Q&A: Stonewall CEO Ruth Hunt answers readers’ questions

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Stonewall CEO Ruth Hunt has answered a series of questions posed by PinkNews readers.

Ms Hunt became the Chief Executive of the leading gay rights charity last year, following the departure of former chief Ben Summerskill.

PinkNews recently asked readers to submit questions for the head of the LGB charity, and we’d like to thank everyone for the vast number of contributions.

We put a range of your questions to the Stonewall boss – and here’s what she had to say.

Question from Alex, Kendal

The perception from some in the LGBT community is that Stonewall cannibalises much of the funding available to charities in the sector, while failing to work cooperatively with smaller operations or those with different remits. What do you say to those allegations?

A. I think there isn’t enough money in the sector. We need more LGBT people donating to their local LGBT charities who deliver crucial services, regional groups who provide expert advice to public services, and Stonewall as a national campaigning group.

Donations to many LGBT causes is too low in the UK and I hope we can all work together to improve that situation. I think the work that smaller groups do is essential – often lifesaving – for LGBT people and we know the LGBT Consortium do an excellent job of supporting us all to do what we do best.

Question from Aaron, Southend

Stonewall failed the LGBT community on equal marriage and your refusal to endorse the boycott of the Dorchester Hotel seemed to be taken with scant regard of our feelings and even your backtracking on this issue seemed churlish. How can Stonewall claim to represent LGBT people when you’re consistently at odds with how we feel?

A. We consulted human rights defenders about the best way to support their efforts in Brunei but you’re right, we didn’t talk enough to people in the UK. We realised that very quickly and changed our position.

We will ensure that we listen more carefully in the future. We won’t use the Dorchester Hotel for our events but we are keen to ensure that The Dorchester does their utmost to support their LGBT staff. We’re working with them on that basis.

Question from Jas

I think it’s fantastic that Stonewall is finally reaching out to the transgender community, but where do stand when it comes to non-binary persons?

A. Hi Jas, when Stonewall uses the word trans we use it as an umbrella term and that includes non-binary people.

Stonewall is keen to hear from as many people as possible about the work we might do with the trans community. We’ve spoken to hundreds of people over the last few months, including many people who identify as non-binary.

We also held a specific meeting just for those who identify as non-binary and they said very clearly they’d like us to include non-binary issues in our work. The full report is due out in February.

Question from Andrew Grey

As a gay Christian, I sometimes feel isolated in both religious communities and LGBT communities. What could Stonewall do, or what will it do, to build bridges between religious communities and LGBT communities, to help those who are members of both feel that they don’t have to play down either of their identities?

A. As a practising Catholic myself I often feel that isolation – incredulity from some LGBT people and scepticism from some people of faith. Stonewall will be working hard to show wider society that LGBT people of faith do exist and are part of faith communities. Too often it’s assumed we’re never on the same side. Stonewall are also very willing to support faith leaders and communities be more welcoming of LGBT people too.

Question from Ron B, Slough

How much are you paid? The Charity Commission reports that one employee of Stonewall is paid between £90-100k and another is paid between £80-90k. How do you justify such high salaries for your senior staff? Would you do the same job for half the money if you believe in the mission of Stonewall so much?

A. Stonewall salaries are set by the Board of Trustees in line with charity sector salaries.

Question from Alex, Essex

I applaud Stonewall for appointing you to the role of CEO.

Traditionally the LGBT roles in charities in the sector have been filled by gay men – have you faced any difficulties as a woman, and how do you think an all female leadership of Stonewall will change the organisation and the community?

A. Thanks Alex. Although lesbians, gay men, bisexual people and trans people have a lot in common, there is a lot that makes us different too.

I’m very aware that there are very few lesbians in public life and I know that when Angela Mason was Chief Exec of Stonewall it made a big difference to me when I was growing up. I hope I can make a difference to other young women.

Although Stonewall is a female-led organisation we have an equal number of men and women on our Senior Management Team and our Board of Trustees. We’re very keen to ensure the breadth of LGBT experience is reflected in all our work and strategies – including lesbians of course!

Questions from Jack Gladstone Holroyde and David Peck

Given the contempt that many in the community held your predecessor in, and the walls this contempt erected, what steps will you take to reconnect Stonewall with the people it serves?

