Yesterday, Saturday, was the day of the big Stonewall-Trans meeting in London. The briefest bit of background is in order for those who are not engaged in LGBT politics, or who are reading this in ten years time and don’t know what the fuss is about: Stonewall UK are an LGB organisation, not an LGBT organisation.

Historically, this has caused problems.

But Stonewall is under new management in the form of Chief Executive Ruth Hunt, who is keen to work with the trans communities and build bridges. A few of us have worked with Ruth from when she was the number two at Stonewall, and knew her to be approachable and someone we could work with so we were not walking into this completely blind.

What the meeting was not

One point that is quite clear from all that has been said is that the meeting itself is not definitive. It has certainly been influential, not least as a rare gathering of so may trans people who agreed if not on the detail, at least on the general direction we’d like this to go in. But Ruth is keen to hear from as many people as possible and Stonewall are still looking for feedback from trans people. (As an aside, please don’t think Stonewall can solve every niche issue faced by every trans person any more than they can do the same for the LGB community. Such expectations can only lead to disappointment. What working with Stonewall will give is better trans activism overall, not perfection.)

Any closer working with Stonewall is also not about services. Stonewall do not provide individual support and do not pursue legal actions on behalf of individuals, except as part of a more strategic outcome. Stonewall’s modus operandi is strategic, UK-wide lobbying, research and education/training.

Finally, the meeting was not about cis people. The only non-trans people present were Ruth Hunt herself, Stonewall’s chair Jan Gooding and the facilitator, Caroline. A number of cis people who were involved in (LGB)T organisations did ask to turn up but were told this was a meeting for trans folk only.

Concerns have been raised over the inclusivity of the meeting. Whilst no group can ever be perfect, I can certainly say it wasn’t awful: About a two-to-one trans feminine vs masculine split, (Which is roughly representative of the trans communities in the UK) clear non-binary representation, a spread of religious beliefs and not excessively London-centric or exclusively white. There was certainly also some representation from people with disabilities and I believe intersex people, but being invisible traits I can’t say how numerous that representation was.

Stonewall does also intend to hold separate meetings with PoC and other groups.

The options

The day was mostly about the how, rather than the what. What’s needed is something we all had experience of and Ruth outlined three options on the how, which formed the focus of the day. These were:

1. Stonewall becomes fully LGBT. All Stonewall’s output is LGBT-inclusive, as is all their fundraising.

2. Stonewall does “a bit” of LGBT, but also supports the community in setting up a sibling organisation. For the first year or two, this would involve mentoring, initial fundraising and shared back-office (HR, IT) resources.

3. Stonewall does not do T. Instead, they gives grants to trans organisations.

There was also a number 4 on the list, which is simply “Stonewall is a better ally”. This wasn’t discussed because Stonewall have committed to do this anyway, as they feel comfortable that they don’t need a mandate just to Do The Right Thing.

Where the meeting went

I shall skip several hours of discussions, in which many excellent points were raised in the various smaller groups. The quickest one sentence summary is “nobody likes option three”. (The Stonewall-gives-grants option) Many reasons were given for this but it boils down to any attempt by an LGB organisation to give grants appearing paternalistic, as well as the trouble of how LGB folk are supposed to know where money for T issues is best spent.

A number of attendees with experience of small organisations obtaining grants also commented on how taxing navigating grant applications can be for such groups.

Which of option one or two is best is a much harder call, particularly given that is can be viewed more as a range of options rather than strictly either/or.

The positive points about option one, Stonewall becoming entirely LGBT, is that Stonewall tends to be a one-stop-shop, with large organisations focusing on LGB issues for a while before finding some other equalities issues to worry about. Despite such groups being told by Stonewall that T is separate, they don’t quite get around to thinking about gender identity but just tick the “We did LGBT!” box and move on. If Stonewall deliver LGBT rather than LGB training and include the T when lobbying government bodies, that’s immediately a great deal more than we are getting right now.

