I thought things with Stonewall had settled down some. With just over two weeks to go until the Stonewall Awards Protests (Outside the V&A Musuem on the 4th November) it appeared as if there might be a whole week in which they did not manage to screw something up.

But no, it was not to be – on Tuesday, Stonewall announced the nominees for their 2010 awards. And one of the people nominated for Journalist of the Year is someone who Stonewall have themselves pointed out as an example of transphobic reporting.

It seems that back in 2007 a subsidiary of Stonewall, Stonewall Scotland, published a report on LGBT portrayal in the Scottish press. Stonewall Scotland do actually campaign for the full spectrum of LGBT rights, including Transgender. One of the pieces of work they highlighted in their report was an article by Bill Leckie in the Scottish edition of The Sun:

EIGHT o’clock on Wednesday and an army of frighteningly ugly women are pouring into a boozer called Prism for bingo night. Or at least from a distance they LOOK like women. But then you see the poster on the door.
And you realise that this isn’t just any bingo night. It’s Drag Queen bingo night.
Now, I can’t pretend that my devotion to this column is such that I wiggled along to see how it went. Not when I got there and saw someone going in with the same frock.
However, my sources tell me it went a little bit like: “Two fat ladyboys… 88. Unlucky for some … unprotected sex. Five and two… Danny La Rue.” And someone shouted: “Really nicely-decorated house!”

Now, guess who one of the people Stonewall nominated for Journalist of the Year this year is?

I’ve asked it before and I’ll ask it again: Are they actually trying to antagonise the Trans community?

Courtesy of Andrew Godfrey at “Why The Silence Stonewall?”, we now seem to have a copy of the mysterious Stonewall consultation, which he’s also raised some good points about.

But don’t get too excited, as it looks like it’s just been a surveymonkey.com link mailed around to current donors some time yesterday. The second page of the survey contains a list of objectives for people to rate in terms of importance. “Civil Partnerships” (I don’t know why it’s called that and not Marriage Equality) is one of twelve choices, amongst usual Stonewall items such as tackling Homophobic bullying and working with the Media. “Civil Partnerships” gets just two lines of explanation, describing it as “Work to extend the legal form of marriage to gay people” without much of the colourful positive spin put on the other options which all rate at least four lines of description.

Is this Stonewall trying to justify their position by carrying out a survey they hope will support them? I don’t know. It could equally be that this is a long-planned survey and the short shrift given to Marriage Equality is because it’s been added in quite close to the deadline following all the recent fuss.

It might even be that Stonewall are preparing to U-Turn on Marriage Equality and need the completed consultation so they have some way of saving face in their press releases. I can imagine what they’d write already:
Now we have completed our consultation on Stonewall’s priorities, we’re pleased to support this campaign…

Brick (Image courtesy Art by Steve Johnson http://www.flickr.com/photos/artbystevejohnson/)Imagine, if you will, the common or garden house brick. Wikipedia tells me that they have been around for over ten thousand years and they have many useful features, including strength and a convenient size for a bricklayer to handle.

And then we have Stonewall, who have about as much political ability as a brick as well as being used similarly constructing barriers to progress.

But what has spawned this new found interest in politically active house bricks? The events of last week: If you announce something in a meeting and that creates a storm of protest, then anyone with political ability developed much beyond that of a house brick might realise that it would be good to back-pedal a bit or at least not mention it again. But not Stonewall. Summerskill mentioned during the LGBT Labour fringe on Monday that they’d been consulting with government ministers over the Gender Recognition Act, an event which immediately spawned a Facebook group for a protest outside their awards ceremony next month. For those that don’t know the history, there was already a protest outside their awards in 2008 over nominating a transphobic journalist for an award, but Stonewall’s sole defence at the time was “we don’t represent Trans people and don’t claim to”. For those of us manning the barricades during that 2008 protest, having Stonewall now talk to people about Trans issues is a major insult.

