Unis aren’t actually abandoning Stonewall, in Pride Month, over a trans rights controversy

The charity says it’s the victim of ‘threadbare and deliberately organised attacks’

Universities are reportedly cutting ties with the country’s leading LGBT+ charity during Pride Month over controversies around trans rights.

A government minister is even issuing calls for organisations to pull out of Stonewall’s “diversity champions” scheme – with reports that bodies like Channel 4 have withdrawn from the scheme, which costs around £2,500 a year.

Now the exodus has seemingly spreading to unis. The Telegraph revealed yesterday that UCL and Winchester had left the “diversity champions programme”.

And Aberdeen University tells The Tab it is planning to have a “full debate” of its membership in September.

“A trickle could turn into a flood”, the Daily Mail’s Andrew Pierce speculated.

But it turns out there are barely a few drops of water.

Unis contacted by The Tab said they were reviewing their ties with Stonewall – but that they always review memberships. The universities reported to have cut ties had done so last year – before the recent calls to abandon the LGBT+ charity arose.

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Aberdeen said it had “seen value in our membership of Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme for a range of reasons,” but added that “we are planning to have a full debate on our Stonewall membership at the start of the new academic year through our relevant committees.”

Exeter said it had “no plans to discontinue” its membership, and its involvement is something it “regularly reviews”.

Bristol said it has “no plans to review this relationship in light of recent comments and reports of public bodies’ planned withdrawals.”

St Andrews told The Tab: “Our relationship with Stonewall has been a largely positive one to date, but we always listen to staff and student views in the process of reviewing associations or memberships, and we will be doing that in this regard too.”

Sussex said it has no plans to withdraw from the scheme, but regularly reviews all its programmes.

Coventry is signed up, and says it was already reviewing its membership.

Reading said it was “aware of the current discussion around the scheme”, and regularly reviews its partnerships.

Lancaster renewed its membership last month, while Loughborough simply said it remains a member of the scheme.

For the unis reported to have left the scheme, the decision was taken over a year before the recent controversy erupted.

UCL – total income of £1.48bn in 2019 – said it left the £2,500 scheme at the start of the pandemic because of its cost.

UCL’s LGBT+ Equality Steering group said the withdrawal was for a single year, with money being saved because of the pandemic going towards other internal initiatives.

Noel Caliste, the chair of the group, said: “UCL values the support of Stonewall in helping us to drive positive change”.

Winchester, the other university mentioned, also said it made the decision in August 2020.

In the midst of Pride Month, controversy has arisen over the relationship between public bodies and the LGBT+ charity, Stonewall.

Stonewall had been accused of giving “bad advice” to Essex Uni in a recent report. The charity was accused of misrepresenting the law in advice it gave to the university, which cancelled talks by speakers accused of transphobia.

One of its founders, former MP Matthew Parris, said that “Stonewall has lost its way”, and is “tangled up in the trans issue”.

However, Stonewall insists its advice was “robust and correct”, and that the charity’s staff had “no involvement at all” in the decision.

It argues that the attacks are “threadbare and deliberately organised and coordinated to undermine support for our work to ensure every LGBTQ+ employee can thrive at work.”

The government’s equalities minister, Liz Truss, is reportedly “pushing” for government departments to leave Stonewall’s Diversity Champions Programme.

The programme, currently in place at 250 government and public bodies including universities across the country, is used to ensure that workplaces have the resources they need to ensure LGBT+ inclusion for all employees.

The Ministry of Justice is now set to leave the initiative, citing Liz Truss’ concerns over “value for money”. Yet some are warning that the controversy is a “moral panic” and a backlash to Stonewall’s campaigns on trans rights.

A UCL spokesperson said: “In the context of the pandemic in March 2020, UCL reviewed all our subscriptions of equality bodies and decided to redirect some spending from these towards internal equality, diversity and inclusion activity. As part of this, UCL decided not to renew its membership of the Stonewall Diversity Champions Scheme last year.”

Stonewall told The Tab: “All employers need to ensure that their staff, including LGBTQ+ staff, are free from discrimination and prejudice at work, and our Diversity Champions programme is one way for organisations to be supported to meet this requirement. More than a third of LGBTQ+ staff (35 per cent) hide who they are at work, while one in five (18 per cent) have been the target of negative comments because they’re LGBTQ+.

“As with every membership programme, organisations come and go depending on what works best for them at the time, but we’re pleased to say that our Diversity Champions programme is continuing to grow. This year alone, from 1 June 2020 to 1 June 2021, our membership grew by thirty organisations in total.

“Since we set up the Diversity Champions programme in 2001, many large employers have developed major internal programmes to promote diversity and inclusion across their staff and make the workplace better for LGBTQ+ people. We are confident in our advice on the Equality Act which is based the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Equality Act Code of Practice, which was recently reaffirmed in the High Court. We are very proud of the work we’re doing with more than 850 organisations to help create inclusive working environments for their lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer staff.”

The Tab’s Pride reporting series is putting a focus on highlighting LGBTQ+ issues and celebrating queer voices across UK campuses.

If you or someone you know has been affected by this story you can contact Switchboard, the LGBTQ+ helpline, on 0300 330 0630 or visit their website. You can also find help through The Mix

If you’ve got a story you’d like to tell us – whether it’s an incident of homophobia on campus, an experience you’d like to share, or anything you think we should hear, get in touch in confidence by emailing [email protected]

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