her appointment as Chief Executive, Ruth Hunt stated during an interview with The Guardian that Stonewall, “Would be opening conversations with the trans community.” She also made clear that: “Any change needs to be led by the trans community... we are very open to taking whatever direction will be in the best interests of that community.” The first meeting was held in August with fifty trans campaigners, the Chair of Stonewall Jan Gooding, Ruth Hunt and independent facilitator Caroline Ellis. Interestingly, since Hunt’s departure from Stonewall last year, she has gone into partnership with Caroline Ellis at the management consultancy Deeds and Words. In the course of the consultation, Stonewall claim to have "talked to over 700 trans people"; those Stonewall were originally founded to advocate on behalf of, lesbians and gays, were not consulted.
In the year after the T was added to the LG and B Stonewall’s income rocketed, most notably with a donation of $100,000 from the Arcus Foundation to "ensure full legal and social equality for trans people by integrating trans-specific work into all key campaigning and programs." Jon Stryker heads the Arcus Foundation, he is heir to the Stryker Corporation medical supply company fortune. It is unsurprising that someone whose wealth has come from the pharmaceutical industry might be inclined to promote transgenderism, as those who identify as trans often require life-long medication and surgeries.
Whilst Stonewall have never pretended to promote a feminist analysis, until recently, the charity did not actively oppose the rights of women. Today, thanks to the inclusion of the ‘T’, Stonewall is campaigning against the Equality Act (2010), positioning themselves in opposition to feminist aims. With the meaningless strapline, "acceptance without exception" Stonewall has been very successful at positioning "trans inclusivity" as the liberal default for the bien pensant. The result of this has seen Stonewall turn its attention to actively dismantling women’s rights in the UK; promoting the acceptance of men who identify as women in not only women’s single-sex hospital wards and prisons, but also women’s sports. Stonewall have even recently begun to lobby World Rugby to make the women’s game single gender rather than single sex; despite the fact that an independent report showed an increased risk of injury to women of 20-30 percent.
To feminists the hatred of lesbians and gay men is intimately tied to the threat they pose to the patriarchal status quo, to the norms of masculinity and femininity which prop up male supremacy. Simply by existing, and daring not to crave the attention of men, lesbians inspire fear and loathing. Similarly, gay men are deemed "unmanly" and marked out for ridicule, they are considered a threat. In reality, what is deemed "homophobia" is no more than a way of policing behavior, of not just forcing people into closets but also into gender. A more radical analysis than Stonewall’s might seek to use these ways of being to challenge the sexist stereotypes upon which patriarchy is based. Granted, this is a much harder sell to the general public and politicians.
"To those who are same-sex attracted, sex matters. To those who identify as transgender, sex itself is something to be overcome as discriminatory and outdated."
Angela Mason, Stonewall’s Director through most of the 1990s, wrote in Stonewall 25, "the need to create a shared sense of identity, a shared understanding of injustice, is common to all emancipation movements." But the yoking of T to the LGB undoes this; there can be no sense of commonality with a demographic whose ascension rests upon the suppression of others. Unsurprisingly, to those who are same-sex attracted, sex matters. To those who identify as transgender, sex itself is something to be overcome as discriminatory and outdated. Acceptance of the nonsense science of "gender identity" is at odds both with the liberation of women, and the advancement of lesbian and gay communities.
Undoubtedly, some people suffer from body dysmorphia, from profound psychological discomfort in their own skin. Such a phenomenon can also be found in those who seek to have limbs amputated, so called "apotemnophilia." Clearly, in such cases it is minds that are wrong, not people’s bodies, as it is no more possible for one’s "authentic self" to necessitate the removal of a limb than sex reassignment surgery. The online world has magnified these once rare disorders, spawning a plethora of communities where sufferers reaffirm one another’s delusions.
Unsurprisingly, given the pornography-soaked world we live in, the phenomenon of gender dysphoria is common among adolescent girls. "Lesbian" and to some extent "bisexual" have been reduced to pornographic categories, consequently the numbers of girls seeking to transition now out-number boys. Just ten years ago, around 70 percent of those referred to the Gender Identity Service at the Tavistock Clinic were boys who wished to become girls, today the numbers are reversed; 75 percent are girls who want to be boys. Research suggests the overwhelming majority of those who identify as the opposite sex as children would otherwise grow-up to be healthy gay men or lesbians. Interestingly, a disproportionate number are also autistic. It has been reported that clinicians at the Tavistock Clinic commonly remark that "soon there will be no gay kids left."
For adult men it cannot be denied that there is usually a sexual element to identifying as a woman, and announcing oneself as transgender is effectively being open about having a fetish. The symbols of women’s subordinate status are the very markers that men who consider themselves women aspire to; make-up, sexy clothes, and high heels. Indeed, Stonewall’s trans advisory panel member describes coming out by showing a photo of "herself" (sic) in a pleather skirt and high-heeled boots. Famously, Caitlyn (nee Bruce) Jenner described, "the hardest part of being a woman is knowing what to wear." In previous decades, in the UK, feminists fought to be free of the beauty practices which mark women out as existing for the benefit of men. Today, in South Korea, this struggle is championed in the "ditch the corset" movement. It should be noted, if the dismantling of social sex markers were successful, there would be no gender to transition: there would be men and women free to think, wear and do what felt authentic to them without the burden of sexist stereotypes.
"Soon there will be no gay kids left."
In 1994, Pam St Clement, one of the original co-founders of Stonewall, wrote "coming out made me feel like more of a woman. It gave me permission to be comfortable with myself, to enjoy my femaleness." Today’s Stonewall denies the very existence of "femaleness"; indeed, it has redefined homosexuality itself to fit the new lucrative trans inclusive agenda. To Stonewall, a homosexual is no longer someone who is exclusively same-sex attracted, rather it is a person "who has a romantic and/or sexual orientation towards someone of the same gender." Homosexuals themselves were not consulted on this change.
This year Stonewall embarked on a new international venture, Out of the Margins, purportedly to "address human rights violations faced by lesbians, bi women and trans people (LBT+) worldwide." One wonders if Stonewall will be supporting the lesbian and gay people in Iran who are forced to undergo brutal regimes of hormones and surgeries so that they can "correct" their bodies and become heterosexual
Stonewall’s descent, from lesbian, gay and bisexual advocacy to campaigning for men’s rights, is perhaps unsurprising. We are living through a time of extraordinary misogyny, and Stonewall shows it is impossible to retain neutrality in what is a war on women. Without a feminist analysis, any organization will revert to the patriarchal default; going with the flow is easier and supporting causes antithetical to women’s rights will always garner more support than promoting them. The peerage offered to Ruth Hunt could be seen in this way, a reward for selling out women. If we are to learn anything from the fall of Stonewall, surely it is that an organization which accepts the misogynist lie of gender can never be inclusive of feminists.
[Cover photo by Stonewall UK, 2015 Simon Callaghan Photography]
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