OK, so Summerskill is under pressure because he apparently messed up by announcing the “five billion pounds over then years” figure as a cost of equal marriage at the Liberal Democrat fringe event a couple of weeks ago. That figure is something that it now appears may well be a complete fabrication. Perhaps he just misspoke under intense questioning? But no. Last week saw the publication of a long awaited letter in response to the “Why the silence Stonewall?” campaign. Stonewall have had weeks to work on this and you’d think would be carefully worded to calm the storm but the claim is repeated:

While writing, we should mention that we’re as concerned as you are about the gross unfairness of transgender people having to divorce upon changing gender. Our clear view is that there is a much simpler, and quicker, method of resolving this unfairness than through gay marriage. We have raised face-to-face with both ministers and officials in recent months the minor amendments we believe could be made to the Gender Recognition Act to secure this.

Brick in Wall (Image courtesy Tim Green aka atoach http://www.flickr.com/photos/atoach/)Stonewall, meet brick. It will be your mentor during your Applied Politics 101 course.

This has now gone mainstream, with an couple of articles in the Independent this morning – one from their own reporter and one from Scott Roberts from Gaydar Radio news. Jae Kay has already covered the problems with the reporting, which pretty much boils down to it being weak on facts and the paper having only spoken to Stonewall for a quote and nobody else. What I’d like to see, and this is probably more of a Guardian than an Independent style, is running a few hundred words from Stonewall and a few hundred words from one of us on the same day.

Sadly, I know this won’t happen as actually engaging with the community and in debate is not the sort of thing Stonewall do. We could ask someone else… only there is nobody else as on this, Stonewall stand alone.

We do get one interesting snippet from the Independent coverage though: Stonewall have said of their mysterious “consultation” with their 20,000 members – none of whom anyone seems to have ever met or conversed with online – that it “will finish…later this month.” Are Stonewall leaving themselves an out? It seems odd that after all this pressure they’ve only just mentioned that there is in fact a deadline on this supposed consultation. Perhaps there are hints of non-brick behaviour after all although I won’t hold out much more than a small hope that Stonewall will finally back Equal Marriage after all.

To close, I should mention that tomorrow is the LGBTory fringe event. Having apparently gaffed with the five billion pronouncement at the Liberal Democrat fringe and claiming to speak to the government on behalf of the Trans community at the Labour event, is there some new and exciting pronouncement to spring forth from the lips of Stonewall and further enrage the LGBT community? If anyone can make it to the Broad Street Novotel in Birmingham at 12:45 then you may be the first to hear.

Sorry, couldn’t resist the alliteration in the title. I have a longer post planned for tomorrow morning which includes discussion of Stonewall’s response and the Independent article, but in the interim here are a couple of updates from Twitter and other sources that may be of interest:

I’ve received responses to my FoI requests to the BIS and also the Treasury, who forwarded it on to the Government Equalities Office. The overall tone of the responses is best summarised by this line from the GEO response:

There have been no studies or impact assessments on the cost of implementing “full marriage equality”.

We pretty much knew this already, following Brian Paddick’s revelations in the Pink News last week. But let’s just quickly remind ourselves of the contents of Stonewall’s “clarification” from last week.

Ben pointed out, factually, that there was a cost to including provision of civil partnerships for opposite-sex couples in the motion. He suggested that ministers should publish the Treasury Impact Assessment that will have been carried out.

I guess they felt pretty safe making that suggestion, given it’s not possible to publish something that doesn’t exist. What we do have and has been published is the 2004 impact assessment of the Civil Partnerships Act. On top of one-off costs of £20 million, it estimates the worst case total cost would rise to just shy of £22 million a year by 2020 – more than an order of magnitude less than Stonewall’s calculated figure. (£22 million is the £7.7 Million Pension/Bereavement and Divorce costs plus the £14 million employers cost)

This calculation is based on an assumption of around 43,000 people in civil partnerships. (Taken from section 6.1, figure 1) To get to the kind of numbers Stonewall are talking about we need to multiply by 23 – which means we’re talking about one million people, or half a million extra civil partnerships by 2020, making 50,000 per year. By comparison, the marriage rate is not quite quarter of a million ceremonies per year.

Note that we’re erring on the side of caution in all the above: We’re ignoring separation and aiming for a figure of £500 million per year by 2020, rather than a £500 million average by that date. Despite this, Stonewall seem to think that allowing heterosexual couples to enter into Civil Partnerships will increase the combined Civil Partnership and Marriage rate in the United Kingdom by 20%.

