Stonewall began as a charity, lived on as business and is currently expiring under a cloud of nonsense. Credit: Steve Eason/Getty

October 22, 2021   5 mins

When Stonewall was set up, in 1989, gay people did not have equal rights in the UK. Homosexuality may have been decriminalised in 1967, but the age of consent wasn’t the same as it was for straight people in the Eighties. Section 28 was still on the statute books, causing harm to gay students and teachers alike. And, of course, gay people were not allowed to have their relationships recognised in law. The work of Stonewall in those days was invaluable.

Its founders, including Ian McKellen, fought a very public, often personal but ultimately successful battle to bring about political change through changing hearts and minds. John Major’s government, the New Labour government of Tony Blair, and finally the Conservative-led coalition of David Cameron saw every single one of the unequal treatments of gay British people rescinded. By 2013, when the Coalition passed the gay marriage act, the battle for gay rights was essentially won.

But there is a problem with rights battles, which is that even once they are won, not everybody will leave the barricades. Many have no other homes to go to. Many find purpose only in the struggle. Still others, more cynically, have lifestyles to sustain and pensions and mortgages to pay. Besides, power and influence once accrued is a hard thing to give up.

So, it appears, was the case with Stonewall, who around the time that the Conservatives passed the gay marriage act, decided to pivot onto an entirely new cause: gender ideology.

Trans rights had always been part of the LGBT cause. Most gay people were sympathetic to the small number of trans people we met in bars or clubs. But their cause was not the same as ours — and, besides, most trans people seemed to want to just get on with their lives, passing as the opposite sex and being accepted. This all changed the moment Ruth Hunt took over as chief executive of Stonewall in 2014. With her arrival, the organisation’s focus changed. And the cry of Stonewall adverts “Some people are gay. Get over it”, morphed into a more complex set of assertions. This included the claim that some people are trans so, therefore, biological sex does not exist and, in fact, there is an endlessly growing number of different gender identities.

Perhaps Hunt and her colleagues did not realise the explosive device they were placing beneath their own movement. For if you accept that there is no such thing as sex, but only self-identifying “gender”, then same-sex attracted people are erased. This means you delete your core constituency if you are an organisation like Stonewall. Regardless, Stonewall persevered. Not least because by now they had discovered an especially lucrative business.

This was summed up in what became known as the Stonewall Equality Index and Diversity Champions Scheme. The charity would effectively audit companies and other public and private sector organisations to grade how good they were for LGBT employees and how advanced they were in LGBT rights. Again, at the start of this project in the 2000s there was something to be said for it. But by the 2010s, it was charging companies £2,500 just to apply to be part of the Diversity Champions Scheme. Commercial interest had taken over. As The Times demonstrated, Stonewall confected arbitrary rules to force employers into doing more to become Diversity Champions. It coerced those involved in the scheme to lobby for Stonewall’s point of view. And it misrepresented the law in relation to trans rights, confusing the law of the land with Stonewall’s preferred law.

After publication of The Times report, Equalities Minister Liz Truss called for government departments to leave the Stonewall scheme. Around the same time, the Equality and Human Rights Commission also left, saying that it was not best value for money. The fact that Stonewall had been appraising the work of the EHRC was a demonstration of just where the organisation had been sitting in the new clerical class that had come to dominate Britain. The principles of this new elite were centered around the new religion of “diversity” and “equality”, and the groups which claimed to be the holders of the doctrines of this faith had done exceptionally well. Until now.

As things started to fall apart Stonewall and its allies responded in the way of all trapped elites. They continued to accuse their critics of malicious-intent (specifically, in this case, bigotry) and refused to take any of the criticisms onboard. So a devastating summary judgement came down upon them which they did not even bother to answer. It came from a somewhat surprising source.

The BBC is among the corporations to have been caught up in Stonewall’s various schemes. And yet the questions over Stonewall’s connection with the BBC and the wider British elite came from a far-flung, if noble, corner of the great BBC empire: Stephen Nolan of BBC Radio Ulster.

Nolan takes 10 episodes to fully investigate the influence of Stonewall and its empire. This includes the gender ideology that Stonewall pushes, its closeness to government, its penetration of Ofcom and, finally its closeness to the BBC itself. It is a remarkable act of journalism, demonstrating that among the finest attributes of the BBC is the ability of people at the corporation to question their own bosses.

It also, inevitably, takes some time to get through. And so the response has been predictably ill-informed. Stonewall’s defenders — and those pushing the same ideology as the group — immediately attacked the podcast and its makers. They did so suspiciously fast, given that you’d need to dedicate at least eight hours to listen to the whole thing. As Stonewall’s foundations started to collapse, they attempted to rise above the fray. As Gareth Roberts noted, their response was a deeply unserious tweet asserting that they were simply working towards a better world.

They didn’t address any of the very serious questions raised by Nolan: questions about Stonewall’s undue influence inside and outside government, its misrepresentation of the law, its displacement of the law with its own interpretation of it (or hope for it) and its ability (through OfCom in particular) to effectively mark its own homework.

Stonewall has tried to pretend that it is above answering these very significant questions. But it is not. One clip from Nolan demonstrates this above all. It’s with Ben Cohen, the founder and Chief Executive of Pink News. The legacy online gay publication likes to act as a sort of ideological enforcer for Stonewall, pursuing their perceived opponents and otherwise engaging in activism in the guise of journalism. They attend the same black tie dinners and Downing Street receptions.

But worth the price of listening to the Nolan show alone is the moment in episode three when Nolan asks Cohen to define a couple of the gender-bollocks terms that Stonewall and others expect everyone in the UK, including BBC presenters like Nolan to be able to understand and all those “Diversity Champions” out there. What is “two-spirit?” Nolan asks Cohen. Cohen cannot explain. What about “genderqueer”? Again Cohen is stumped. While undeniably funny, this moment also represents something very serious in Stonewall’s wider collapse.

It is one thing that a group should be caught out in a dodgy money-making scheme. It is another that people should be seeing through their influence-peddling operations. Yet it is far worse when a clerical class cannot explain the doctrines of their own faith. A faith they have been busy trying to spew out across the whole of society, but which is so baseless, that even the priestly class doesn’t know what they are talking about. It is the end of the faith.

Douglas Murray is an author and journalist.