Stonewall, Britain’s leading charity for lesbian, gay, bi and trans equality, today marks 30 years since the organisation was founded to oppose Section 28.
Back in 1989, the newly introduced Section 28 effectively banned conversations about same-sex relationships in school.
It ushered in a dark era where homophobic bullying flourished, and young LGBT people were left to suffer in silence. This devastating legislation also forced LGBT teachers into the closet or out of a job.
The struggle to repeal Section 28 took years, but its impact is still felt today. Stonewall’s 2017 research found that half of LGBT pupils (52 per cent) still hear homophobic slurs ‘frequently’ or ‘often’, down from seven in 10 in 2012.
Sir Ian McKellen, Lord Michael Cashman, Lisa Power and nine other founders set up Stonewall with the specific aim of stopping Section 28. Although Section 28 eventually passed, what the founders created went on to become one of the most successful campaigning organisations.
Stonewall has since grown into a strategic LGBT charity and, working alongside activists and fellow campaigning organisations, it has helped secure key legislative changes that have transformed the lives of LGBT people.
Full LGT equality is still not yet a reality and Stonewall is currently campaigning for full equality for trans people, inclusive RSE for all schools and equal marriage in Northern Ireland.
It also works to ensure LGBT equality is a living reality across all sectors of society.
Stonewall trains thousands of teachers every year to tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying and deliver an LGBT-inclusive curriculum.
Since 2012 Stonewall has worked in partnership with international LGBT human rights defenders to help bring about change in their own countries.
For more than a decade Stonewall has worked with businesses to create inclusive workplaces for almost a quarter of the UK workforce. The charity now has more than 800 members of its Diversity Champions programme.
The charity delivers training to LGBT people and those who support LGBT equality to give them the skills to stand up in their workplaces and communities as leaders, role models and allies.
Stonewall has recently developed a partnership with UK Black Pride, a project that is part of a wider strategy to ensure the voices and experiences of these communities are included as equals.
Building strong relationships with faith groups and leaders across Britain is pivotal to Stonewall’s mission for acceptance without exception. Stonewall works to break down barriers so LGBT people of faith are treated equally in both faith and LGBT communities.
Following the success of the Rainbow Laces campaign, Stonewall has developed a sports department to work with sports clubs, governing bodies, athletes and fans to stamp out anti-LGBT attitudes and make sport everyone’s game.
Research into LGBT experiences was sparse before Stonewall developed a programme of ground-breaking, in-depth research that covers everything from experiences in school to treatment in healthcare settings.
30th year is a ‘hugely exciting milestone’
The co-founders of Stonewall, alongside Chief Executive Ruth Hunt have shared their thoughts on the role the charity has played in the last 30 years and why it remains just as important as the day it was set up.
Ruth Hunt, Chief Executive, Stonewall said: “Our 30th birthday is a hugely exciting milestone, where we get to look back at how much we’ve achieved. Britain’s LGBT movement has won major victories on employment rights, parenting rights, partnership rights, serving in the military and equal age of consent. But we can’t be complacent.
“The divisive debates we’ve seen recently around LGBT-inclusive education have echoed the conversations that took place when Section 28 was introduced. We fought long and hard against those dark times, but two years of debates about trans people’s existence in the media and online have put us in danger of going backwards.
“When we question one group’s right, we expose the rights of everyone to be questioned and debated. Now more than ever, we need everyone who cares about equality to show their support to make the world a better place for every lesbian, gay, bi and trans person.”
The Rt Hon Lord (Michael) Cashman, Stonewall co-founder said: ‘When we lost the campaign against Section 28 in 1988, a small group of us decided we had to make certain that something like this would never happen again. So, we launched Stonewall in May 1989 to work across political parties, the courts and media to make the case for equality.
“It was never plain sailing. We faced plenty of opposition, but we knew we had to keep going to achieve equality. We fight battles so that others do not have to fight them again. What we’re seeing today with the debates around trans equality are exactly the same as what happened under Section 28. Everyone in our community must remain vigilant because an attack on one group’s rights is an attack on us all.”
Lisa Power MBE, Stonewall co-founder said: “I’m proud of all the work Stonewall has done over the past 30 years in the fight for equality of LGBT people everywhere. Back when we first launched Stonewall, you could be fired for being LGBT, you couldn’t adopt children, nor could you serve openly in the military.
“While much of this has changed for the better, there’s still so much work to be done. Many LGBT people don’t feel safe walking down the street and the struggle for marriage equality in Northern Ireland goes on. Our community is one of the strongest groups out there and we can’t stop fighting until every lesbian, gay, bi and trans person is accepted without exception.”
The next steps
To celebrate its anniversary and to highlight these changes, Stonewall has launched a new national out-of-home advertising campaign.
The campaign shows eight LGBT people and families living the reality of legislative change. Their stories bring to life the progress made in areas from marriage and family rights, to workplace protections and LGBT-inclusive education. It also shows where work is still needed, such as trans equality.
To coincide with the 30th birthday campaign launch, the charity has also teamed up with Aardman animations on a new short film to showcase the history of Stonewall and LGBT equality featuring Sir Ian McKellen.
Stonewall is currently recruiting for a new Chief Executive following the announcement that Ruth Hunt will be leaving the charity in August. The new Chief Executive will help build on Ruth’s legacy by continuing to champion all the LGBT community and to fight for acceptance without exception for all lesbian, gay, bi and trans people.