Stonewalling the UK LGB&T Community

by Shaker Andy Godfrey, a British student who has campaigned for LGB&T rights in several UK university societies.

Like many Shakers, I've supported a number of campaigns to petition reluctant governments to support marriage equality for LGB&T people. But recently, I've found myself in the more unusual and frankly rather bizarre position of campaigning to get a reluctant LGB rights group to support marriage equality.

We've been running a Facebook campaign directed at Stonewall, the UK's, and indeed Europe's, largest LGB lobbying organisation. (The LGB isn't a typo by the way - Stonewall campaigns exclusively for lesbian, gay and bisexual people, which as one friend has said is a bit rich coming from an organisation named after a riot started by a trans activist.) Stonewall have rooted themselves firmly in the establishment as an influential and media-friendly group that has overseen the introduction of legal rights that LGB people in most countries can only dream of.

However, in an all-too-familiar story, gaining mainstream acceptance seems to have made Stonewall reluctant to rock the boat. At the moment, UK same-sex couples can have civil partnerships but not marriages (although they confer the same legal rights). Stonewall don't regard campaigning for full marriage equality as a priority because there is no "practical difference" between the two institutions. Which I'm sure you'll agree makes perfect sense - after all, if civil partnerships and marriages confer the same legal rights, what possible reasons could an LGB equality and rights organization have for objecting to the fact that there are two entirely separate institutions for same-sex and opposite-sex couples?

Quite a few, as it turns out. The segregation of marriage and civil partnerships means trans people have to divorce their partners for gender change to be legally recognised (but oh silly me Stonewall are only an LGB organisation, so of course they're allowed to ignore trans rights). Many same-sex couples do want their partnership to be recognised as a marriage - including couples such as Sue Wilkinson and Celia Kitzinger who have been legally married in other countries and rather reasonably want the UK government to recognise that their marriage is, in fact, a marriage. And conversely, there are some opposite-sex couples, such as Tom Freeman and Katherine Doyle, who wish to have their relationship recognised as a civil partnership without all the patriarchal baggage that comes with marriage.

Marriage equality is supported by an overwhelming number of LGB&T people (98% in a recent survey) as well as every major LGB&T organisation apart from Stonewall. Most leading politicians either support it or are not vehemently against it (the current Prime Minister is in the latter camp). In the light of this, Stonewall's refusal to openly acknowledge that marriage equality is fairer and better than the current situation is not just reprehensible. It's also plain weird. Some people have suggested that Stonewall's position is a result of political pressure, but I'm pretty sure that even the most extreme UK politicians wouldn't blink an eyelid if an LGB equality and rights organization came out in favour of marriage equality. After all, it's not exactly an extreme or surprising view for, you know, an LGB equality and rights organization to take. What seems to have happened is that Stonewall have become supremely assured that they know best about LGB rights, regardless of what the LGB&T community actually think. They do not deign to explain or justify their position even to the LGB&T press, leaving many people baffled and frustrated.

I founded the Facebook group "Why the silence, Stonewall? Marriage equality now!" so that the community's voice would be heard. Hundreds of people who don't think Stonewall are listening to them have joined, and our open letter to Stonewall has been signed by numerous activists, academics and student representatives. For any Shakers who want to help, this is one situation where simply joining a Facebook group could actually make a difference (after all, how hard can it be to persuade an LGB equality and rights organization to support marriage equality)? Join the group, link to the group, tweet about the group, ask people to sign the open letter (especially if you know people involved in UK LGB&T organisations) - there are plenty of ways to help without even standing up from your computer!

All in all, it's a cautionary tale for activist movements that achieve a degree of political power - groups that purport to represent LGB&T people need to remain answerable to the LGB&T community. LGB&T people in the UK are fortunate to have legal rights denied to most people across the world, but it doesn't mean there's nothing left to fight for - and it rankles to be ignored by the people who are meant to be representing us.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus