Last week Ben Summerskill resigned from his post of CEO at Stonewall. In a wonderfully curt farewell, Pink News politely points out that the ‘highest paid’ member of staff of the UK gay rights organisation earns between £90,000 and £99,999 p/a. I do hope Mr Summerskill has a contingency plan to keep him in the lifestyle to which he’s accustomed (at the expense of various others).
Summerskill’s parting ‘shot’ is a poster campaign against workplace homophobia, devised in collaboration with a flash Marketing Agency. And it is probably an apt finale, since Stonewall, thanks in part to Summerskill’s direction, has arguably become little more than a PR outfit itself.
‘At Stonewall we’ve campaigned for 25 years for equality. We’ve had major successes with legalising same sex marriage, repealing section 28 and lifting the ban on gay people serving in the forces.’
As someone who has been involved in sexuality and gender politics for the whole 25 years of Stonewall’s life to date, I find these claims pretty offensive. I know for example that the (eventual) repeal of the discriminatory Section 28 (regarding funding for ‘promotion’ of homosexuality by local authorities) was achieved by diverse groups of people with various political affiliations. Here Stonewall does its usual trick of taking credit for things it didn’t do, or at the very least, didn’t do on its own.
Equal Marriage is a much more recent development and so it’s even more audacious for the gay rights organisation to try and erase contemporary history by claiming it for itself. Those involved in the campaigns for same-sex marriage know all too well that Stonewall were very late indeed to that particular equality party.
But I think it’s the scare-mongering doom and gloom that the posters inject into people’s working lives that I find most galling. The text goes on to say:
‘99% of young gay people still regularly hear homophobic language at school, 100 homophobic hate crimes are reported to police every week and 2.4 million people have witnessed homophobic bullying at work in the last five years’.
It’s typical Stonewall stuff: the percentages quoted suggest they have done survey research, but there is no reference or link to said investigations. We’re expected to take at face value headline figures such as ‘99% of young gay people still regularly hear homophobic language at school’ with no indication at how that stat was arrived at. Nor for that matter whether or not bisexual, trans or – gasp- heterosexual young people hear that same homophobic language (maybe some students are provided with ear plugs).
The ‘2.4 million’ people (who Stonewall elsewhere explain are ‘of working age’) who have ‘witnessed’ homophobic bullying in the last 5 years is even more misleading. I could go into more depth about statistical bias, but to put it bluntly, and without the ‘research’ to hand, that could mean that almost 39 million people of working age haven’t witnessed homophobic bullying at work. That’s over 94%.
If homophobia really was in decline (some of us think it is!), Stonewall might go out of business. So the cynic in me can’t help but see one of its raisons d’etre, as exaggerating and reinforcing problems, fear and misunderstanding around sexuality.
And, whatever your views on the level or degree of homophobic discrimination in the UK, it is difficult to deny how Stonewall makes things worse by ignoring and dismissing other issues such as the experiences of bisexual and trans people.
As Sarah Brown has written since Summerskill jumped ship, Stonewall’s record on trans inclusivity is pretty dire. Her article is open hearted and offers an olive branch to the new leadership at Stonewall. But it’s also pretty damning which ever way you read it. The reservations of trans people and their allies about Stonewall’s agenda are put even more succinctly by @Scattermoon, who made this image to add to (or rather dismantle) the latest Stonewall poster campaign:
I have other criticisms to add about what I see as the elitist ‘ gayism‘ of the PR based, media savvy Stonewall that Ben Summerskill developed and now leaves. Rather predictably I doubt how far Stonewall understand the metrosexual revolution in masculinity, that renders identities such as ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ if not meaningless, then pretty blurred. That’s why I find the Stonewall football ‘homophobia’ poster probably the most pointless one of the bunch:
There are further questions about Stonewall’s presentation of gender and ethnicity in its current campaign. I might return to them soon. I wish Ben Summerskill all the best in his future endeavours. I want to believe that this is an opportunity for positive change at Stonewall HQ. But I’m not that optimistic. Thankfully, I’m far more hopeful about the rest of us.
Thanks to everyone on twitter, where I was pointed towards a lot of the news and material mentioned here.
See the full Stonewall workplace homophobia campaign poster gallery here