I suggest that Stonewall should publish the Impact Assessment that they have carried out. I’d like to see their assumptions.

Stonewall Awards 2008 protestsIt’s getting to the point where I don’t need to write blog posts about Stonewall – they’re writing themselves. Stonewall won’t be “jumped into” gay marriage, apparently. Please, they’ve had five years and spawned a campaign on the topic of their silence. Also:

Stonewall has never pretended to be a democratic member organisation. We have never said we speak for all lesbian, gay and bisexual people

Who do they speak for and are they actually accountable to anyone at all? It’s starting to sound awfully like Stonewall is a well funded clique to keep a few people in champagne and canapé receptions. It gets better:

Referring to Stonewall’s estimated £5 billion cost over ten years for allowing straight couples to have civil partnerships, he argued that the disability lobby would not deliberate over the cost of wheelchair ramps.

However, Mr Summerskill responded: “It is perfectly proper to say there are arguments that will be used against us so we can counter them”.

But Stonewall made the figure up: The five billion figure wouldn’t exist if they hadn’t invented it “extrapolated” it. How on earth could it have been used against us if it didn’t exist? From other sources, it seems that Summerskill, as he did with the Liberal Democrat party, attacked Labour for not being progressive enough, which is somewhat cheeky under the circumstances given that right now Labour are a whole lot more progressive than Stonewall:

Summerskill took note that in LGBT people are still underrepresented in the parliamentary Labour party, particularly lesbians. This was also reflected in the mostly gay male a(nd suited) audience at the meeting. While praising the advances in LGBT equality, particularly through legislation by the previous Labour government, Summerskill also drew attention to some of the deficiencies in the Labour Party’s record on advancing LGBT equality, including the appointment of Opus Dei member Ruth Kelly as Equalities Minister, and the poor voting record on LGBT rights by Summerskill’s Labour constituency MP Kate Hoey.

But we’ve saved the best for last:

He also raised the issue of current laws requiring trans people to end their marriages to obtain gender recognition certificates.

Mr Summerskill acknowledged the “terrible unfairness” of this situation but said he had been in talks with ministers and officials about amendments to the Gender Recognition Act.

Whoops. Remember that demo a couple of years ago over the whole Bindel thing? You’re not a Trans organisation, are you Summerskill? What possible reasons could you have for talking to ministers about the GRA unless you wanted to cripple it somehow? This is such insane levels of fail that I just want to mash my head against the keyboard repeatedly until I achieve blessed unconsciousness but sadly that does not make for a good blog post. Luckily, I know from speaking to Lynne Featherstone (Equalities Minister) that she’s not going to fall for any nonsense from Stonewall but still… Nnnngh.

Decency prevents me from repeating the words being used to describe Stonewall and Summerskill in Trans circles at this moment, but most of them are four letters long. It’ll take four weeks but just in case we get something juicy back, I’ve just dropped the Home Office a Freedom of Information Act request, asking for any consultation/correspondence they might have on the topic.

So, I’m thinking perhaps, as it’s likely to be quite a bit bigger than 2008, we should have a few keynote speakers at this years demo. Perhaps we can get Peter Tatchell to say a few words and an MP or two. Stephen Fry would be nice, I’ve always wanted to meet him. Does anyone have his number?

It appears Stonewall have admitted to blatantly lying about the five billion figure.

Sunday night, it was a DTI figure.

Tuesday it was a Treasury Impact Assessment.

Today it’s an “extrapolation” – I guess they had to admit this as we FoIed the original documents and the Home Office already said they “didn’t recognise the £5bn figure”. Yet they had the face to accuse Pink News of being “dishonest” and running an “unethical campaign”?

Did you “extrapolate” the RadFem argument from a random lesbian you met too, Ben? And how much of the money given to you to further the LGb cause did you spend on lawyers to try to suppress the Pink News article?

Who is Stonewall accountable to anyway?

I’m actually too cross to write a proper blog post about this, so instead I’m going to leave you with a video. One that’s completely unconnected to recent talk of a protest outside the Stonewall 2010 awards. Which are on the 4th November, at the V&A in London, nearest tube South Kensington on the Piccadilly, Circle and District Lines.

