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Stonewall and the Labour Party – a commentary by Labour Women’s Declaration

Stonewall is a well-funded lobby group, with corporate links and funding. It is not a democratic campaign and is increasingly out of step with the views of lesbian and gay people. The Labour Party should not be paying a lobby group to mark its own homework and should initiate a review of its annual subscription and membership fees to this increasingly discredited organisation.

The influence of lobby groups on politicians and parties is problematic and has been exposed in many different situations over the years. With regard to Stonewall, another potentially damaging scandal is brewing in relation to the use and influence of an organisation whose ‘training’ has been shown to mislead and misrepresent the law (as Akua Reindorf’s report for Essex University demonstrated so clearly). Its recommendations have also resulted in inconsistent and undefined concepts infiltrating the Party’s governance and disciplinary procedures. When membership is refused (or disciplinaries applied) to women for ‘suspected hostility to (an undefined) ‘gender identity’ – the problems have become real, impact the lives of members and the daily workings of the Party’s organisation – damage is no longer just a possibility but a reality. And the forms of wording now used by the party have been used to deny membership, to disqualify members from being candidates for office or to prevent members from speaking or participating in party fora and meetings.  Furthermore, the absence of Equality Impact Assessments and the inconsistent collection of appropriate sex-based data seriously impedes the Party’s duties under the Equality Act it brought into law.

 

  1. Stonewall’s agenda is ideological and focuses on a particular interpretation of trans and identity politics which is extreme and unconcerned with either the impact on other areas of equality or the integrity of its information and processes. Their approach asserts the primacy of ‘gender identity’ without regard for the impact on women’s rights, the rights of religious and cultural minorities, nor the many lesbians and gay men who are appalled at the unilateral re-writing of their sexual orientation as ‘gender preference’ which has taken place as a result of this ideology. It should be noted that the meaning of the term trans has, led by Stonewall, radically altered over recent years. In relation to previous legislation it meant those diagnosed with gender identity dysphoria. It has now become an umbrella term for anyone who feels they do not fit the stereotypes associated with their sex, and indeed, anyone at all can declare themselves trans. The adoption, (pre-empting law) of self-identifying has significant implications both in terms of the number of people and the nature of people now included within the term. This also has many further consequences for the operation of the law, data collection, single-sex services, the appropriation of language and, in the conflation of sex and gender, the wider cultural understanding of biology, sex, sexuality and the social stereotypes that constitute gender.

 

Being part of Stonewall’s Diversity Champions scheme has already had a big impact on the Labour Party, bringing ‘gender identity’ in by the back door, with none of the usual democratic processes of discussion and scrutiny and leading to a situation in which the party relies on concepts it cannot define. At best, gender identity refers to an individual’s notion of themselves, is fluid and changing, and encompasses many similarly ill-defined concepts from queer to non-binary, agender and many, many more. Establishing procedures (and as is being tried in Scotland changes to legislation) on such shifting sands is a doomed enterprise. The totalitarian approach of Stonewall in these matters illustrates the intractable nature of these problems.

 

Firstly Stonewall doesn’t promote gender as a different category, to be considered in addition to sex, but instead of sex.  This has led to situations, for example, where young men who ‘identify’ as women can, and have been allowed to occupy the posts of Women’s Officer even though LGBT officer posts also exist. The recent statements from Labour politicians that sex and gender are different are a welcome recognition that needs to now be applied to the areas where ‘gender identity’ has been allowed to replace sex, from governance to policy matters. Information on how people see their gender can be collected, but it must not replace sex as a material category and one which is a crucial foundation for the Equality Act and any work which the party seeks to do in countering inequality. We should not have to point out that women’s oppression and inequality is still very evident across our society from the stubborn pay gap to childcare provision to male violence and the hugely damaging industry of porn which has led to increases in the visibility and prevalence of misogyny across our social institutions and culture.

 

Secondly Stonewall has condemned any dissent from its own view as bigoted. It has misrepresented and libelled organisations and individuals, presented poor research as evidence and refused to either engage in reasonable discussion nor to allow for negotiation and compromise where real life problems are encountered. The Party has condoned this approach, very much in contradiction with its own values of respectful discussion and transparent, evidence-based policies and processes, dismissing the debate as toxic, irrelevant and ‘six of one’. Let us state, unequivocally that the violent suppression of informed debate on these topics has come from one side. The characterisation of dissenting views as illiberal and bigoted, and in particular the harassment of women and women’s organisations who have sought to enter this debate, has led to a shameful situation, recently exposed to very public scrutiny in the abuse and barracking of one of its own women MPs in Parliament, by other Labour, male MPs. Failing to condemn this misogyny has exposed the Party to very unfavourable comments and added to the perception that the Labour Party has not found a way of dealing honourably and honestly with this area of conflict and has thrown its women under the bus.  This is just a shadow of the harassment many women, including our MPs have endured in social media and has led to a situation where many are afraid to express their views – the leadership of the Party must make it clear that this is a completely unacceptable state of affairs or the Party will continue to lose credibility, trust and women members. The narrowly-focused Stonewall agenda is almost completely irrelevant to the agenda the Party should be aiming for in relation to women’s equality, from childcare to benefits to controlling the spread of male violence, misogyny and online harm – what it does rather is to undermine the basis on which work for women’s equality is based ie sex-based oppression.

 

  1. Stonewall is a discredited organisation and many of the previous clients for their Diversity training programmes have discontinued their involvement and distanced themselves recognising that the quality and reliability of the training and information they provide is compromised and affects their own integrity and independence. The work done by Akua Reindorf in her report for Essex University clearly shows that misleading and inaccurate information on, for example, the Equality Act and protected characteristics was a regular part of their training and has been shown to potentially seriously mislead some employers as to their responsibilities and the workings of the Act (Legal Feminist). Many government departments, the BBC and academic institutions including most recently the LSE have reviewed their membership and ended their association.

