Comment: Imagining a trans-inclusive Stonewall
Ruth Pearce reflects on attending the first meeting between Stonewall and trans people which took place on Saturday, and is party of a consultation process on whether the charity will begin to lobby on trans issues.
“The meeting actually went pretty well, didn’t it?”
I heard a number of variations upon this statement echo around the pub we gathered in on Saturday evening, as some 40-odd trans activists digested the day’s work. There was an undertone of incredulity: most of us had managed our expectations carefully in advance of the day. This was due in part to the fractious nature of trans communities, but also stemmed from our difficult history with Stonewall.
Back in 2008, many of us had been present at a loud, colourful demonstration outside the Victoria and Albert Museum as it hosted the annual Stonewall awards. We were there to express our displeasure at an organisation that didn’t simply exclude trans people, but seemed to keep making mistakes that caused harm to us.
A lot can happen in six years. Change has come from two directions: from continued external pressure from trans people, but also from a genuine willingness to reconsider matters from Stonewall following a shift in management in February.
In this post, I outline the themes and outcomes of a meeting held on Saturday to discuss potential options for trans inclusion in Stonewall. I will repeat some of the points made by CN Lester and Zoe O’Connell in their accounts of the day, but recommend you also have a look at what they have to say. For an idea of what is at stake, I recommend posts by Natacha Kennedy and Kat Gupta, as well as my previous writing on the topic.
A meeting with trans activists
The meeting – held in central London – was attended by a large number of trans activists who had been directly invited to the event, as well as three cis attendees: new Stonewall CEO Ruth Hunt, Jan Gooding who is Chair of trustees for the group, and a facilitator (who, incidentally, did a very good job).
A number of us felt that a more open meeting or more transparent means of securing invitation would have been beneficial. I’ve made my own views about this clear (particularly on social media) but in this post I will focus upon what we actually achieved, and what will happen next.
The event was in some ways quite diverse, and in others ways very limited in terms of representation. There were a wide variety of experiences represented, and views from across the political spectrum. There were a great range of gender identities represented, although a particularly large part of the group were trans women. There were attendees from across England and Wales, with James Morton from the Scottish Transgender Alliance present to talk about the situation in Scotland (where Stonewall is an LGBT organisation). The group was overwhelmingly white. There were a number of disabled people present, but not many with experiences of physical impairment.
Several commentators have stated that Stonewall were responsible for the make-up of the meeting, and therefore could have made more effort in terms of inviting a diverse range of participants. This is true, but I feel that trans activists also need to step up and take some responsibility here. Most of our loudest voices are white trans women like myself. We need to keep our own house in order: by reaching out to communities of trans people from under-represented groups, by “boosting the signal” and talking about the work of trans people from under-represented groups, and by ensuring that it’s not just us with places at the table.
It’s worth noting that this event was framed by Ruth as one part of a far wider consultation on Stonewall’s future engagement with trans issues. If you’re trans please ensure that your voice is heard in this. You can do so by writing to Stonewall here, or by emailing:[email protected]. There will be more about the next steps of consultation later in this post.
The meeting ultimately had two purposes: to move on from the problems of the past, and examine potential options for future collaboration between Stonewall and trans communities.
An apology from Ruth Hunt
The day began with a refreshingly honest admission of fault on the part of Stonewall from Ruth. She offered a point-by-point account of how Stonewall has let trans people down over the past few years, and offered both apology and explanation for these incidents, as well as an account of how these are now being addressed.
This was not the main focus of the day, instead clearing the air from the start to enable a productive discussion. However, I feel it is important to provide a public record of this session: if we are to collectively move on from the past, then we need to remember that Stonewall has demonstrated a commitment to change.
Some of the issues discussed by Ruth included:
- Nominating transphobic individuals for awards. This was acknowledged as a mistake, and we were assured that nominees are now scrutinised more carefully (not just for transphobia).
- Insensitive use of language in Fit, Stonewall’s video resource for schools. Ruth explained that the inappropriate section has been removed from the DVD.
- Stonewall’s campaign with Paddy Power, who were severely rebuked by Advertising Standards Authority for a transphobic advert in 2012. Ruth noted that Stonewall is now using its relationship with Paddy Power feed back on advertising they consider to be offensive (interventions which are not just limited to addressing homophobia) which has resulted in a number of changes being made.
- Stonewall representatives speaking out inappropriately and/or not speaking out on trans issues whilst lobbying Government and MPs. There’s a long and complex history here that I’m not going into in this post: suffice to say that one aim of Saturday’s meeting was to ensure that this is done better in the future.
