Analysis: Stonewall’s apology for journalist of the year award

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As the dust settles on the last week’s events, a key question is: has Stonewall, through the Bill Leckie affair, done itself irreparable damage? Or have valuable lessons been learnt, with outlook for the future rosier than before?

The answer is probably a little of both. The story began last week when Stonewall nominated Sun columnist Bill Leckie for an award. Unfortunately, he had previously been nominated for a very different kind of ‘award’ by Stonewall Scotland, being cited as an example of transphobic writing back in 2007.

A number of transgender groups, still furious with Stonewall for its 2008 nomination of journalist Julie Bindel, started to complain. Stonewall responded that the nomination was fine, on the grounds that Mr Leckie had subsequently written a highly supportive piece about gay rugby player Gareth Thomas.

A more recent piece then surfaced, arguing that trans prisoners should not receive gender treatment on the NHS.

As activists geared up for a demo at the awards ceremony in two weeks, the stage looked set for confrontation until yesterday, when Stonewall finally decided enough was enough, pulled its nomination and issued an apology.

Mr Leckie was less than amused. He told “My understanding was that I’d been nominated by Stonewall purely on the basis on a column supporting the decision by Gareth Thomas to go public on his sexuality.

“I was quite chuffed by that. So I’m now equally disappointed to find myself dropped from the nominations – and to hear about it from rather than Stonewall themselves – because of complaints over something I wrote three years ago.

“I’d have hoped Stonewall would have had more backbone, but hey ho.”

Stonewall says that it kept in touch with Mr Leckie throughout the matter and that he was officially informed before they went public with the news. It seems likely that crossed emails are to blame, rather than anything more sinister.

Still, Mr Leckie is possibly an unlucky victim in all this. His original article was unfortunate, but no worse than many articles characterised by Trans Media Watch as based on a lack of understanding, rather than any overt anti-trans agenda. Stonewall correctly identified the real positive in his writing about Gareth Thomas.

Mr Leckie’s misfortune was to intrude upon private grief. The trans community was already at odds with Stonewall, not just for the fact that it had previously nominated Julie Bindel, but for the sense that it wasn’t very good at listening to critical voices. This was compounded by the suggestion that Stonewall does at times present itself as speaking on transgendered issues, while simultaneously claiming not to represent the T in LGBT.

A spokeswoman for Trans Media Watch said: “We hope that this apology heralds an end to a period when Stonewall has not been well regarded by the trans community. We would wholeheartedly welcome their help and co-operation in confronting the shared issues of discrimination, which LGB and T all face, especially bullying in schools”.

The last is a reference to yet another bone of contention between Stonewall and the trans community – the FIT DVD, produced by Stonewall for distribution to schools, which talks about “trannies” in a manner that Trans Media Watch believes serves to normalise what is generally considered a term of abuse.

This is rejected by a spokesman for Stonewall, who claims that the DVD is meant to be illustrative of everyday language, without endorsing it in any way.

Trans Media Watch has been planning to meet with Stonewall for some time – and it seems likely now that, on the back of this affair, that meeting will go ahead. We spoke with Ben Summerskill’s office yesterday, and he confirmed that “Stonewall invites discussions with the trans community” and that has always been their policy.

Note: Jane Fae is an independent writer and sexual rights activist. She has been actively campaigning for Stonewall reverse its nomination, and on hearing the news yesterday that they had done so, declared the move very welcome indeed, as well as a basis for the LGBT community to move forward together, rather than continue its internal bickering.