The Stonewall CEO on working for the whole LGBT community
Since taking on the leadership of Stonewall in August 2014, Ruth Hunt has revolutionised the organisation, making their work more communityfocused and spearheading its commitment to trans equality. She spoke to Jacqui Gavin about her achievements so far.
DIVA: We are celebrating 250 issues this month – DIVA launched in 1994. What were you and Stonewall doing back then?
RUTH HUNT: Stonewall was founded in 1989, so not all that long before DIVA, in response to Section 28. For those unfamiliar with Section 28, it was a piece of legislation that was introduced to prohibit schools from “promoting” same-sex relationships. This meant, for example, that a teacher was not legally allowed to support a student that may have come out to them in need of help. And while Stonewall was fighting for the repeal of Section 28, I was at school and living it! Growing up and being aware of the work Stonewall was doing, lobbying so that people like me could be ourselves, is just one of the reasons I had always so wanted to be a part of the organisation. Fast-forward to 2017, Stonewall is almost 30, and we are continuing to campaign for equal rights for lesbian, gay, bi and trans folk. While many laws may have been introduced or repealed to protect our community, there’s certainly still lots to do, and after 10 years of working at Stonewall I am still so happy to be a part of that.
Stonewall was an L and G charity when it was founded, only recently evolving to LGBT. What do you think about this evolution, and do you see any more letters being added during your tenure as CEO?
When I became chief executive, it was an absolute priority of mine for Stonewall to reach out to trans people in Britain to ask how we could best support their community. After around 50 meetings with over 700 trans people, it was agreed that the best way to achieve this would be by Stonewall becoming fully trans-inclusive. I’m delighted that trans people across England, Scotland and Wales have since let us in, and have helped support us on the journey that we’ve made as an organisation. Today, I can say I’m proud of what we have achieved so far alongside the trans community, which includes our trans staff and stakeholders, who we continue to learn so much from on a daily basis. We use “acceptance without exception” as a means of talking about our community, that we feel is not just inclusive of all identities, but also captures exactly what we are trying to achieve as an organisation and as a movement.
Why is trans inclusion important to the organisation and to you generally?
As an LGBT organisation, Stonewall can truly work towards its vision of a world where each and every one of us is accepted without exception. We must not forget that, despite our diversity and different lived experiences, together we form a wonderful community. Sometimes that sense of community is lost and, particularly during
RUTH HUNT CHATS TO JACQUI GAVIN ABOUT STONEWALL’S COMMITMENT TO TRANS EQUALITY, AND THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES FACING THE LGBT COMMUNITY IN 2017
times of adversity and uncertainty, we must do what we can to preserve it. Whether that means standing by the side of butch women, dispelling myths about the bi community, being allies to trans people or calling out racism that we witness on the scene, it’s a responsibility that we should all wear with pride.
Tell us more about the formation of the Stonewall Trans Advisory Group and the Vision for Change document.
The Stonewall Trans Advisory Group (STAG) is made up of 16 people who are not employed by Stonewall, but oversee our work around trans inclusion. STAG formed in 2015 and deliberately represents the broad range of identities, backgrounds and experiences that make up the trans community in Britain. People were chosen to ensure they could leave their personal ambitions outside the room and work together for the goal of all trans people. One of the pieces of work STAG has pulled together since forming two years ago is the document A Vision for Change, which will set out what we believe should be the priorities for trans inclusion over the next five years. We have held various consultations around Britain with trans folk so that they can feed into and be a part of the document, which launches in April. So keep your eyes peeled.
2016 was hailed by many as the “trans tipping point” but life for many trans people, particularly those of colour, is not improving as fast as we need it to. What are Stonewall doing to speed up change?
Since becoming trans inclusive, we have ensured that our events and programmes are fully trans inclusive, whether that is a Workplace Conference for 2,000 people or a Young Campaigners programme for 50 people aged 16–21. We have since produced reports and guidance for a range of audiences that are trans inclusive, including a toolkit for grassroots sports groups, school guidance on transphobic bullying, a series of trans inclusion at work guides and a report on attitudes among health and social care professionals toward LGBT people. Our partnership work with Gendered Intelligence has meant that, internally, all Stonewall staff can talk confidently and accurately on trans issues. All other aspects of work toward trans inclusion and equality should be led by the trans community, with Stonewall behind it and supporting it fully. This is why the priorities outlined in A Vision For Change, by our advisory group and the hundreds of trans people who have contributed to it, will be what Stonewall campaigns on and around for years to come.
What are the specific issues trans people face in the workplace and how is Stonewall working with employers to address these?
LGBT inclusion at work is an enormous part of the work we do at Stonewall. We work with over 700 organisations in the private and public sector, from healthcare providers, to banks, to universities, to law firms or construction companies. Our internal team who works alongside and advises these organisations are experts in workplace inclusion for lesbian, gay, bi and trans employees. Together, they help businesses to develop policies and implement changes that ensure all LGBT employees feel able to be themselves and are welcome and included in their organisations. For trans and non-binary staff, this could mean introducing gender neutral facilities, ensuring that all staff have trans inclusion training or perhaps celebrating days like Trans Day of Visibility. This is in addition to more general issues that affect all lesbian, gay, bi and trans employees, such as creating network groups or having a senior sponsor within an organisation who champions LGBT equality. Stonewall is extremely proud to have worked with Trans*formation on a series of guides to support trans people at work. This partnership has allowed us to ensure that non-trans colleagues and managers know how to support and empower the trans folk they work with.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the LGBT community, particularly those with intersecting identities, in 2017?
Civil rights movements can only succeed when all those involved understand that individuals experience prejudice in different ways. As a diverse community, lesbian, gay, bi and trans folk must not forget that. While we share in our experience of oppression, there are some forms of discrimination that affect lesbians. Others that specifically affect trans people. Dual discrimination for LGBT people of colour. And countless other examples. Recognising this is a challenge that our community faces. As progress for lesbian, gay, bi and trans equality becomes increasingly about social rather than legal change, it can be easy to get caught up in the daily discrimination that specifically affects ourselves and people like us. To achieve full equality, we must be active allies to every part of our community, and consider their specific fights as much ours as our own.
What has been your proudest moment as Stonewall CEO so far and what would you still like to achieve?
All the work that the team do here at Stonewall is so important, and I take immense pride in being involved with each and every part of that work. Whether that’s watching our Young Campaigner of the Year Sirina- Monique perform at UK Black Pride, sharing panels with inspirational women like Amelia Lee from The Proud Trust or Chloe Cousins from Rainbow Noir at our Stonewall Season launch, hiring our new Head of Trans Inclusion Bex, or meeting activists from around the world to talk about the different ways in which we can learn from one another. Working in partnership with huge influential businesses like Lloyds Banking Group, Manchester United and Sky has also been a hugely important part of Stonewall’s work while I have been here as chief executive. These meaningful collaborations with global organisations that believe in lesbian, gay, bi and trans equality are already creating real change for LGBT people, which is something that we are all very proud of as an organisation. I’m proud of all of these things, and perhaps most proud of the real sense of togetherness we hold while doing it. Not just at Stonewall, but also as a community. What I would love to achieve, of course, is acceptance without exception for all lesbian, gay, bi and trans people everywhere. And while I’m working as Stonewall’s chief executive, I will do all that I can to get us as close to that point as possible.
Despite our diversity and different lived experience, together we form a wonderful community