Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and their allies took part in a national protest last Friday to ask all public and private organisations who have signed up to the Stonewall Diversity Champions scheme to #ComeOutOfStonewall.
I helped to organise this protest, along with women in the Belfast Women’s Rights Network and the campaigning group Scottish Feminists. We were protesting because Stonewall no longer represents our interests as same sex-attracted individuals. Its #NoDebate stance shows how it has become an authoritarian and undemocratic organisation. It is misleading Diversity Champions scheme members about the Equality Act, reflecting the law as they would like it to be, rather than the law as it is written.
Protests took part in Belfast, Edinburgh and London and followed on from another event organised two weeks ago in which women’s rights activists – dressed as dinosaurs – targeted the offices of The Lancet and the Labour Party using the #HearMeRoar hashtag.
Friday’s protests began at noon in London at Parliament Square as protestors, including five inflatable dinosaurs, gathered bearing placards such as “Lesbians do not have penises” and “I am Paleosexual (exclusively attracted to dinosaurs)”. We marched to Portcullis House which houses the offices of over 200 MPs. We chanted slogans such as “Stonewall Out!” and “Lesbians and gays say transing kids is not OK.”
We proceeded to Scotland Yard where we demanded that the police forces in England and Wales leave the Stonewall Diversity Champions scheme. I gave a speech in which I said the police should solve crimes, instead of harassing women for tweets which state basic facts about human biology. From there we marched past Westminster before heading down to the Home Office, our last stop before we hopped on a bus to the BBC’s Broadcasting House.
We ended our protest outside the BBC headquarters where several impassioned speeches were given by lesbian, gay and bisexual protestors. The day was ended as MrMenno led the crowd in a sing-along of ‘Defund Stonewall’ from a book of poems called ‘The Vagina Limericks’ (sung to the tune of Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in the Wall’).
Before heading down to the pub, protestors took a moment to pause for photographs in front of a statue of George Orwell, which sits beside a quote which reads, “If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
Protests in Scotland kicked off at 1.30pm outside Waverley Gate and the offices of NHS Scotland. A number of speeches were given, including one by Shereen Benjamin, a lecturer at Edinburgh University who has suffered a sustained campaign of abuse for her lesbian feminist beliefs. They were joined by a lone masked protester who followed them throughout the day, taking photographs without interacting. Four police officers who had been called to an earlier incident at St James Centre stayed to watch the speeches, informing them that they were well within their rights to protest and that there were no issues with their actions.
They moved on to John Lewis where passers-by were moved to stop and ask questions after an informative and moving speech by a lesbian who gave a potted history of the issues with Stonewall.
From there they moved on to Police Scotland, at the ironically named Gayfield, where the march concluded, after a few more rousing speeches. They ended the day at the pub where they proceeded to peak everyone both inside and outside the venue.
Organiser Jackie Cunningham said of the day: “It went really well, we managed to get the message out about the Stonewall Diversity Champions scheme. I just wanted to say to readers please come along to future events, we’re just a grassroots movement and everyone is welcome. If this is the way forward, we need to get more people to join and come along, so the more the merrier.”
The Belfast protest began at 4pm outside BBC Broadcasting House. It was a day that marked the 40th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Northern Ireland. It featured blistering speeches including by lesbian rights campaigner Ceri Black.
Black was asked to attend a police station last week after being reported to her local force for alleged homophobia and transphobia. You can read her speech here: https://ceriblack.substack.com/p/full-text-of-my-speech-to-the-belfast.
Despite a small number of counter protestors including members of the Rainbow Project, an organisation affiliated with Stonewall, the mood on the day was upbeat and they received interest from local media and passers-by. An organiser said of the day:
“In Belfast, lesbians, bisexuals, gay men and allies came together from all over Northern Ireland to say ‘Come out of Stonewall!’. We stood together as men, women and dinos outside BBC Broadcasting House in Belfast, where the Nolan Investigates Stonewall podcast was made. We had a fantastic turnout, a rousing speech from Ceri Black and a lot of positive conversations with members of the public. This was our first but definitely not our last protest and in the words of one of our powerful women who spoke on the day “Belfast Women Won’t Wheest”
Special thanks go to Standing for Women and For Women Scotland for supporting the protest and providing funds for leaflets and placards. If you would like to stay informed about future protests you can sign up for the Make More Noise mailing list at https://makemorenoisemanc.wixsite.com/mysite
Photos: Lily Maynard