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Stonewall 30th anniversary
courtesy of Instagram/@stonewalluk

Five LGBTQ+ figures on what Stonewall UK means to them

To mark the charity’s 30th birthday, we speak to Paris Lees, Lily Madigan, and more about key moments in Stonewall’s history

Last month, the House of Commons voted in favour of bringing LGBTQ+ education into schools – a landmark ruling that will undoubtedly help queer youth as they navigate the confusion of puberty. At a time when half of LGBTQ+ people experience depression because of the devastating impact of discrimination, wins like this are vital in the fight for equality.

On the frontline of this fight is LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall. Celebrating its 30th birthday today, the charity has outlined 30 key moments in its history – from its launch in 1989 through to this year’s sex ed breakthrough. Founded as a lobbying group in response to the government’s outrageous Section 28 legislation – banning local authorities from “promoting homosexuality” – Stonewall’s aim was to prevent any more attacks on the LGBTQ+ community happening again.

To mark its anniversary, we asked five LGBTQ+ activists, writers, and cultural figures to choose one moment from Stonewall’s momentous list and explain in their own words why it’s important to them. Read what they had to say below.

PARIS LEES, WRITER AND CAMPAIGNER

Paris picks Stonewall’s 2014 extension to become an LGBTQ+ charity, beginning its journey to trans inclusion. Before this, many of those in the trans community didn’t trust the organisation, believing its stance was holding back trans acceptance. Once talks began in 2014, Stonewall pledged to be fully inclusive, contributing to the fight for trans equality.

“We’re living through a time where trans people are under constant attack in the British media and many trans kids feel suicidal due to social stigma and bullying. For me, Stonewall going trans-inclusive in 2014 was a major turning point for trans rights in the UK. That’s not to belittle the wonderful work that trans-led organisations had been doing up until that moment, but at less than one per cent of the population, trans people have always been in a difficult position when it comes to changing people’s hearts and minds. For me, it made perfect sense for an organised, relatively well-funded organisations like Stonewall – with an effective track record of campaigning – to firmly place trans rights within the wider LGBTQ+ cause, and I said as much at a time when many people were hostile towards the idea.

In 2019, LGBTQ+ equality is mainstream, as we’ll all be reminded next month when Pride takes over London. The fact that so many transphobes attack Stonewall and seek to divide the T from the LGB tells you everything you need to know about how important is it that we stick together to fight for equality. Keep up the good work Stonewall, LGBTQ+ kids up and down the country need you!”

JEFF INGOLD, HEAD OF MEDIA AT STONEWALL

Jeff picks the 2019 government amendment to the Children and Social Work Act 2017, which makes Relationships Education and Relationships and Sex Education compulsory in all of England’s primary and secondary schools respectively. It is also reflective of change in Scotland and Wales, and will be implemented from September 2020, marking such a huge step forwards.

“The first time I heard the word ‘gay’ was when another student in my primary school yelled it at me, as he pushed me into a locker. I didn’t know what the word meant, but in that moment, I learned it was something bad – something I didn’t want to be. For years afterwards, I would keep hearing ‘gay’ used as a slur and punchline in the hallway, in the media and in my own home. It took me a long time to undo the shame I felt about being who I was.

When I saw the news that the Commons had passed new regulations on teaching Relationships Education and Relationships and Sex Education that would ensure all students learn about LGBTQ+ people and issues, it gave me hope. Hope that younger generations would grow up learning that being lesbian, gay, bi and/or trans is normal, natural and ultimately, something to be proud of. Even amid protests against LGBTQ-inclusive education, we can’t lose sight of the fact that teaching about the diversity that exists in the world just makes sense, but also that this kind of education will change and save lives.”

LILY MADIGAN, LABOUR PARTY WOMEN’S OFFICER

Lily picks the 2010 Equality Act which legally protects people in the UK from discrimination based on – among others – gender reassignment, sex, and sexual orientation.

“I used the 2010 Equality Act to get my school to treat me the same as the other girls. Other than saving my education, this was also the experience that made me aware of politics and led to me joining the Labour Party who created the act. I’ve done lots of things that I’m proud of since then, but so much of it has only been possible because of changes facilitated by this one act, and when companies have failed me it’s ultimately been the Equality Act (and often a good solicitor) that’s got me through it. There are many changes we still need to see in our society to make queer people truly equal (and I hope I’m a part of making those changes), which is why we need people like us in parliament, politicised by our experiences.”

MATTHEW TODD, AUTHOR AND EDITOR

Matthew picks the 2007 ‘Some People are Gay. Get Over It!’ campaign. This was Stonewall’s first awareness campaign, appearing on billboards, railway stations, and bus panels, and originally distributed to 5000 secondary schools across England, Scotland, and Wales. The unapologetic campaign drew major support across the country.

“In the 80s and 90s, gay people were demonised in the press and treated like enemies of the public; like criminals, perverts, and paedophiles. That was the basic narrative in the mainstream press, so I think (Stonewall’s) slogan was really powerful – it was quite forceful but not too aggressive; a strong, confronting statement. It wasn’t engaging with religious intolerance, it was just saying a powerful fact that some people are gay, and has now evolved into bi and trans, and all the rest of it. It was something that the public could understand and couldn’t really argue back with.

I also think it was a message young people in particular could get behind. We were seeing lots of young activists at school, and people coming out younger and younger, feeling able to empower themselves. I think this marked a real turn in terms of PR-ing the issue – obviously changing laws is important, but changing the culture (is vital), so using an advertising slogan was a really powerful thing to do.”

AMELIA ABRAHAM, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR

Amelia picks the 2008 Prescription for Change report which highlighted the healthcare needs of lesbian and bisexual women – the biggest survey of its kind ever conducted outside of the US.

“Back in 2008, Ruth Hunt (who has recently left Stonewall after years of amazing work!) and Dr Julie Fish, a doctor specialising in healthcare inequalities, carried out a huge survey into lesbian and bisexual women’s health by talking to 6000 women. The results discovered that both groups experienced higher levels of drug and alcohol abuse and were also likely to experience mental health problems. This did, and still does, resonate with me; shame and discrimination often manifest in abusive behaviours - they have for me, and it doesn’t always occur to us to connect the dots. 

We mostly talk about self-destructive and harmful behaviours in the context of male homosexuality (chem sex parties, risky sex, etc.) and I feel like I rarely hear us talking about the way these things affect female-identifying people. However, this study was one of those moments. It really made us pay attention to the difficulties queer women can face, both personally and in contact with healthcare professionals. Just over 10 years on, I hope that we live in a society where young LGBTQ+ women see themselves more in the media, helping to dissipate their shame, and at a time when doctors, therapists and medical professionals are better equipped to understand the role sexuality and gender can play when it comes to our mental health.”