The obvious drawback on that option is lack of autonomy of the trans community. Work will inevitably be focused on what LGBT needs this year and next year, not what T needs this year and next year, and trans issues can often court controversy which Stonewall is likely to be uncomfortable with. For example, there is not likely to be another LGB-centric bill going through parliament in the next decade or two so Stonewall will be less likely to focus on lobbying, but there are still a significant number of legislative changes being sought by trans people.

Option two, Stonewall having a sibling organisation, gives back that autonomy. What it does lose is the commitment from Stonewall itself to carry on doing the “T” long term once it has spun off such an sibling group. It also results in the loss of the contacts and influence Stonewall has that enables it to go into large organisations via it’s Workplace Equality Index and other initiatives.

The sweet spot appears to be somewhere between option 1¼ and 1¾, with a range of ideas on how that might look. Where we seem to be heading is towards Stonewall starting to do trans-inclusive work now, where “now” in such a complex organisation is more like “over the course of the next year, because lots of staff training needs to happen“. There were no concrete ideas at this stage on how this work would engage with trans people – either as employees or outside advisers, but Ruth was consistently and repeatedly clear that Stonewall will not be attempting anything without trans involvement.

The inclusive work is things like education/training campaigns (e.g. Some People are Gay would have also included “Some People are Trans, Get Over It”) as well as any lobbying work and research.

That leaves the trans-exclusive work which does not overlap with LGB issues: Gender Recognition Act reform, Spousal Veto, Sexual Offenses legislation, Healthcare and so on. Under a pure “Stonewall does LGBT” approach, some of this could be picked up but as it would result in a more major shift in campaigning it would not be quick, would take at least a year to get going and risks diverting some funding that existing T-exclusive organisations are already receiving. However, it looks more likely that Stonewall will help to set up a sibling trans-specific organisation to handle these issues instead.

Where next

As mentioned earlier, there is still more consultation that Stonewall would like to do. They are aiming to produce a summary document in January, which the Stonewall board will look at and trans folk will have the chance to comment on further.

The final report, with a definitive statement on Stonewall’s future intentions, is expected in April.

The departure of Ben Summerskill from Stonewall has renewed the age-old discussion about the relationship Stonewall has with trans folk. This is partially because the acting Chief Executive, Ruth Hunt, is known to be more trans-friendly but also due to an article written by Sarah Brown for Pink News. I’ve seen a few responses to this from the gay community, some of which are in the comments to the Pink News post – such as one person saying including the T in Stonewall would be “like having a blind man in a deaf support group“. The letter that Sarah published from a “Mr. W” is a good summary of the issues as seen from a gay cis (i.e. non-trans) male standpoint, so I’ll use that as a framework.

Firstly, who are Stonewall in this context? They are not the same organisation as Stonewall Housing or Stonewall Scotland, both of whom are trans-inclusive. The reason for the common name is that several organisations have named themselves after the Stonewall riots of 1969. Most narratives have the riots being started as a result of police harassment of trans women and cross-dressers, so the fact Stonewall use that name but don’t include trans issues generates friction from the outset.

It really should not be surprising then that there was the 2008 protest outside the Stonewall awards when noted transphobe Julie Bindel was up for an award: She was being nominated for an award in the name of riots started due to oppression of trans folk.

What Stonewall do campaign for is same-sex relationships, i.e. mostly focused on gay and lesbian issues, although bisexual folk such as myself do get a look-in as long as we’re in a same-sex relationship.

So, on to the letter Sarah published:

As far as I am aware from speaking to some of my trans friends, most believe that they are the sex that they wish to be transitioned to and they want usually to date people of the opposite sex. Its rare a man changes to woman and then dates a woman and the same goes for women wishing to do the same. Most trans people do not believe that they are gay and therefor I fail to see what the gay scene can offer them.