There’s some debate over exactly what was said at last night’s event, which I shall clarify below. However, first I’d like to pay tribute to the excellent work by Adrian Trett, the Chair of the LibDem LGBT organisation. For those who haven’t already heard, the marriage equality motion passed at Federal Conference today, making the Liberal Democrats the first party in government to back equal marriage as a matter of policy. In the short time I’ve known Adrian, there is only one obvious flaw I have discovered: He’s far too hesitant to take the credit for all the hard work he’s put in to promoting this for the whole LGB and T community.

On the comments by Ben Summerskill last night, two points I would like to clarify: Firstly, I’ve seen it reported that Ben Summerskill said a campaign for equal marriage was an unethical one. He did not say this: the “unethical campaign” comment was aimed at Pink News after they tried to get Stonewall to clarify their position on marriage equality. I did speak to Ben briefly about this after the event and asked if he’d be willing to put Stonewall’s views in writing, but he refused and attacked Pink News for trying to get Stonewall to comment on marriage equality in a period of four days, which he seemed to think was unreasonably quick. I don’t know for sure but I get the impression he thinks Pink News are behind “Why the silence Stonewall”. (They are not, to the best of my knowledge)

Secondly, Ben was not questioned on the Stonewall policy regarding Marriage Equality. Amazingly, he volunteered the information himself in his speech.

There were no media I know of present at the event and although we’ve asked around, it seems nobody took a recording of the event. I was hoping to get video of responses to later questions but by the time I realised what he was saying it was too late – Ed Fordham, the chair, was understandably wanting to avoid rocks being thrown!

However, there were quite a few important people in the room: Two MPs, one of whom was a minister of the crown, an Ex-MP and a parliamentary candidate present. They made references to Stonewall’s views in speeches in support of today’s motion, which was covered online by the BBC. I’ve copied out the relevant points:

1147: Gay marriage now. Former MP Evan Harris spoke up for this one, arguing that now was the time to push for full equality – including allowing opposite sex couple to have civil partnerships. Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone watches from her seat in the hall.

1207: Ed Fordham, of neighbouring Hampstead and Kilburn, gets a huge round of applause as he urges the government to “stop faffing around” and get on with legalising gay marriage. He attacks gay group Stonewall, which he says is against the motion because it could lead to tax losses on pensions, again earning a huge cheer. Apart from anything else, he says, the boost to the milinary industry from his mother if gay weddings are legalised would be worth it.

1214: Ex mayoral candidate Brian Paddick tells delegates how he got married to a “gorgeous Norwegian man” last year – “an intensely moving experience”. “My husband and I”, he adds, feel marriage is important, but they are only legally married in Norway. There should be equality in the UK, he says. He also hits out at Stonewall, saying “equality is equality”.
1216: Delegates vote overwhelmingly in favour of the motion calling for same sex marriages to be legalised.

Also widely reported on twitter is Stephen Gilbert’s comment, “It should not be for me as an MP to lobby Stonewall to support gay equality, it should be for Stonewall to lobby me.” I shall try to find the relevant portions from BBC Parliament when it ends up on iPlayer later today. It’s been picked up by the mainstream press though, such as this article by the Guardian.

Finally, in terms of the debate itself, I believe the five billion pounds figure may relate to the cost on private pension companies rather than on the state – I’ve submitted a Freedom of Information Request or two to try to get a copy of the report, if it exists. If it is a cost to private industry, this may go some way to explaining Stonewall’s view as it’s possible a large portion of their funding comes from big corporates who may stand to lose money from marriage equality. On the flip side, Stonewall’s rebuttal of of the Pink News story refers to a “Treasury Impact Assessment” which would imply it’s a state, not private cost.

It’s been noted that the rebuttal is quite carefully worded. It repeats the arguments advanced by Ben Summerskill that marriage equality will cost £5bn and that while “some” LGB people support marriage equality, (Yes, 98% is “some”) some do not. 2% is also, I suppose, “some”.

It also repeats all the arguments I recall him advancing for marriage equality: none.

