sTonewall: Future Of Trans Activism?

Stonewall, for most of its history, has operated solely as an LGB entity ignoring the need to campaign for the rights of trans individuals. Will it be making room for the future? Credits: David Jones via CreativeCommons

What’s the largest LGBT charity in England and Wales? Easy, right? It’s Stonewall – except it really isn’t. It’s still a remarkably common misconception that Stonewall is an LGBT charity, but the only place you’ll find references to trans* people in the work they do is through links to outside material. This historical reluctance to campaign for the rights of trans people hasn’t gained them many friends among trans activists, instead earning them the title S’onewall.

What has really soured the situation is not Stonewall’s refusal to campaign for the LGBT community as a whole, but the transphobia it has spread as a result of its exclusion of trans people; famously including nominating transphobes for their awards and encouraging people to use transphobic slurs. What’s normally forgotten in this assessment are all the organisations which believe they’ve ticked off the LGBT equality box by talking to Stonewall, thereby destroying any chance of them being inclusive of trans people.

However, with the departure of Ben Summerskill and the ascension of Ruth Hunt, this is all looking set to change. Stonewall has opened a dialogue with trans people – asking them to submit their thoughts on whether the charity should finally start campaigning for trans people, and what this should look like. On top of this, they’ve invited a number of trans activists to discuss this with them face-to-face.

It would seem all is well and, while it may be a little late, this wrong is finally being righted. But the way Stonewall has gone about engaging with trans activists leaves some reservations; the activists who have been invited are the most visible, those with links to established organisations and those who have been recommended by others. This may lead to Stonewall simply producing more of the same activism that already exists. This isn’t in itself a bad thing, but it is a missed opportunity to tackle many of the problems which exist within trans activism today – problems such as the completely dire lack of representation and visibility of trans masculine people, non-binary people, young trans people and trans people of colour.

A few still oppose this effort on the grounds originally used by Stonewall: LGB activism and T activism are sufficiently different to warrant being done separately. However, there are many who disagree with this, instead talking of the shared forms of oppression LGBT people face and citing the pivotal role trans people played in the riot from which Stonewall takes its name.

Let us not forget that Stonewall Scotland, an entity distinct from its English and Welsh counterparts, has been including trans people for years – and has been doing an excellent job of it. Organisations like GLAAD have shown that, if it’s done right, it is possible to successfully expand from LGB to LGBT. These organisations may well have encouraged Stonewall towards making that move and should certainly provide excellent role models.

A few have been quick to declare that a new sTonewall goliath will become the future of trans activism in this country, but perhaps it’s just one big distraction. A new generation of activists are coming together to fight for the issues that the previous generation ignored, and a number of new organisations have just begun to grow. Perhaps instead the future will belong to them – the only thing that’s certain is that times are changing and standing still will get you left behind.

Sarah Gibson

Sarah Gibson studies engineering at the University of Cambridge. Is also an assistant editor for Beyond the Binary UK, former CUSU LGBT+ Trans Rep and activist focusing on inclusion of trans people of colour and trans people in sport.

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