Research suggests that less than half of trans folk are heterosexual post-transition – some people are simply asexual, but there are as many people that identify as bisexual or homosexual post-transition as straight. It’s a common enough misconception though, because trans folk needed to fit a certain erroneous narrative in days gone by in order to access medical care but those dark days are now mostly behind us.

Regardless, there has always been a huge crossover. Many straight trans women started out as effeminate gay men or as cross-dressers, and many trans men started off within the lesbian scene. People’s identities may change, but they will still retain links with activist groups they used to be or continue to be members of. And homophobia, biphobia and transphobia all have common roots: “We don’t like people who transgress gender norms.”

There are some people who may never have identified with the LGB community in any way – either because they are straight and transitioned young before sexuality was an issue, or went from being heterosexual pre-transition to being heterosexual post-transition. But this is rare.

It is about time some one with your influence created an established advice line for trans people run by trans people, so that the right information can be given and when problems need to be talked over there is an adviser who will understand more closely what experiences the person have been through.

Stonewall and other gay charities raise most of the money through the gay, lesbian and bi volunteers collecting money and in this austere time it does not go far, they need that money for its intended purpose i.e to counsel and advise people in same sex relationships and safer sex.

…and this is really the big issue. Stonewall and the Lesbian and Gay Foundation soak up the lion’s share of funding aimed at the LGBT+ community, and until recently the lion’s share of lobbying time. Despite Stonewall being quite clear they don’t cover trans issues, people feel by consulting with or funding Stonewall in particular that they’ve “ticked the boxes” for the LGBT community and move on to other things. Even the Court of Appeal make this mistake: a judgement published just today on the “gay cure” bus adverts refers to “Stonewall, an organisation that works for equality and justice for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender individuals.

This leaves trans helplines, of which there have been a few, with little funding and even less access to publicity. This isn’t Stonewall’s fault, it’s a genuine misunderstanding on their part, but more needs to be done to ensure bisexual and trans campaigners and support groups get publicity.

As an aside, I’ll note the trans community isn’t immune from criticism in this regard. As I understand it, trans lobbyists pointed out to the Civil Service that the Gender Recognition Act 2004 would have a negative impact on intersex individuals but the Civil Service failed to actually talk to anyone suitable because it wasn’t pushed hard enough. When dealing with slow, bureaucratic organisations there is a tricky balance to be struck between being too passive and saying simply “we don’t do this” and inappropriate “white knighting”, i.e. speaking on behalf of people you shouldn’t.

Historically, Stonewall have managed to end up heavily on whichever side of that balance is worst for the trans community at that moment in time, but I am hopeful that will change.

In what appears to have been a colossally mis-judged own goal, an article published today in the Guardian and written by Stonewall UK’s media manager endorses the use of transphobia if it helps further their anti-homophobic campaign.

The trouble stems from an advertising campaign featuring run by Paddy Power in early 2012 that the Advertising Standards Authority banned, branding the campaign “likely to cause serious offense” and “irresponsible”. When it was announced that Stonewall were teaming up with Paddy Power with a rainbow laces campaign, it was met with some grumbling from trans activists, but given Stonewall’s long history of working with transphobes it was hardly news.

However, today’s article appears to be the first time Stonewall UK have said the transphobic actions of someone else are actually helpful in working against homophobia:

It was clear from the very start of the campaign that working with an organisation like Paddy Power would allow us to communicate directly with fans, players and clubs in a way we simply wouldn’t have been able to had we worked alone. This, coupled with Paddy Power’s reputation for eye-catching, and yes, at times risqué campaigns would allow us to draw attention to the issue of homophobia in football.

Just in case the reader was in any doubt what was meant by “risqué campaigns”, the link (Yes, that’s in the original article) points to another article discussing the banning of the transphobic Paddy Power adverts.

Looks like Stonewall UK are back to being S’onewall again.

