Opinion: I’m no longer prepared to support Stonewall under the leadership of Mr Summerskill

David Laws has resigned and the story has more or less moved along.  For my part I know and like David a lot and his loss is a real blow to the Liberal Democrats, the Government and the country.  But most of all this was a personal story.

So I was appalled by the decision of Stonewall’s Chief Executive Ben Summerskill to take the airwaves and print media to launch his own mini-campaign against David.

The very organisation that you would expect to have the courage to stand up and explain the moral realities of being gay and struggling with a public life failed us all.

When Mr Summerskill chose this moment to explain that people who hide their sexuality should expect no sympathy when things fall apart, he launched a highly personal attack on all those who have yet to speak to their parents, stand up in their school and playground, their workplace or indeed in the public eye.

There is no shortage of those in the political arena who are willing to chuck around a few cheap points, or even make specific and legitimate points about expenses and the rules.  But here was a chance for Stonewall to sound the reasonable tone, to show some understanding, to reflect that this sort of situation where people mess up their lives to hide their sexuality is not unusual.

I found Mr Summerskill’s public line insensitive, aggressive and cheap. I don’t see how he felt it helped Stonewall, gay people (closeted or otherwise) or how it helped society to see the whole picture.

It did however, have the presumably deliberate effect of getting Mr Summerskill into the story, the headlines, promoting himself – maybe I misunderstood and that was the motivation after all rather than the formal, proper and incredibly constructive role Stonewall has as a prominent charity.

Sadly, Stonewall’s approach now seems to be that if you don’t come out you deserve anything you get.

For my part I’m no longer prepared to support or advocate Stonewall under the leadership of Mr Summerskill.

Ed Fordham is the Parliamentary campaign for Hampstead and Kilburn and is in a long-term relationship with his male partner

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38 Comments

  • Paul McKeown 7th Jun '10 - 11:26am

    Ben Summerskil: just another homofundamentalist pink Ayatollah.

  • Paul Elgood 7th Jun '10 - 11:30am

    I agree with you Ed. That is the last time I do their Equality Walk!

  • Coalition Liberal 7th Jun '10 - 11:37am

    Quite agree. I found Summerskill’s attitude very upsetting. I understood the arguments against David Laws, but I think Summerskill let closeted gay people down with his thoughtless comments.

  • Good for you Ed. In his comments on David Laws Ben Sumerstill did not mention he wears a Labour as well as a Stonewall hat, and is from a Labour political dynasty and served as a Labour councillor. Don’t think this is totally irrelevant to his stance. The comments of Labour MP and former cabinet member Ben Bradshaw were similarly repulsive; unlike dear former FO minister Chris Bryant writing in the Guardian’s CIF
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/may/30/gay-courage-sexuality
    On the Tory side, Matthew Parris has also been superb.

  • Isn’ t that beside the point OH? I don’t support like for like renewal of trident but I fund it be default. That’s different though from starting a `I support Trident` pressure group. In the same way Ed is saying that the main group that is about LGBT equality has a leader that he can’t support – and one that he has supported before in different ways.

  • This DL tribalism is really getting old. As Lib Dems we’ve got to show that we have a higher standard when it comes to expenses, so there was no way he could have stayed.

  • I was unaware of this. Having worked with Stonewall in the past, it is a shame. I will be following suit and have no option but to cease supporting it. Hopefully the charity’s trustees will have the mind to act on this.

  • Matthew Huntbach 7th Jun '10 - 4:21pm

    I agree – Mr Laws did the decent thing in stepping down promptly from his government position when this story came out. That should have been the end of the story. As I’ve argued elsewhere, Mr Laws should have worked through this and just not claimed the expenses, all arguments on the lines “but it didn’t cost the taxpayer any more than he could have legitimately claimed had he been more open about his sexuality” sound, to the casual observer, like “blah-de-blah-de-blah, politicians won’t accept that what applies to ordinary people (like Housing Benefit claimants) should also apply to them”. Mr Laws did not stop to argue all that, he stepped down right away. Good, in doing that I think people will accept him back in government in time. On the other thing, many people may have tastes and habits which, while perfectly innocuous, they are a bit shy about revealing. This applies in particular to our sexual tastes, I’m not gay, but I’d be mightily embarrassed should I have be dragged out and made to say just what sort of woman I like most, and I’m sure many people have squirmed a little in having to introduce a partner to parents who is maybe just a little outside what the parents were expecting. In short, this is just human nature, people have a right to be shy, and Mr Laws in particular has suffered enough already and should not also be attacked for that.

