AC­CEP­TANCE WITH­OUT EX­CEP­TION

RUTH HUNT, CHIEF EX­EC­U­TIVE OF STONEWALL, TALKS TO ANDY WASLEY ABOUT THE CHANGES SHE HAS MADE TO THE LGBT CHAR­ITY

Pride Life Magazine - - CONTENTS -

We talk with Ruth Hunt, CEO of Stonewall

Peo­ple in the les­bian, gay and bi­sex­ual com­mu­nity un­doubt­edly owe much to Stonewall’s im­mense record of leg­isla­tive achieve­ments – not least on such totemic is­sues as equal mar­riage, par­ent­ing rights and hate crime.

Ruth Hunt played a key role in these and other suc­cesses in her role as the head of Stonewall’s pub­lic af­fairs team. Since tak­ing over as Chief Ex­ec­u­tive in 2014 she has changed the char­ity in­side and out.

“I was keen to think about how we could move from be­ing an or­gan­i­sa­tion that was set up to achieve leg­isla­tive change to an or­gan­i­sa­tion that went deeper into com­mu­ni­ties to achieve cul­tural change,” Hunt says. “I need peo­ple to care about the Mus­lim les­bian liv­ing in York­shire who’s dropped out of school and is un­likely to earn more than the min­i­mum wage, as much as they cared about their own right to get mar­ried. If we all start to think that harm done to one is harm done to all, then I think we’ll get there.”

This kind of cul­tural change is a tough mis­sion by it­self, but Hunt also had to change per­cep­tions of Stonewall it­self. Prior to her ap­point­ment as Chief Ex­ec­u­tive, Stonewall had faced sting­ing crit­i­cism from other prom­i­nent LGBT cam­paign­ers for what they saw as a some­times cloth-eared fail­ure to truly ap­pre­ci­ate the LGBT com­mu­nity’s con­cerns. It took un­til 2010, for ex­am­ple, for Stonewall to start cam­paign­ing for equal mar­riage, a de­lay crit­i­cised by two of its own co-founders, Sir Ian McKellen and Michael (now Lord) Cash­man. And for

many trans peo­ple Stonewall’s pol­icy of ex­clud­ing gen­der iden­tity from its cam­paigns smacked of trans­pho­bia.

In truth, Hunt’s pub­lic af­fairs team had al­ways worked closely with trans or­gan­i­sa­tions on mat­ters of mu­tual con­cern, but the char­ity’s over­all “LGB-only” pol­icy seemed in­creas­ingly at odds with the way the LGBT com­mu­nity saw it­self. (It should be noted that Stonewall Scot­land had al­ways worked di­rectly on trans is­sues.) Hunt saw trans in­clu­sion as es­sen­tial. Af­ter a decade at the char­ity, she says, “I knew that how Stonewall worked was as im­por­tant as what Stonewall does. I was keen to move us away from be­ing spokes­peo­ple for the gay com­mu­nity to an or­gan­i­sa­tion that shares its plat­forms for the beau­ti­ful di­ver­sity of the LGBT com­mu­nity.”

She put this vi­sion into ef­fect quickly, launch­ing a con­sul­ta­tion with trans groups to ex­plore their views on Stonewall’s fu­ture. This led to a strik­ingly self-crit­i­cal re­port in which Stonewall apol­o­gised for mak­ing mis­takes that had harmed trans com­mu­ni­ties. The char­ity is now fully trans in­clu­sive, and is work­ing with a coali­tion of trans groups to sup­port their cam­paigns for equal­ity. (Hunt points to the need for a new, less med­i­calised Gen­der Recog­ni­tion Act as an im­me­di­ate pri­or­ity.)

