Stonewall Boss Sets New Priorities For LGBTQ Charity: Intersex, GRA, Conversion Therapy

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Stonewall’s new boss Nancy Kelley has set out a new vision for the U.K.’s biggest LGBTQ charity, with priorities to work on conversion therapy, trans healthcare, and for the first time, advocating for intersex people.

Often seen as a monolith inside and outside of the community, Stonewall’s new boss is keen to reaffirm the position of the charity as a human rights organisation.

One that amplifies, rather than speaking for communities, by engaging them in a way that they’ve been failing to do–admitting to me, “we can do better.”

Speaking after two months in the role, Kelley explained that she has a lot to thank Stonewall for. The Civil Partnerships act made it possible for her wife to migrate over from America, their family and children, possible thanks to hard-fought adoption rights. Both which Stonewall lead both public, and private lobbying campaigns for.

But Kelley starts our chat by focusing on how she is all too aware, that despite her great gratitude to the charity, it’s time for a shift. It has provided to the most privileged in the LGBTQ community, and now the time has come to focus on LGBTQ people that are disabled, people of colour, live in poverty or are sex workers.

“We can do better,” she tells me, with community engagement, interaction with the LGBTQ media and above all, listening to the community it seeks to serve.

“There is so much we do that is incredible and inspirational here and globally. Part of it is I don’t think we’ve told the story very well, and that’s something I’m keen for us to do better at.”

“I’m thinking here with our community engagement teams who are beginning to transform how we think and work. But also how can we maintain strong relationships with the LGBT sector press, that are telling the [communities] stories and there is [a line of] accountability between LGBTQ people and us there too.”

But one of the reasons Kelley believes it’s been challenging to shout about Stonewall’s work, is because of the British media’s “exceptionally unbalanced” views and “toxicity” about transgender people.

“I talked to my predecessor Ruth Hunt about this; we were laughing woefully about it. Ruth told me: ‘I felt like I could give an hour-long interview about rainbow laces and inclusion in sport, but they’d write a thousand words about the Gender Recognition Act.’

“So all of those things are true. We haven’t always been as open and engaged, telling the story of the work we do, and that in the context, in the national press, it’s been difficult to get our story across.”

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What are Stonewall’s new priorities? – Intersex, Gender Recognition Act and Conversion Therapy

Kelley’s new priorities for the next three months are in somewhat defined by what is going on already. The leaked scrapping of the Gender Recognition Act is going to prove a tricky minefield for all involved to cross. Whilst she is also keen to see “an effective ban” in place for conversion therapy too.

The current and previous Conservative administration has been trailing a ban for over two years now. Re-announcing the policy just before the summer Boris Johnson said, they’d now only implement the new law after a consultation on how widespread the practice was undertaken.

But in a new move, Kelley also committed for the first time to take another step beyond sexuality, and advocate for Intersex people too.

Intersex people are born with variations in sex characteristics including, but not limited to, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones or genitals.

“I’ve taken the position, we will advocate around intersex in this space, in partnership with intersex organisations.”

Crucially, it is perhaps the second half of that sentence which provides a clue into another step-change in Stonewalls approach to advocating on behalf of the expansive LGBTQ community.

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Is it time for Stonewall to “step up” or “shut up”?

As the U.K.’s biggest LGBTQ charity, that sits practically at the centre of the architecture that makes up the LGBTQ movement in the U.K.–the charity should be in prime position to tackle the most significant and complicated issues facing the community.

But it’s some of Stonewall’s past practices, that mean in the eyes of other key LGBTQ organisations, the charity is one who barges in and stamps on their voices.

Something Kelley is again keen to leave in the past, which is guiding her approach to an ongoing internal conversation about the long term future for the charity.

“There is a lot for me there, about how Stonewall speaks, really meaningfully to all our communities. With us focusing on communities of colour and the distinctive experiences of lesbians, bisexual people etc.

“There is something about not always presenting the LGBTQ community as a monolith, and focusing on individual or combinations of experiences.”

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Indeed, under Kelley’s vision, no longer is it going to be the role of Stonewall, to shout on behalf of the whole community, but to amplify and elevate those within it:

“It’s really important we work with organisations, and we shouldn’t talk, shout over or takeover them which we’ve had a reputation for in the past.

“Do I want to strengthen our public campaigning voice? Yes. Is that going to be a loud one? Yes, when I think the shouting helps. For me, it’s about who is best placed to do the public awareness campaigns. Sometimes it’s going to be Stonewall, and sometimes not. I want us to step up where we should, and shut up where we shouldn’t.”

Specifically, on where the charity is with amplifying the voices of people of colour, she pointed to their recent work with UK Black Pride:

“We’ve had a big program of work on race equity, partnering meaningfully with UK Black pride is part of that picture, but it would be dishonest to say we’ve done everything. We should be open, in conversations, welcoming of challenge, happy to give an account of ourselves.

“There is a lot more work that Stonewall needs to do around race equity.”

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What’s next for Stonewall?

The organisation, set up in the 80s with founding members including Sir Ian McKellen has had an incredible growth. Their early approach was to advocate to business to make change, establishing their long rooted connections with corporates.

Over the last few months, it’s mostly been business as usual. Most recently their focus has been on the final build up to LGBTQ inclusive relationships and sex (RSE) education becoming compulsory in England. The law now says, from this month, all secondary schools must teach about sexual orientation and gender identity in RSE.

But true to its founding prerogatives, they’ve been engaged in parliamentary lobbying, meeting with lawmakers, and aiming to persuade them to make progressive moves, on both Gender Recognition Act and conversion therapy.

This continues alongside their work with extensive corporate partners as part of their Stonewall Equality Index, which is a vast source of income for the charity, listing the top inclusive employers each year. A model they also have rolled out beyond the U.K.—just this week launching a version of the scheme in India.

Like all under the current pandemic, the charity’s funding has “seen a dip” by strains created by Covid-19, but she gives the sense that, considering especially their ongoing corporate work, that Stonewall is doing well.

However, she doesn’t see a future for the charity supporting or granting its funds to other smaller organisations as some other national LGBTQ charities do elsewhere, pointing to the LGBT Consortium’s role in the U.K. to do this.

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It is clear Kelley’s focus is on bringing Stonewall back to its roots, as a human rights organisation. And that is part of why the organisation could see a pivotal change in its nature under her leadership.

As to what will be the next time Stonewall comes out fighting, remains to be seen. Indeed, it could be never, if the community tells them their time of ‘stepping up’ in that way is over.

We end our chat with Kelley’s message to those young queer teens, especially those who have perhaps had to put coming out on hold, as they live under challenging lockdowns and restrictions none of us ever expected to experience. 

“My message to the 15 years olds, is Stonewall is here so they can go to school, and not be treated like s***, and go to the workplace and treated fairly. We are here to speak for the most vulnerable, like sex workers, those of us who really need support.

“I also want to say Stonewall is here, to listen.”

Stonewall’s core focus on workplaces and education are going nowhere, but it is clear Kelley’s vision is that its Stonewall’s time to speak, or perhaps more likely amplify, the voices long left behind out of the LGBTQ movement.

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