Stonewall forget their radical roots (again)

Is there no limit to the number of exploitative and violent institutions that Stonewall is prepared to endorse? Having already made awards to the likes of Goldman Sachs and the Royal Navy, Stonewall yesterday gave prizes to Ernst & Young, Barclay’s and MI5 for their supposedly gay-friendly employment practices.

Stonewall describe themselves as “the lesbian, gay and bisexual charity” (although many bisexual people dispute the description, arguing that Stonewall’s overwhelming concern is with gay and lesbian people). I have no doubt that Stonewall genuinely do a lot of good work. They have played an important part in raising equality issues in the media and in Parliament, tackling homophobic bullying and working for changes in the law.

Sadly, however, their campaigns are hampered by their failure to link their struggle with other issues of equality and justice. Not only are they rather cosy with elements of the establishment, but by giving awards based on absurdly narrow criteria they imply that there is no link between working for LGB people’s rights and promoting equality and justice in other areas. Their awards condone and celebrate some of the most unethical organisations in the country.

It is, of course, a good thing for an organisation to treat LGB people the same as straight people in recruitment and employment. But Stonewall’s awards seem to take no account of whether an organisation is a good employer in other ways. It seems it’s OK for them to treat their staff appallingly, as long as they mistreat their straight staff as well as their LGB staff. The Royal Navy, like the other armed forces, is exempted by law from a great deal of employment legislation. Its employees may not join trades unions or leave after a reasonable notice period. Giving them an award for employment practices is as absurd as it is offensive.

Stonewall also seem unwilling to take account of the purpose and practices of the organisations they reward. Ernst & Young’s promotion of tax avoidance helps wealthy individuals and corporations to steal millions from the rest of us at a time when this money is desperately needed. Barclay’s perpetuate a banking system that ensures an unjust distribution of the world’s resources and helps to keep power in the hands of the rich.

The core purpose of the armed forces is to engage in acts of violence. Not all their members are directly violent, and many of them are decent, compassionate people when in other contexts. But we should not be naïve or ignore the reality. MI5 is an extension of the violent, hierarchical and secretive practices of militarism.

In strugglnig aganist homophobia, I suggest that it is important to recognise that heteronormativity has been used by capitalism – either consciously or unconsciously – as a means of control. It has been linked to very narrow understandings of “family” that encourage people to be loyal to their own group of people, rather than compassionate towards the whole of humanity.

Of course, it is quite legitimate that there should be different views about war and economics within movements for queer freedom. I do not expect everyone to agree with me. Ethical considerations are, by their nature, very complex and very messy. Nonetheless, it is is reasonable to expect that a group of people campaigning for equality in one area should consider equality in other areas. Stonewall have this week undermined their own message by deliberately ignoring this principle.

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