  • I’m appalled by the comments from Stonewall. Leaving aside the individual’s right to choose, and to assess for themselves what their own family might accept, this is blatant political point-scoring.

    It pains me to say this, but I too will have to refuse to do further work with Stonewall until either Summerskill goes, or it admits that it is just a Labour LGB Forum (in which case, it should cease to receive public funds and perhaps pay some back).

    Really, really sad.

  • While it appears DL did some unethical things with claiming the funds;
    a) it’s not exactly the biggest crime in the context of a lawless political class, so why the big fuss about this one case?
    b) almost all the other MPs get away with a verbal public ticking off, negative press coverage, and having to pay it back relatively quickly – why the sudden difference?
    c) can we move on to have a mature attitude to who X f**ks/loves/shares-a-kitchen-with? If we didn’t have the whole financial biases around marriage (and the causal priviledging of monogamy by society) then this would never be an issue! The only way in which this is any of anyones business is if he makes unfair financial gain from it, so let drop using who someone f**ks/loves as a basis for tax and benefits, and focus on joint accommodation and banking arrangements and the consequential gains/losses in the costs-of-living!

    (FFS. I dread the narrowminded bigottry and backwards kneejerking the first openly polyamourous or otherwise Ethical Non-Monogamous MP will face. D: )

    Right, now with all that out the way –

    I’d say this isn’t exactly a Summerskill thing, but a Stonewall thing. Not to excuse him at all, but to say that the entire group is just as rotten and willing to backstab for personal gain. Stonewall is not, and I think I’m safe in saying, never will be, an L.G.B.T(etc) campaign. Describing it as a “gay” charity is terrible apt if indeed it does appear a old-of-date misnomer at first, since it doesn’t give a f**k about Bi people, Trans people, or any other queers aside from Gay men and Lesbian. …except of course, when it comes to claiming donations or public funds, including the Welsh Assembly’s entire annual equality-work grant for the Queer population.

    Actually, I tell a lie, Stonewall doesn’t just repeatedly show itself as obsessed with just advancing Gay men and Lesbians above other Queers – it’s _normative_ Gay men and Lesbians. If you are non-monogamous, kinky, disinterested in wealth, a slut, disabled, etc, you can fuck right to the back of the closet. For reference see just how Trans inclusive/accomodating the Civil Partnerships Act is (had to be fixed by the ohsolovely Gender Regulat… I mean Recognision Act), and similarly how it totally absolutely didn’t entrench and priviledge monogamous partnerships.

    So in short: It’s not Ben Summerskill that needs replacing, it’s Stonewall.

    Notes:
    – The above refers to Stonewall England and Stonewall Cymru. Stonewall Scotland seems a lot more better on B and T issues, but then this is likely due to it not having a monopoly thanks the existant of the apparently very nice (queer) Equality Network.
    – Although there are some lower down staff who see differently from the above illustrated and state they are trying turn it positive from within, and/or do try to steer resources to include other queers when they can.

  • David from Ealing 7th Jun '10 - 8:12pm

    Stonewall has been a Labour supporting organisation for years.

  • Jack Holroyde 7th Jun '10 - 9:25pm

    I’m putting together a complaint to the board of Stonewall.
    Info here: http://bit.ly/9266sc

  • I think that people are reading into ben summerskills statment to much. At the end of the day the basic statment was that he cant hide behind his sexuality to claim expenses, if he didnt want the world to know he had a bf then fine but dont go claming rent then expect to be let off without it getting out. As far as i can see ben summerskill has done nothing wrong here he may of worded it wrong but people are reading to much into this.

