In a spectacular failure to read the room, Edinburgh City Council voted last week to join Stonewall’s Diversity Champions Scheme and Workplace Equality Index.
Joining Diversity Champions – for a fee – will enable the council to access advice and training (at additional cost) from Stonewall: submitting to the Workplace Equality Index will entitle the Council to prepare and submit an extensive report detailing how well or otherwise it has implemented Stonewall’s recommendations, in return for which Stonewall will provide feedback and a grading and ranking.
These schemes, which are undoubtedly excellent money-spinners for Stonewall, have been robustly discredited over the last year. In a blog post last June, Legal Feminist (a collective of solicitors and barristers) noted that “although Stonewall purports to provide organisations with advice on complying with the law on equality and diversity, in reality it has been pursuing its own law reform agenda in the guise of ‘training’ ”. In October, the BBC released the ‘Nolan Podcasts’, a detailed and evidence-rich exposé of the influence that Stonewall has been allowed to exert on public institutions across the UK. Public organisations, including the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Ofcom (the media watchdog), the BBC, Sheffield City Council and many others, have left the schemes amid mounting evidence that they have become a vehicle for the institutionalisation of gender-identity ideology and for silencing employees with dissenting views.
Shockingly, none of that information was put before councillors in Edinburgh. Instead, the motion on which they voted read:
Council notes… [t}hat Stonewall have consistently championed LGBTQ+ rights and have been under increasing attack for doing so over the last three years
No evidence of the alleged attacks on Stonewall was presented, and in the debate, not a single councillor asked for such evidence. Instead, the allegation was left unchallenged and apparently taken at face value as fact.
The motion continued:
STRIDE, the CEC’s internal LGBT+ colleague network, believe that for CEC to fully support its LGBT+ staff it is necessary for CEC to both join Stonewall Scotland’s Diversity Champions program and submit information annually to the UK Workplace Equality Index.
Setting aside the fact that employee LGBT+ organisations frequently take the Stonewall-approved position that gender identity supersedes sex and fail to represent ‘LGBT+’ colleagues who disagree, it seems extraordinary that the wishes of a network of council employees should determine council policy and the spending of public money.
Green Party Councillor Alex Staniforth, presenting the motion to the council meeting, said:
We, as a civic body representing the city, need to both support our LGBT+ workers and be seen to support our LGBT+ workers. That’s important for both our staff and our citizenry at large.
Which LGBT+ workers and which citizens would those be? Presumably not the workers and citizens who wish to express their lawful view that sex remains politically relevant as a category, nor those lesbian and gay workers and citizens who wish to advocate for their rights as same-sex, not same-gender, attracted. Such views are ruled as inadmissible bigotry by Stonewall.
Councillor Stainforth continued:
Recently, some very nasty actors have taken to crowing every time an organisation does not submit to the diversity index… I think it’s important we counter those very nasty actors by saying that as a city we stand by our LGBT+ population.
Again, no evidence was provided, and no councillor thought to challenge these emotive claims. No councillor was curious enough to ask who these ‘nasty actors’ are, or why organisations might be leaving the Stonewall schemes, or indeed, to ask for information about why joining the schemes would be an appropriate way to demonstrate support for ‘our LGBT+ population’.
Joining the Diversity Champions Scheme costs public money, both in affiliating to the scheme and subsequently taking advantage of the recommended training and resources. Submitting to the Workplace Equality Index is highly labour-intensive. The Legal Feminist team analysed the University of Edinburgh’s 2019 submission to the scheme, which ran to 15,000 words excluding extensive appendices. This alone is weeks of work for someone to compile. An employee working on the Workplace Equality Index submission has to be taken off other work. We might expect councillors to scrutinise such costs as a matter of course.
Conservative Councillor Max Mitchell submitted an amendment which, if accepted, would have required a report on the costs and benefits of joining the Stonewall schemes to be put to councillors, to enable them to make an informed decision. His amendment was defeated by 18 votes to 38.
Let that sink in. A very large majority of City of Edinburgh councillors voted to spend an unquantified sum of public money on two schemes about which they knew very little, that they were told had been criticised (but not on what basis), and without questioning the evidence base of the inadequate information they had been given.
Stonewall has alienated many of its former supporters by taking a hardline approach that brands same-sex-attracted lesbians and gay men as bigots. Its chief executive has likened gender-critical views to antisemitism. It is alarming that City of Edinburgh councillors would affiliate their council to this increasingly discredited organisation, seemingly without doing any background checks, and without even knowing the resource commitment. With local elections looming in May, perhaps this cavalier approach to public money and to the reputation of the city will have additional costs for those councillors, at the ballot box.
Shereen Benjamin has been active in feminism and in the Labour and Trade Union movement since the 1980s. She is a member of the Labour Women’s Declaration working group.
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