For a variety of reasons, a perception has emerged that Stonewall has lost touch with the ‘gay community’. What do you plan to do in order to engage with what is a diverse group of people and how you intend to make sure that such a perception doesn’t continue?

A. Since taking over as Chief Executive I’ve spoken with hundreds and hundreds of people about what they want and need from Stonewall including conversations with over 700 trans people. We’re also holding a consultation with bisexual people in February and will be shortly implementing a programme of work to ensure all parts of the LGBT community are involved in our campaigns and programmes.

Question from Anthony Nichols, London

Will Stonewall campaign for changes to the birth registration process to make it easier for co-parenting gay couples to register as the parents of their children? (For example a gay man co-parenting with a married (or CP’ed) lesbian couple cannot be registered as the baby’s father and it can be complicated and costly to obtain parental responsibility, which does not even have the same legal standing as full legal parenthood)

A. This is a good question and would require a change in law so there could be more than two names on a birth certificate. Spain makes such a provision which would cover the scenario you describe above. We’re talking to government about if and how that might be possible.

Question from Joe Boissevain

What are Stonewall’s plans in terms of Trustees, as is clear Stonewall has a fairly small board, yet all of the trustees are over 30. Many other charities have trustees under 30, who offer a fresher, more candid approach to decision making. Having a ‘young trustee’ I think, would ensure the charity becomes more in touch with its youth audience, right at the top. What would your view on a young trustee at Stonewall be?

A. Hi Joe, as you know young people play an important role at Stonewall through our Youth Programme and our Talent Programme but we want to do more and ensure that the voices and experiences are shaping our work – much like we’re doing with the trans community at the moment. Decisions about the board and trustees is a question for our Chair. I’ll pass your suggestion on.

Question from Maria Sookias

The Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) agenda in the UK does not include homophobia, biphobia or transphobia or hate crime against lesbian, bisexual or trans identified women. Will Stonewall campaign at national/international level to ensure that this omission is addressed?

A. Hi Maria, it’s something we’re very concerned about – not just in the UK – but with international agendas as well. This is something that our policy and international team are strongly advocating. Any help you could provide would be gratefully received!

Question from June, Bedford

Stonewall spends a lot of its time claiming to advocate for the LGB community – but most of the organisation’s positions seem to be chosen without giving everyday people a say.

How can Stonewall claim to be a charity for the LGB community when it operates in such an undemocratic way? Why not give gay people a clear, democratic way to vote on what they actually want you to do?

A. Hi June, like most campaigning organisations we seek to develop all our work, and policy positions, by building as wide a consensus as possible. We base the vast majority of our recommendations on our extensive evidence base and frequently poll LGB people about their views and experiences. This shapes our positions.

Question from Kelly, Kent

When same-sex marriage in England and Wales was introduced by the Coalition government with the support of Labour and the Greens in Parliament, Stonewall presented it as a victory for your organisation. However, for many years Stonewall opposed campaigning for same-sex marriage. Your former leader Ben Summerskill telling PinkNews that “we know there are quite a lot of gay and lesbian people who wouldn’t want marriage” and that Stonewall was “always more interested in things that make a real, practical difference to people’s lives than perhaps just an intellectual and academic name.”

Do you condemn the position taken by Ben Summerskill until after the leaders of the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru had already backed same-sex marriage? Does it make you ashamed that Stonewall was on the back foot on this issue? Do you understand why the constant opposition to same-sex marriage under your predecessor and the frankly disgraceful way that you treated those of us in the community who supported it has fundamentally damaged Stonewall’s place in our community?

A. At Stonewall we know that getting any legislation through parliament requires support from all political parties rather than something that is championed by just one. It’s also important that there is a consensus amongst LGBT people about reform.

Ben Summerskill, and Angela Mason before him, secured unprecedented legal reforms for LGB people on this basis. They knew that approach worked. Although I’ve been involved in the parliamentary work Stonewall has undertaken, the strategy, approach and tactics were determined by Ben.

I am thrilled that LGB people can now get married, that those in civil partnerships can convert to a marriage – dated from the date of their civil partnership, that religious premises can host weddings if they want to and these historical changes were supported by all political parties.