31 January 2022

Stonewall – it started with a riot

Richard Jones, Chair of the LGBT+ advisory committee gives a history of Stonewall, why it's important and how it's relevant today.

Why Stonewall? – the name
Although it wasn’t the first-time people from LGBT+ communities protested for their rights (such as the Compton Café riots in San Francisco), as with much of the LGBT+ heritage (our queer history), it isn’t well represented in mainstream media and only comes to light when uncovered (in diaries, in oral history) long after the event. The police raid on the Stonewall Bar, subsequent harassment of patrons and their fightback for several nights following 28 June 1969 is one of the exceptions and stands internationally as a turning point for LGBT+ rights protests. It was a riot of gay men, lesbians, bi people and trans people (who would perhaps not have used the term at the time as it wasn’t in common use). The first call to rise up was widely reported to have been a trans woman (their identity is unknown, some think it was Storme DeLarvenie, others Martha P Johnson), and that puts trans voices at the heart of the fight for Lesbian and Gay rights that started at the Stonewall bar

When in 1988, the government of the day looked to legislate against what the prime minister called ‘pretend families’, the fightback against Section 28 (to prohibit the ‘intentional promoting of homosexuality’) was widespread, including the occupation of the BBC Six O’clock News the day the act was being passed through parliament, and women abseiling into The House of Lords as it sat. The protestors organised and formed groups and one of these was Stonewall.

Why Stonewall? – the organisation
From a single-issue protest group to an LGB (initially) rights group in a matter of years, Stonewall campaigned on equalisation of age of consent, against LGB people being banned in the armed forces, parental and adoption rights and the right to be fully equal citizens, including in our workplaces. Stonewall developed support material to help organisations and people get this right, including the Workplace Equality Index, which measures various processes and policies against a benchmark and other employers to rate their LGBT+ equality as employers.

Unlike other organisations, such as Outrage which dissolved in 2011 and the LGB Alliance (which includes many who are actively transphobic and has leading voices that promote homophobia such as supporting ‘gay conversion therapy’), Stonewall attracts support and respect amongst many LGBT+ people and cis heterosexual allies (cis is a term used to identify people who don’t identify as trans). Like all organisations, it is not always perfect: for the first few years of the millennium, their chief exec was vocally right wing and did not want to engage with trades unions as the voice of people in the workplace. This has changed, and the organisation now includes the trans part of LGBT, acknowledging the value in inclusion and the heritage brought to the organisation.

Why does it matter?
The Stonewall Workplace Equality Index (SWEI) is an annual benchmarking event for UK employers to enter and be ranked, with the top 100 published each January. The criteria evolve over time, and covers measuring inclusivity of parental policies, transitioning in the workplace, language that does not exclude on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity, and many other areas. It matters because these policies as employers represent how they treat us as customers and service users. HMRC, and predecessor departments, was regularly rated in the top half of the ratings until the last ten years or so. HMRC did not enter for the index published in 2022.

What next?
It’s standing R&C group conference policy that we expect the department to enter, and we will work with the department to enter. We were not consulted on the decision to not enter and we were only involved at a point where it was not possible to be changed. The Diversity and Inclusion team did accept that the lack of consultation and engagement needed to change, and as part of the change PCS will be part of the working group for improvements in HMRC’s approach to LGBT+ workers and for future involvement in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index. We were a top ten employer before; it is time to be again.

Richard Jones
Chair of the LGBT+ advisory committee