  • David Morton 8th Jun '10 - 5:02pm

    Is it worth popping down the Bookies and betting that this Coalition doesn’t last a year? In this article or any subsequent posting there is neither a link to, direct quote from or even a summary of what Mr Summerskill is alledged to have said that is so offensive. It’s just asserted that what ever he said was wrong/evil/laden with malintent etc etc.

    We then get the most extraordinarily illiberal non sequitar that because of one set of statements by a charity chief that people can’t/shouldn’t/won’t support that charity until he is gone. This is asserted with no balancing consideration of what Stonewall has done/is doing as part of the Equal Rights architecture for LGB people in Britain.

    This is blogospheric equvilant of a toddler tantrum. Is this just a one off piece of nonsense or is something deeper going on here?

  • David Morton 8th Jun '10 - 5:55pm

    Dave,
    Thank you for the links. It’s just an opinion but I suspect the 4 strategic threats to the stability of Lib Dem participation in the coalition are

    1. Whether the party is psychologically capable of putting up with how horrible the British media is.

    2. Whether the party can sustain the loss of thoasands of good councillors for no other reason that it’s in national office.

    3. Whether an anarcho-localist out fit like the lib dems can cope with its top eschalon being assimilated into the government collective

    4. Whther a party laragely addicted to public services in its campaigning model can survice making its self ” savage cuts.

    As an aside I have geneuine hope for point 3 if Simon Hughes becomes deputy Leader and 2 and 4 are for another day.

    My interest in the Laws story comes from point 1. Having read some of the Summerskill stuff at the time and having re googled it just now its far to say he looked to be enjoying it all a bit to much and perhaps mention of Stonewalls patronage links to Labour is a fair cop. However he seemed to me to be making a deliberately provocative argument with a view to moving the equality debate forward.

    Put crudely lets rerun the Laws story but make him Straight and a Tory . Would he have had to resign? It seems almost certainly yes because of the clear technical breach of the expenses rules, the desire to shaft the coalition, the fact that this sort salacious stuff sells news papers and of course on one level it would have been worse but because it would have all referenced previous tory sleaze.

    In effect Sumerskill is asking the ” Is it becos I is gay? ” question and in Laws case answering ” No”. He seems to be concluding that the scandal isn’t anything to do with the sex but to do with the money and the rules and in a curious way a resignation like this whether the sexuality is irrelevant is progress of sorts?

  • David Allen 8th Jun '10 - 5:57pm

    Right, well, I’ve read Millenium’s little piece. The more I read of this trash, the more I despair of our party.

    Millenium picks up on the argument that a benefit cheat would go to jail. Millenium has an answer to that. An MP who makes a false claim should be let off , and so should a benefit cheat as well. Brilliant!

    Oh hang on, I have misrepresented Millenium a little tiny bit, have I not? Millenium does not explictly defend a benefit cheat. Millenium defends a mythical creature who makes an erroneous statement on the claim form but gains nothing from doing so. Well, that makes it all good, doesn’t it. Millenium is an expert in casuistry!

    Yes, Laws deserves sympathy for his problems, alongside irritation that someone so clever should have found such an idiotic way of dealing with them. But Laws’s fanatical supporters are doing their best to dissipate that sympathy by demonstrating blind obedience to “My party right or wrong”. Please, please, just quiet down, before you convince the public that we are all a bunch of self-serving hypocrites!

  • He IS the Laws.

  • Bradley Colmans 8th Jun '10 - 10:04pm

    Personally I object to this continued attempt to change the facts and claim that it was his private life that caused his resignation. No one cares whether or not he is gay or for that matter whether or not he choose to keep it a secret or not. Thats all personal choice. What people objected to was the fact that he took the money, £40k. Stop trying to make out its something other than that

  • Anna Pascoe 8th Jun '10 - 11:19pm

    My thoughts exactly Ed. I was disgusted by Summerskill’s comments and in particular the infantile way he phrased his commentary during what must have been a very painful time for David Laws. Does Stonewall only support gay people who fit into Summerskill’s pigeonholes now?

