For immediate release
22nd May 2021: In a letter to the campaigning group “Sex Matters“, the Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Baroness Kishwer Falkner, has disclosed that the equalities watchdog has quit the Stonewall Diversity Champions Scheme.
Stonewall claims that the scheme covers 25% of the UK’s workforce. It aims to “transform institutions” by “empowering them as advocates and agents of change in wider society”. Its members include around 250 Government departments and public bodies.
“as a publicly funded organisation we have to ensure that we are making the best choices when it comes to our budget and have recently been reviewing all of our memberships,”
“We wrote to Stonewall in March to let them know that we would not be renewing our membership, and this has now expired.”
Falkner was writing in response to an open letter sent by Sex Matters calling on the EHRC to quit the scheme.
Sex Matters campaigns for clarity about sex in law and policy. It argues that membership of the Stonewall Scheme conflicts with public service independence, and in particular with the EHRC’s mandate to protect everybody’s rights.
Organisations that join the scheme pay Stonewall an annual fee and allow it to vet their internal policies, such as those about who can use toilets and changing facilities, and what language to use when talking about men and women. Scheme members are encouraged to promote “gender self-identification”, to train all staff to be “allies”, and to take steps such as encouraging people to announce their pronouns in meetings, and to wear rainbow lanyards.
Sex Matters welcomed the EHRC’s decision to leave the scheme and called for the watchdog to undertake an investigation into how much its internal culture and external work had been impacted by its membership.
“The Stonewall Diversity scheme encourages its members to police the thoughts and speech of employees to an unacceptable degree,”
said Sex Matters co-founder Maya Forstater.
The news of EHRC leaving the Stonewall scheme comes in the same week as Essex University released the “Reindorf Review” investigation into the no-platforming of two feminist academics.
Barrister Akua Reindorf found that the university had adopted policies which reflect “the law as Stonewall would prefer it to be, rather than the law as it is”, and created a “culture of fear”. A spokeswoman from Stonewall defended their policies as being “based on guidance provided by the Equality and Human Rights Commission“.
Stonewall has recently criticised the EHRC for intervening in the case of Maya Forstater, who lost her job at an international development think tank because of her views on sex and gender.
In a statement, the watchdog said:
“We think that a ‘gender critical’ belief that ‘trans women are men and trans men are women’ is a philosophical belief which is protected under the Equality Act religion or belief protections.”
It added that it was important the courts protected freedom of religion or belief, even for “highly contested beliefs”, and warned that, unless these views are recognised as protected by the Equality Act, it
“could leave people unprotected from discrimination and harassment and could result in a restriction of people’s freedom of speech on debates concerning transgender rights, Gender Recognition Act reform and definitions of ‘woman’ and ‘man’.”
Stonewall and the LGBT Consortium of organisations wrote to the EHRC to express their “frustration and disappointment” at this, saying in an open letter that the EHRC had “sent a deeply damaging message to trans people about their validity and worth” by intervening to protect freedom of belief.
Baroness Falkner’s letter:
Sex Matters letter in response:
Sex Matters open letter: https://sex-matters.org/posts/updates/ehrc-letter/
EHRC’s statement on its intervention in the Forstater case
Stonewall/ LGBT Consortium Open Letter https://www.consortium.lgbt/ehrc-open-letter/
Reindorf Review: https://www.cloisters.com/reindorf-review-on-no-platforming/