The main protagonist in this war on free speech

Kathleen Stock explains the power and influence of Stonewall in many UK institutions:

The main protagonist in this war on free speech in the UK is Stonewall, a campaigning charity that was founded to promote the rights of the same-sex attracted, but which in recent years has switched its focus to an unconditional defence of (what it views as) transgender equality. Its website declares that “Trans women are women and trans men are men”, and—somewhat surprisingly to many gay people, given the charity’s original mission—that “of course” a lesbian can have “a trans woman as a lesbian partner” or “a gay man be with a trans man”.

And by “can” they mean “had better not refuse to.”

A central aim of Stonewall is now to bring the public to agree with these pronouncements; and a major instrument is its “Diversity Champions” scheme. Many organisations see the association as useful branding and are keen to sign up. In 2018, Stonewall made more than £2.7 million in fees—a significant part of the organisation’s £8.7 million income—from membership of the Diversity Champions scheme and similar programmes, including providing speakers and consultancy. But scheme membership requires a host of further conditions upon institutional structure and provision that go well beyond existing law, and seek to control speech and attitudes about transgenderism and gender identity.

In 2020, several legal cases will challenge Stonewall-sponsored policy within organisations. One is against Oxfordshire County Council for its “Trans Inclusion Toolkit For Schools”; another is against NHS England and the Tavistock NHS Trust, for allegedly pursuing experimental medical treatment on under-18 trans-identifying children (see Helen Joyce, “Speaking up for female eunuchs”); and another against Girlguiding for allegedly expelling a leader for gender-critical beliefs. A further case being explored is against the National Theatre (unlike the other defendants, not a “Diversity Champion”, but currently selling Stonewall merchandise in its bookshop) for refusing to serve women wearing T-shirts bearing the (apparently) provocative words: “Lesbian: a woman who loves other women.”

Stonewall used to stand for lesbian and gay rights, but now it stands for a very different brand of “rights” which is in sharp tension with the existing ones, especially of women and gay men.

Stonewall’s big policy shift came in 2015. In its “Vision for Change: Acceptance without Exception for Trans People” document, it argued that trans people have the right “to determine their own gender” rather than leaving “intrusive and demeaning” medical panels or legal experts to decide for them.

That’s not a right though. They mean “gender” to include sex, and you can’t determine your own sex, any more than you can determine your own species or phylum. You can determine your own preferences in clothes and haircut and mannerisms, but you can’t easily determine other people’s reception of your preferences. That last one is somewhat subject to reform via campaigning of the kind Stonewall is doing, but it’s a slow and difficult process. Is it a right? Kind of, up to a point, but it’s somewhat tricky. You can see why lawyers aren’t encouraged to wear clown suits in court, for instance. If it is a right it’s a mushy sort of right, not one enforceable with a call to the nearest Community Officer.

It simultaneously lobbied to have an inner feeling of gender identity (in Stonewall terminology: “a person’s innate sense of their own gender, which may or may not correspond to the sex assigned at birth”) replace gender reassignment as a protected characteristic in the Equality Act; and to have non-binary identities (roughly, an inner feeling of being neither man nor woman) legally recognised.

That on the other hand is an absurd candidate for a “right.” It makes no kind of sense to try to make it a right – an enforceable right – to require other people to validate one’s Inner Feelings. “A person’s innate sense of their own gender” is necessarily internal to that person, so it cannot be imposed on all other people. Innate senses of this or that are not something that can be legislated.

And anyway it’s bullshit. Stonewall is just wrong about the “innate sense.” There is no such innate sense, there’s only what we learn from infancy onwards. We learn it far too early to be able to remember learning it, so if we don’t think about it much we may conclude that it’s “innate,” but the solution for that is to think about it more. Sure, some kids think no, that’s a mistake, I’m the other one, I’m like my brother not my sister or vice versa; some grow out of it and maybe some don’t. I say “maybe” because there’s so much fad-pushing right now that it’s impossible to tell. Either way, though, that’s just an idea in the head and it’s not something that can be forced on everyone else.

Perhaps most controversially of all, it lobbied to have exemptions for single-sex services and spaces removed from the Equality Act, so that there could be no space or resource designated only on the basis of biological sex. Goodbye, “exclusionary” bathrooms, changing rooms, and sport—or so Stonewall hoped.

Which wasn’t very considerate of it.

And so Stonewall’s lucrative diversity champions scheme ploughs onwards. In the education sector, most British universities are Diversity Champions, and so have been instructed to produce dedicated trans policies. These policies tend not to be confined to personnel matters, but also dictate what acceptably may be taught and said on campus about trans people. Some university policies require that “any materials within relevant courses and modules will positively represent trans people and trans lives”. (No such clause appears in university policy for any other group, to my knowledge.) Training reinforces such messages, during which people with PhDs are shown diagrams such as the “genderbread person”, shaped like a gingerbread man but with sex depicted between the legs and gender identity in the head. A glossy Stonewall document entitled “Delivering LGBT-inclusive Higher Education” tells universities that inviting “anti-LGBT” speakers who deny “that trans people exist as the gender they say they are” causes LGBT people “to feel deeply unsafe”. In this document Stonewall announces: “The most inclusive universities find ways to consistently communicate their support for LGBT equality throughout the year, in digital communications, at university events, and in their buildings and grounds.”

In this context of course “LGBT” means T.

Stonewall is also active in primary and secondary schools. It provides “toolkits” for early years, in order to “prevent children from developing . . . transphobic attitudes”. It provides assembly plans and various other guides aimed at teachers, and holds conferences for children and young people. Another significant indirect source of influence is via local authorities, whose own membership of the Diversity Scheme leads them to insist on policies and toolkits in local schools, provided by Stonewall or other like-minded organisations. One such toolkit (not one of Stonewall’s) tells children: “Remember that a pupil who identifies as a girl but was assigned male at birth is not a ‘boy dressed as a girl’ but is a girl.” In a society with increasing numbers of children and teens identifying as trans—sometimes with lifelong medical consequences—this degree of discourse control has worrying implications.

Children are told by their schools that a boy is a girl if he “identifies as” a girl, even though that statement is factually untrue, aka a lie. Schools telling children that a boy thinks of himself as a girl would be one thing; telling them he is one is another.

The next bit is horrifying in its scope.

With local variations, a similar-looking story can be told about most major public and third-sector institutions in this country, as well as many big companies. Membership of the Stonewall Diversity Champions scheme brings policies, training, propaganda, the regular marking of special days, and attempts to control language and ultimately thought. Among the 750-plus members of the Diversity Champions scheme are the Crown Prosecution Service, several police forces, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Office for National Statistics, the Scottish Prison Service, the Ministry of Justice, the Foreign Office, the Department for Education, NHS Trusts, the Scottish Government, the Labour Party, the Bank of England, the Serious Fraud Office, city and county councils, London boroughs, the Department for Health, Sport England, the Football Association, and the Royal Navy and other armed services; as well as businesses such as Marks & Spencer, law firms (Allen and Overy), financial services (J.P. Morgan) and arts and heritage organisations like the Tate and the National Trust. No doubt most of these outfits originally came, laudably, for the gay rights and associated warm fuzzy feelings; but they stay for mandatory trans policies and training for staff and stakeholders. The Diversity Champions scheme now allows Stonewall to exert a chilling grip on free thought and expression about gender identity. While the government consults the public on whether to reform gender laws, it simultaneously pays Stonewall to lobby to change them.

Pervasive, ain’t it.

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