OPINION - Stonewall has a terrible grip on British public life

 (SOPA Images/LightRocket via Gett)
(SOPA Images/LightRocket via Gett)

Quite how needful it was for equalities minister Kemi Badenoch to tell public bodies to pull the plug on their connection with Stonewall, the pernicious, ubiquitous campaigning group, can be seen in its latest accounts.

It got well over half a million pounds, £572,868, in grants from government sources in 2022-23, up from £426,390 the year before. Of its £7 million income, nearly £4 million came from its Diversity Champions Programme. That gives guidance and training for quangos, government departments and publicly funded bodies on burning issues as transgender inclusion and pronouns.

The issue is Stonewall’s grip over the rules of public discourse and the assumptions on which our public bodies operate

But it’s not just the money that’s so troubling here — though it’s notable that every single one of the public bodies that paid for membership, such as Arts Council England and Historic England, are notoriously short of cash. The issue is Stonewall’s grip over the rules of public discourse and the assumptions on which our public bodies operate.

It seems, for instance, that NHS England was so keen to be included in Stonewall’s Top 100 Employers that in its recent application it said its menopause policy is “LGBT inclusive” and had been improved to support “trans and non-binary employees”. “It is important to acknowledge that transgender, non-binary and intersex workers may also experience the menopause.” News to NHS England: it’s a women thing.

The problem about Stonewall isn’t just that it’s been given hundreds of thousands of public funds, directly or indirectly; it’s that its aims and methods run counter to the views of an awful lot of us. Its influence with the people and institutions that run our lives has been, and still is, huge. Yet most people if asked whether schools should stop referring to “boys” and “girls” — another Stonewall initiative — would think the question just weird.

Yet it’s had its foot in the door of government on and off for years: the Army, Navy, schools, the Crown Prosecution Service... the lot. It’s insane. Last year Badenoch declared public money shouldn’t be spent on “other people’s hobby horses”. Quite. Would Labour say the same? I think we should be told.

Melanie McDonagh is an Evening Standard columnist