  • I’m just surprised it’s taken you this long to arrive at this conclusion. Stonewall has a long record of holding back for fear of embarassing its Labour friends. It has always a been a dreadfully elitist and organisation that has been very selective about the issues it champions.

  • Sally Ktae Taylor 4th Aug '13 - 3:44pm

    Regarding transgender rights Stonewall belong more in the 19th century. My experience of Stonewall is that it has transformed (pardon the pun) in to yet another big ‘charity’ business that exists simply to self glorification and individual egos. The sisters and brothers of the original Stonewall riots that it derives its name form must be shaking their head in disbelief concerning the direction Stonewall UK as taken regarding transgender issues.

    As a Social Worker of 32 years if I need assistance with issues I don’t use or refer to Stonewall when it comes to transgender issues. (Any issue for that matter). It would be like asking the BNP or EDL to support gay rights so hostile can Stonewall be. In the early days of Stonewall I did but found the support (I say that with tongue in cheek) to be patronizing, half hearted and not only ill’ informed but dismissive. Hence my lack of faith in what I see as an unintentionally but still dangerous transgender ignorant and essentially transphobic organisation.

    Let’s be honest – for Stonewall read deaf as a’ stonewall when it comes to the B and T in LGBT. It’s about as inclusive as a KKK meeting. And let’s be honest as well – bigotry is still bigotry – no matter what organisation it which it can be found. Julie Bindal’s nomination for the Stonewall (Transphobic?) Journo’ of the Year (As well as Ben Summerskill’s sneaky ‘she won’t be getting it’ appeasement) shows that; who next Julie Burchill?

    Concerning Stonewall’s understanding and support regarding Transgender issues I found more in my local Working Men’s Club in Rotherham, South Yorkshire (hardly the bastion of Transgender awareness) when I started my transition. Yes I may have initially received strange looks and what some would say were inappropriate comments, even harassment at first. But the difference between those club members and Stonewall is that the ‘club members’ were honest about their opinions and ‘fears’ and wiling and able to change by actually engaging with me and realising I was a human soul. They didn’t play lip service (As Stonewall does) but were honest and in time they have not only accepted me but defend me. And unlike Stonewall they don’t call me a ‘tranny’ in so called ‘educational DVD’s – they call me Sally – or sometimes a ‘daft sod’ at times. Maybe we should replace the Executive Board of Stonewall with the BWC committee; it may be a step forward.

    Let’s be honest Ben Summerskill is shallow. He has no real commitment to any cause but Ben Summerskill. When I think of him I am reminded of the John Ruskin quote. “When a man is wrapped up in himself he makes a pretty small package.” Indeed in my opinion the only reason Ben Summerskill campaigns for gay rights is simply because he’s gay. If he was straight he’d be campaigning for ‘straight rights’. Summerskill is a career campaigner. Summerskill is nothing more or less than a career politico so long as the politics affect him that is. Summerskill works for Stonewall because it pays his bills and boosts his ego and kudos at dinner parties. (I’ve seen quite a few like that in my time). Stonewall is a cash cow he won’t let go off because it pays too well. The man has no moral backbone or ethics. Maybe that’s why he mixes with politicians so easily but infectively.

    When it comes to the media they are lazy and turn to Stonewall because it’s well known. Little do they realise that Stonewall is simply a rent a quote organisation in the same manner as The Tax Payers Alliance are; and similarly neither do they realise both don’t do what they say on the tin. Maybe it’s time to educate the media regarding this.
    I agree with previous contributors – ‘The Peter Tatchell Foundation’ and ‘Outrage’ and also ‘Press for Change’ are more sincere, affective and supportive regarding the LGBT rainbow. Indeed it’s time Stonewall were ‘outed’ for what the are; a talking shop for the chattering class ‘gay’ wings of the (spot the difference) Labour – Liberal (yes you as well) – Conservative ‘Can’t We Be Nice Chaps’ Alliance.

    There I’ve had my little rant. I’m off to face the world as me with the knowledge that while some may accept my gender and some won’t – one thing is for sure Stonewall don’t give a monkeys.
    Hugs and kisses SKT xxxx

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