Poor and inaccurate training results in confusion and can lead to embarrassment for employers. Stonewall insists, for example, that trans-identified people can use the toilet of their choice but this is simply not true and employers have a duty to make safe, single-sex provision.

 

  1. Stonewall purports to be the centre for excellence, the voice and reference point for lesbian and gay issues although their focus, for some years now has been almost exclusively on their umbrella definition of a trans community (self-definition means it can be used by anyone from cross-dressers to those who undergo surgery to those who undergo no form of transition). It’s hard to bring to mind any active work based, for example, on the needs of lesbians. To the contrary, the insistence that men can be lesbians has seriously undermined the lesbian community’s ability to create its own social and political presence based on single-sex events and services. The overly-promoted, inadequate research  proffered by Stonewall as proof of their foundational statements such as ‘trans people are the most marginalised and oppressed group in society’ has been thoroughly questioned and discredited. For example, there is no creditable  research that shows a greater risk of suicide amongst young trans identified people, and being trans has been shown to be one of the safer demographics when it comes to male violence. The misuse of international statistics and pretentious ‘days of remembrance’ encourages misplaced fear and hostility amongst young people and a misplaced perception of the actual needs of trans-identified people.

 

Stonewall and their adherents show a complete lack of recognition of the impact of their work on other minoritized or marginal groups, and that is scandalous. The absolute insistence on the clearly contradictory slogan that ‘trans women are women’ (only men can be trans women, and indeed, it is not possible to change sex) has led to the highly contested placing of rapists in women’s prisons’ the denial of the presence of a rapist on a women’s hospital ward and other such disturbing incidents – without regard to the violation of women’s rights and safety. Where services are made mixed-sex in the interests of ‘inclusion’, many women from religious and cultural backgrounds are consequently excluded.

The growth of a number organisations formed by lesbian and gay people who profoundly disagree with Stonewall’s single-minded promotion of ‘gender identity’ shows that there is great disagreement with them and many feel deeply betrayed as their sexual orientation is unilaterally redefined by the lobby group as ‘gender identity’ preferences. Court cases revolving around self-appointed organisations that have also pursued Stonewall’s ideology, such as Mermaids, legal challenges to their interference in individual’s employment and the guidance documents being withdrawn by educational authorities – all these incidents and many more add to the picture of an ideology which is disintegrating in the light of reality and the exposure of dubious practices.

There is great disquiet too about the impact this approach from Stonewall is having on the wider public who are being asked to believe that there is a single community of interest covering the LGBTQI+ alphabet which purports to include everyone from homosexuals to cross dressers to sexual fetishists to, to people with a genetic disorder and a number of categories no one understands. What, for example, does the plus (LGBTIQ+) stand for?  And, it should be noted, there is an ever-growing number of voices from de-transitioners and trans-identified people who fundamentally disagree with the Stonewall approach.  The conflation of sexual orientation (LGB) with ‘gender identity’ is as wrong-headed and damaging as the deliberate confusion caused by the conflation of sex and gender.

In the interests of practical and effective policy-making and implementation the LGBTQI+ amalgam must be disaggregated. The various groups and communities encompassed are very different and there is no single agenda that works for all. To continue to use the expression is an empty political gesture which could not lead to appropriately targeted policies.

 

  1. LWD has had serious concerns about training on these subjects across the Party for some time. How are training organisations chosen, what are the quality controls, why is one area of Equality privileged over the others and the training not given across all the legally- defined protected groups? And what is the expenditure on such training? We have asked questions and not been answered.  Other self -appointed training organisations such as Gendered Intelligence are the subject of similar concerns about inaccurate and ideologically-driven training being deployed by the Party. It is ironical that the Party that originated and achieved the Equality Act 2010 should commission training from dubious organisations who have been shown to mislead and misrepresent the provisions and workings of that same Act. We do not believe that continuing with the Diversity Champions scheme is in the best interests of inclusion or of responsible, balanced and clear policies and procedures across the Party.

The documentary series ‘Nolan Investigates Stonewall’ raises many questions about the way this organisation works and the impact it has in organisations such as the BBC that have engaged in its programmes. It is recommended for further information on many of the comments made in this statement.

 

THE WAY FORWARD

 

Recently front-bench MPs have acknowledged that sex and gender are not the same.

This has been clearly shown by the debacle over rapists in women’s prisons with some of the most vulnerable women in our communities put at risk.

Kier Starmer has reiterated that we need a respectful debate which includes opposing views.

The Party needs to make these statements mean something.

We need policies with clear commitments and understanding of the sex-based oppression of women. Attempts to substitute ‘gender identity’ for sex need to be undone.

 

We need women to be able to be able to take part in debate, without fear of harassment and condemnation, across all levels of the Party, from CLPs to Parliament.

 

There must be a lead taken from the top of both the Party’s political and governance structures that misogyny and harassment will not be tolerated.

 

The Party’s relationship with Stonewall and similar ideologically-driven lobby groups must be re-examined. Their role in training and the influence over procedures and policies must be scrutinised. A programme of training on equalities, based on accurate information which takes the full range of protected characteristics into account needs to be developed by reputable training organisations. Training should never be used as a trojan horse to embed a contentious political agenda and ideology.

 

When considering policies in these areas, Equality Impact Assessments need to be undertaken (as current policy mandates) and there must be evidence-based deliberation and decision making which looks at the real-life, practical implications of policies and practices. The safety, well-being and opportunities of one group should never be sacrificed to a flawed and discredited deology.

 

 

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