There was also significant evidence that Stonewall is undergoing major institutional change in regards to trans issues. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Ruth had emphasised seeking a solution to the organisation’s difficult relationship with trans people when applying for the position of CEO, and that this was viewed favourably by trustees who considered her job application. Trans employees of Stonewall are reportedly more likely to be “out” and feel comfortable speaking about trans issues and concerns.
What’s on the table?
We then moved onto the main point of the event: to discuss proposals for a new relationship between Stonewall and trans people. There were four options for us to consider in group conversations, with attendees also encouraged to suggest any additional solutions that might not have been considered.
The options were:
- A fully inclusive LGBT Stonewall, which considers campaigning on trans issues to be a full part of its remit.
- Stonewall becomes nominally LGBT, but also funds and provides resources and guidance for the creation of a new, effectively autonomous trans organisation to work on trans campaigns. This organisation will eventually become independent, but can work closely with Stonewall.
- Stonewall remains LGB, and provides grants for a number of trans organisations so they can do their own campaigning work.
- Stonewall remains LGB, and works to be a better ally.
Ruth explained that option (4) was not really favoured by Stonewall, particularly given the appetite for a closer relationship amongst many trans activists. The general feeling of the room reflected this, and we focussed our discussion upon the first three options.
Option (3) was largely rejected also. Criticisms raised included concerns about who would get the money, the impact of competition between smaller trans organisations, about what the conditions might be for such grants, and the amount of money and energy that would be spent by both Stonewall and trans groups on managing the system and applying for grants – money and energy that could be better spent on actual campaigning. Ruth further pointed out that Stonewall doesn’t actually have a lot of money to spare, outlining how money is currently spent on Stonewall’s employees and existing campaigns. If the grant scheme was to go ahead, then there would likely be a knock-on effect on (for instance) campaigning in schools, and Stonewall might need to apply for extra money from funding pots that are already used by trans groups.
Options (1) and (2) both had great deal of support from within the room. Several groups suggested variations upon an “option 1.5″ that sat between the two – proposals included the creation of a “trans department” within Stonewall, and semi-autonomous “sibling” organisation linked permanently to Stonewall.
There was a pretty clear consensus on the following points at the end of the day:
- Barring the unexpected (e.g. widespread opposition from trans people contributing to the public consultation) Stonewall will become an LGBT organisation, in one form or another.
- Any eventual solution should provide for joint ‘LGBT’ campaigning on shared issues, such as homophobia and transphobia in schools.
- Any eventual solution should provide for campaigning on trans-specific issues, such as on relevant legislation (e.g. the Gender Recognition Act and amendments to the recent Marriage Act) and on addressing issues with health care.
- Future campaigning work must be intersectional, recognising the diversity of trans experience in areas such as gender identity, race, disability and age.
What happens next?
- The public consultation will continue for several months. If you’re trans, please make sure your voice is heard!
- There will be further meetings held with people from under-represented groups. This is a vital opportunity to address the problem of diversity at Saturday’s meeting. Stonewall are planning meetings with people from a number of groups, including intersex people as well as trans people of colour, disabled trans people and young trans people. If you want to attend one of these meetings, please contact Stonewall: [email protected]
- There will be a formal proposal for trans inclusion in Stonewall made in January 2015 in the shape of a report. This will then be consulted upon internally (i.e. within Stonewall) and externally (i.e. amongst trans people).
- A final decision on the future of Stonewall should be made in April 2015. If this involves full trans inclusion and/or the creation of a new trans group, this will take several months to implement.
It’s important to note that this is not a process that can take place overnight! The process of consultation is lengthy in order to take on board the views of as many trans people as possible. We have such a range of perspectives that there is no chance that everyone will be happy, but the aim is for change to be trans-led, and to reflect the desires and interests of as many people as possible.
Once the consultation ends, its results cannot be implement immediately either. Stonewall may need to revise its priorities and work plans, and Ruth noted that a full-scale programme of training on trans issues and awareness will be necessary for the organisation’s staff.
I feel positive about the future. There is so much unnecessary suffering amongst the trans population that allies are vital, and Stonewall could be a particularly large and powerful ally.
I believe in diversity of tactics to bring about change, and Stonewall takes a particularly centrist, “insider” approach to this. It is vitally important that Stonewall is never the only voice in LGBT activism, and that other groups continue to take more radical approaches to trans campaigning. It is also important that we remain capable of critiquing Stonewall, and holding it to account. Ultimately though, I’d rather be a critical friend than an entrenched foe.
Ruth Pearce is a trans activist, researcher, and member of punk band Not Right.