Opinion: What does Stonewall want if it isn’t gay marriage?

I resigned from Stonewall many years ago when I realised that they don’t speak for me or much of the UK’s LGBT community and is too blinkered and led by its own politics, rather than campaigning for what their members want.

Ben Summerskill and Angela Mason before him only appear to do what Labour wanted, when Labour wanted it.

In recent weeks we have seen Stonewall attacked for their silence on the issue of gay marriage, but I want to throw in an extra attack on them before I get onto gay marriage.

If you visit the main Stonewall website or Stonewall Wales, the main header on both sites states – Stonewall the lesbian, gay and bisexual charity.

However, if you visit Stonewall Scotland’s website their main header states – Stonewall Scotland for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality.

Well done Stonewall Scotland, well done for standing up for the whole LGBT community.

How on earth can the UK’s main ‘gay’ campaigning charity not campaign for the rights of Trans people – come on Stonewall, pull your socks up.

Now, back to the issue of gay marriage and the strange stance by Stonewall.

For those that don’t know, Ben Summerskill the Chief Executive of Stonewall have said that they won’t be “jumped into” making a decision and are consulting widely on the issue – who with remains to be seen as Ben Summerskill told Pink News only on Monday, “Stonewall has never pretended to be a democratic member organisation. We have never said we speak for all lesbian, gay and bisexual people.”

Now, there are many like me who will not be shocked by this statement nor on the bizarre stance on gay marriage. However Stonewall’s co-founder and Labour MEP, Michael Cashman has waded into the debate criticising the charity and telling it to “speak up” for gay marriage.

Last month Pink News wrote to eight leading LGBT organisations asking for their views on gay marriage. The groups they asked to participate were Stonewall, LGBT Labour, LGBTory, Delga (the Liberal Democrat LGBT group), OutRage!, the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, the Lesbian and Gay Foundation and Scottish groups The Equality Network and The LGBT Network.

Only one has failed to respond. Have you guessed who it is yet?

Just last week at the joint fringe meeting by DELGA and Stonewall at our stunning Liverpool conference, chaired by Ed Fordham on this very issue, Ben Summerskill was attacked by Brian Paddick and many others for having no position and not supporting gay marriage.

Now this week he is attacked once more, this time at the joint LGBT Labour and Stonewall fringe in Manchester by former MP David Borrow and the journalist Johann Hari.

Ben Summerskill is quoted in Pink News on Monday of this week stating, “He added that it was “critical” to build alliances across parties and argued that legislation could be rejected by the House of Lords if there was a perception that there was not a consensus among gay people.”

Now, I’m okay with that but Ben then went on to say; “He also pleaded with those present not to make the issue “party political”, claiming that the House of Lords would “retreat to tradition” and reject progressive legislation if this were to be the case.”

What? Or in text speak WTF?

It appears that the Liberal Democrats, Labour and even the Conservatives are all for gay marriage – okay, not all of the Conservatives: could you imagine the look on Thatcher’s face? – but it appears that the party political front is okay, it is just the supposedly main campaigning organisation for gay people in the UK that isn’t okay.

To be honest, given Ben Summerskill’s stunning silence on the issue of gay marriage, his admittance that Stonewall no longer speaks up for all LGB people and the sheer nonsense of ignorning Trans people, I really believe that it is time for Ben Summerskill to do the honourable thing and resign. His position has really become untenable.

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  • Andrew Suffield 28th Sep '10 - 9:51pm

    It sounds like you probably have a point.

    But I don’t think it’s got anything to do with the Lib Dems.

  • note to andrew suffield, Lynne Featherstone is the Liberal Democrat Minister for Equalities… pretty substantive point i reckon and this is a pretty important issue for parties to debate – it was discussed at Labour Conference, debated at Liberal Democrat Conference and will almost certainly come up at Birmingham…


  • Thanks for an interesting summary, Andrew.

    Do we have any idea of what is behind Ben Summerskill’s seemingly odd rhetoric on this issue?

    I seem to remember an LDV article last week (IIRC) which quoted a Stonewall statement to the effect that they’re not throwing their weight behind marriage equality because they have limited campaigning funds and they feel there are more important issues such as bullying etc that are currently higher priority. At the time I thought ‘fair enough’ but it doesn’t require amy campaign resources just to issue a supportive statement surely.

    Is there something else going on here that I’m missing? Does Stonewall maybe think they can only win a finite number of battles per parliament and don’t want to spend any political capital on the marriage issue since they see it as lower priority?

  • Andrew Suffield 29th Sep '10 - 7:28am

    it was discussed at Labour Conference, debated at Liberal Democrat Conference and will almost certainly come up at Birmingham…

    Both the Labour and Lib Dem conferences were debating the bizarre inactions of one completely independent charity which they have no authority to meddle with nor any business doing so? Sounds unlikely.

    Bottom line is that there’s a one-way relationship here – organisations like Stonewall tell governments and political parties what they want those bodies to do. Governments and political parties do not tell Stonewall what to do.

  • Equal marriage was debated and voted on at a Lib Dem Conference and Stonewall caused a scandal when it seemed so unclear at our conference. It is political, and it is interesting and it does matter. You are right that it should be a one way issue, but if Stonewall are being this awful, it simply no longer is.

    And Ben Summerskill cannot resign fast enough in my opinion.

  • @Andrew Suffield – I am not sure either the Government or the Lib Dems are telling Stonewall what to do, are they? What is happening is that individuals with an interest in this area of public policy are challenging the bizarre actions (or rather inaction) of a certain group – perfectly valid.

  • Thanks for this artice – we need to be aware that Stonewall appears to be trying to de-rail a very important and key LGBT policy for the lib dems, something that will endear them to the LGBT community and which will ultimtely be remembered in the run up to the next election. Lib dems must speak out against Stonewall on this issue, it’s important to the LGBT community , they have now made committments to them in their party policy and they want results and this does mean speaking out against opposition, which bizarrely seems to be Stonewall.

  • I get more confused the more I read about this. I guess that shows how odd Stonewall are being!

    Stonewall has an extremely poor track record on related issues. For example, gay sex workers were not unsupported by them while their civil liberties were eroded under successive rounds criminalising legislation.

    Surely “were not unsupported” means they were supported, as that’s a double negative. Do you mean they were not supported?

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