It takes strong lead­er­ship to change an or­gan­i­sa­tion’s cul­ture and rep­u­ta­tion this way. Hunt seems am­ply qual­i­fied for the role: af­ter a decade at the heart of Stonewall’s lob­by­ing cam­paigns she now leads a hun­dred-strong team, and has presided over two years of strong fi­nan­cial growth. In­di­vid­ual and cor­po­rate do­na­tions were up by 48 per cent in 2015 – more than dou­ble the pre­vi­ous year’s growth – and over­all the char­ity brought in nearly a mil­lion pounds more than it did in 2014.

It’s an im­pres­sive record for a self-ef­fac­ing leader who jokes that some of her staff think of her as just “some­one who runs around the coun­try mak­ing speeches”. In se­ri­ous­ness, though, she says she hopes her staff see her as an “em­pow­er­ing” leader: “Staff should be able to bring their whole selves to work. They should be au­then­tic, and should be able to find their voice within this or­gan­i­sa­tion, and have the space to do that.”

This fo­cus on au­then­tic­ity is re­flected in Stonewall’s Lead­er­ship Pro­gramme, now in its twelfth year. Hunt ex­plains: “We take 36 lead­ers away for two-and-a-half days and get them to think about how their iden­tity has an im­pact on their per­for­mance at work.

“Peo­ple who go on these pro­grammes say that they are trans­for­ma­tive. They come back more en­thu­si­as­tic, more com­mit­ted to what they’re do­ing, and are far bet­ter in the work­place than they were be­fore the pro­grammes.”

For Hunt, the busi­ness ar­gu­ment for au­then­tic­ity is com­pelling, but she also speaks warmly about the ef­fect it has on LGBT peo­ple’s daily lives. “On a sim­ple level, se­crets are toxic. Peo­ple who are un­able to be them­selves are im­mea­sur­ably af­fected by that. We talk about who we are a lot at work, and when some­one is un­able to do that it af­fects their per­for­mance.”

Con­versely, “when peo­ple don’t have to riskassess whether they’re able to be open or not, they feel much freer in all sorts of other ways. There’s some­thing about LGBT peo­ple’s abil­ity to value au­then­tic­ity that is in­cred­i­bly use­ful to any or­gan­i­sa­tion.”

Hunt sug­gests that LGBT equal­ity at work could also have a broader ef­fect on busi­ness cul­ture, sug­gest­ing it “chal­lenges the very no­tion of ‘sur­vival of the fittest’”. She ex­plains: “The old way of look­ing at busi­ness is be­ing chal­lenged by a much more so­phis­ti­cated un­der­stand­ing, where if you let peo­ple work in their own way – even if it’s not the tra­di­tional ‘al­pha-male model’ of per­for­mance – you will ac­tu­ally get a work ex­pe­ri­ence that is richer, more in­no­va­tive and de­liv­ers more on ev­ery level.”

Hunt sees this kind of so­cial change as fun­da­men­tal to Stonewall’s ef­forts to achieve full ac­cep­tance for LGBT peo­ple at ev­ery level of so­ci­ety. “Stonewall should be at the heart of the so­cial move­ment for ac­cep­tance,” she says, em­pha­sis­ing the char­ity’s con­tin­u­ing im­por­tance to the LGBT com­mu­nity.

“We know that hate crime hasn’t changed in a decade,” she adds. “We know that there is still bul­ly­ing in schools. And we know that there are still whole swathes of the LGBT pop­u­la­tion – par­tic­u­larly those from mi­nor­ity back­grounds or from faith com­mu­ni­ties or those with dis­abil­i­ties – who are not in the same po­si­tion of priv­i­lege as some oth­ers, and are yet to be able to say with true con­vic­tion that they feel equal.

“I think un­til we reach a stage where ev­ery in­sti­tu­tion in this coun­try, ev­ery or­gan­i­sa­tion, ev­ery work­place, ev­ery school is a place where LGBT peo­ple can be them­selves, our job isn’t done yet.”

“The char­ity is now fully trans in­clu­sive, and is work­ing with a coali­tion of trans groups to sup­port their cam­paigns for equal­ity”

RUTH HUNT

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