Update: The author of the original article has now “unambiguously condemned” the Paddy Power transphobic campaign, stating that the link to stories about it was added by the Guardian after the article was written.

Time Out magazine have published Pride London’s “Power List” for 2011. I’ll save you some time looking: One Trans person on the list, Christine Burns OBE, at number 96. I’m not sure if I should be annoyed at Pride for insulting the Trans community by (mostly) excluding us or annoyed that the community has so little “power” that we barely even register in the top 100.

Oh, a quick look at the judges might be in order – one of the three is Bun Summerskill. Ah, that will be why so many Stonewall award winners, chief executives, directors and so on feature on the list and so few Trans people.

(Only the inclusion of Christine Burns at 96 has stopped me from writing a very annoyed letter to Pride London, asking them to rebrand this to an “LGB” power list and not an “LGBT” one)

Stonewall do seem to struggle when figuring out which campaigns to support, don’t they?

No, they haven’t failed to support one this time. Instead they’ve decided to jump on last decades Jedi bandwagon by asking people to list their religion as “Lesbian”. This is a really bad idea for two reasons.

Firstly, putting any religion in there will mark you down as religious, no matter how silly it is. It’s far better, as the Census Campaign have been urging people to do, to tick “No Religion”. And secondly, the reason for the Census Campaign in the first place is that previous censuses have returned bad data – and the ONS survey results suggest that a census sexuality question would fare no better.

Yes, this is a bad enough idea that Amy Lame, who had the original idea, changed her mind about it.

I just couldn’t resist a quick blogpost when I saw the news that the UK parliament is creating an LGBT group for MPs, Lords and staff with the not-so-catchy title “Parliout”. There’s going to be a party at the speakers house and everything! Being a self-professed LGB and T group, they will of course be inviting all the high profile Trans parliamentarians… except we don’t have any. How about anyone who is Trans who works in Parliament itself? Or even some senior Trans civil servants from other departments? Nope, none I’m aware of.

In fact, I would hazard a guess that there will not be a single Trans individual present at next Monday’s event, much as there were no Trans individuals present at the Prime Ministers LGB-supposedly-T reception prior to Pride London earlier this year. I would be really happy to be proved wrong, but sadly I’m getting cynical about such things. Hey, I’m sure I can free up a space in my diary on Monday if they want someone to come along! I don’t mind tokenism if it means I’m the one who gets to eat the canapés and Champagne for a change…

Guess who they consulted over the formation of this group? None other than our old friends Stonewall, which explains quite a bit.

Please do not claim the T unless you can show you are entitled to it. We have a word for that: It’s called “Appropriation”. And it makes me cross.

In more not-news, the Stonewall demonstration has been cancelled, following their partial U-turn over marriage equality and complete U-turn over the Journalist of the year award nominations.

There are still outstanding issues. Stonewall are explicitly against opposite-sex civil partnerships and want to preserve that as something “special” for LG(b) folk. There is an argument that opposite-sex civil partnerships are not an LGB issue, but that fails on two counts: Firstly, Stonewall should not be against them, as they are, on that score but should leave them alone. Secondly, and more importantly, Bisexual folk might want to get a Civil Partnership rather than a Marriage despite being in an opposite-sex relationship. (For those who want to continue to work towards Equal Marriage, the Equal Love campaign is worth a look.)

There is also the “FIT” video Stonewall produced. If you haven’t seen it, the relevant clip is available on YouTube. Whilst bad (It uses the word “Tranny”) it’s not screaming-and-throwing-things-at-the-computer bad, more just bang-head-on-desk-in-frustration bad. The director, Rikki Beadle-Blair, has publicly apologised for this and the apologies are very genuine. I believe any problems with this video are probably down to Stonewall not being a Trans organisation and thus being unable to get any real input on what is or isn’t acceptable in such a video rather than any failings on the part of Rikki. Stonewall should have realised this and steered clear of the topic.