Of all the bizarre places to come out against marriage equality, an event run in conjunction with DELGA, the Liberal Democrat LGBT organisation, would seem to be the most odd. But that’s just what Ben Summerskill, head of so-called “equality” organisation Stonewall did today.

Also on the panel for the debate, part of the Liberal Democrat Autumn 2010 conference discussing what the coalition meant for equality, were Dr. Evan Harris who is DELGA president, Lynne Featherstone MP, LibDem equalities minister and out gay LibDem MP, Stephen Gilbert.

The views of Summerskill have long been known to be unpopular amongst the Transgender community after their nomination of notorious transphobe Julie Bindel for “Journalist of the Year” back in 2008. But certainly nobody I knew thought their silence on marriage equality meant they would come out against it and on such spurious grounds.

Firstly, he attacked Pink News for running an “unethical campaign” against Stonewall after they failed to answer a request for comment on the topic of Marriage Equality. Then, he argued that it was “too expensive” as increased pension payments to heterosexual couples wanting civil partnerships would cost five billion pounds over ten years according to unpublished government research. Stephen Gilbert quite rightly stated that equality such at this should not be subject to a cost/benefit analysis and that if South Africa had adopted Stonewall’s approach, they would still have apartheid, a view Summerskill labelled offensive.

Another argument advanced against equality was that there is a feminist view that the institute of marriage is fundamentally wrong. He did not explain this view particularly coherently and perhaps this means I cannot do it justice in turn. However, my response to that would be that if you don’t want to get married then don’t and it’s no reason to force it on the rest of us.

Finally, we’re subject to attempted emotional blackmail and told that as long as people are being murdered in homophobic attacks, we should not be campaigning for something like Marriage. I favour the view that Stephen passionately put: We need to send a clear message to those in society that would try to discriminate that we are equal and we will not settle for any less than equality. As long as LGBT people are “othered” in any way at all, attacks will continue.

It’s not really surprising that the liberal audience became quite hostile to these views, with the first question from the floor attacking Summerskill for his outrageous views. As one attendee put it, speaking of Ben Summerskill, “A homophobe is a homophobe, whether he’s gay or not”

It seems at least in the circles I move in that it’s quite the in thing to attack S’onewall and Ben Summerskill in particular. Well, just for the record I’m not jumping on the bandwagon because we helped give it a push start in 2008.

It may be that S’onewall haven’t forgiven the Trans community for upsetting their nice awards though. I noticed earlier this year that their mention of IDAHO, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia strangely missed out the Transphobia. More recently I ran across their statement about their membership of the Equality and Diversity Forum which fails to mention Gender Identity, even though it’s present on the EDFs own website.

It concerns me that S’onewall are very good at publicity and education and thus are often consulted by public organisations when promoting and running equality campaigns, such as this example of an anti-Homophobia campaign by Gwent Police. Gwent Police’s portion of the press release fails to mention transphobia, although Gwent Crown Prosecution Service do manage to be more inclusive. Gwent Police no doubt think they’re doing the right thing and are to be applauded for that but I’ll hazard a guess that the beer mats being distributed, if S’onewall had anything to do with them, don’t cover transphobia at all. I’d encourage any organisation running any sort of LGBT equality event to also talk to GIRES who do excellent work on education. (As an aside, I’m still working on a Trans Action Group idea but I have some groundwork to do – GIRES don’t cover the same ground as they’re not political)

More bizarrely, Stonewall “declined” to take part in a Pink News article on Marriage Equality. All the other groups invited did submit their responses, although I’m concerned that only three of the eight organisations that replied thought it would be appropriate to mention, when replying to a request from probably the most Trans-friendly news service in the UK, the state-mandated divorce inflicted on transitioners. Of the three, two were unlikely champions – the Tories and the Christians.

And finally, I move on to one final Pink News story – Trans woman claims she lost her job after wearing women’s clothes. (Original Linconshire Echo story here – health warning, the comments include the usual kind of drivel you’d expect) Assuming the facts given are true, what’s the betting that a case like this would be defended in future using the provisions in the Equality Act 2010 because it made the clients she was working with “uncomfortable”? Luckily that can’t happen in this case as even if it doesn’t end up at tribunal for a while, the EA2010 isn’t yet in force.