And the last point is Stonewall’s apparent consultation with the government on the Gender Recognition Act. Fortunately, I suspect we’ve been banging on the door of the government hard enough for the last few months that they’re not likely to take too much notice of Stonewall without checking with us first.

Despite all that, I think calling off the demonstration is the right thing to do. We have a set of smaller points which doesn’t work so well at a demo when you only have seconds to get the message across to attendees. We’ve proven that the LGBT communities can rally a large amount of grass-roots support if necessary and thus have secured major concessions from Stonewall under the threat of a demonstration. If it went ahead now, there would be no reason for anyone else we threaten to protest to back down.

The Pink Paper are reporting that Stonewall have “joined the fight for gay marriage equality”! Excellent news! Lets see what Stonewall have to say about it:

We seek to secure marriage for gay people as a civil vehicle on the same basis as heterosexual marriage, available in a registry office but without a mandate on religious organisations to celebrate it. We seek to retain civil partnerships for lesbian and gay people recognising their special and unique status.

Hang on, something isn’t right here. Who mentioned vehicles? A civil what? And yes, much of the LGBT population of the UK would probably describe Stonewall as “unique” in many respects…

Oh, wait, I understand: They’ve been watching Yes, Minister. “Always get rid of the tricky part in the title. It does less damage there than in the text.” So if we announce it as marriage equality, hopefully people won’t actually read what we said and might think we’re doing something, right?

While it’s possible they’ve just worded this really, really badly I’m sure you’ll forgive me for a touch of cynicism, given that Stonewall hardly have a positive track record when it comes to this sort of thing. If we take what they’ve written at face value, it seems that the only item Stonewall “seek to secure” is the ability to get hitched in a registry office and call it a marriage, with a slightly confused note tacked on at the end about the law allowing Civil Partnerships to be celebrated in churches.

Allowing churches – through their own choice – to conduct gay marriages in churches? No, doesn’t look like they’re in favour of that.

Supporting straight civil partnerships? Whoa! That would just be too radical.

P.S. As I was typing this, Stonewall posted a press release on their web site on the topic.

An update for anyone who doesn’t follow me on Twitter (And if you’re a Twitter user, why not? I’m @zoeimogen) or didn’t see it earlier – Stonewall have removed Bill Leckie from their list of nominees for Journalist of the Year 2010. According to the Pink Paper, Stonewall said simply it has been “withdrawn” and they’re “sorry for any offence this has caused.”

I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised by this turn of events. I’m hoping Stonewall will have an epiphany on other issues soon, such as Marriage Equality.

Stonewall tried to defend themselves against the revelations that they’ve nominated someone they themselves labelled transphobic for an award, but seem to have spectacularly failed. Given that on Twitter they have been pointing people at this Pink Paper story, it seems reasonable to say that it’s a good representation of their position.

They are pointing out that Bill Leckie, the journalist in question, has been much nicer recently and mention his positive article on Gareth Thomas last year. Of course, Gareth Thomas is gay, not Trans, so the fact that Leckie has been nice to gay people isn’t directly relevant. Bindel was nice to Lesbian and Gay people too, but the Trans community are still not particularly enamoured of her.

You think Stonewall might have learnt their lesson from Bindel, but it seems not.

Myself and a number of others responded to Stonewall on Twitter yesterday afternoon and asked them if Leckie has written anything Trans-positive since 2007 – but so far, we have not had a reply. Trans Media Watch have also publicly called on Leckie to disown his transphobic article, which may result in a positive outcome although no thanks to Stonewall.

As an interesting aside, I’ll note that the Pink Paper contribution on behalf of Stonewall UK was by Laura Doughty, the deputy Chief Executive of Stonewall, rather than Ben Summerskill. It’s possible – indeed, even likely – that Summerskill was simply busy yesterday but it may be worth keeping an eye on who is being the public face of Stonewall in case the winds of change are finally blowing through the dusty halls of Stonewall Towers.