Ruth Hunt has no regrets about Stonewall trans inclusion ahead of departure

Photo: Oxford University

Stonewall was right to include transgender people in its campaigns and should have done it sooner, outgoing chief executive Ruth Hunt has said.

As she prepares to leave the organisation, Hunt said she felt it was a “moral responsibility” to add trans issues to Stonewall’s agenda.

“It’s disgusting we hadn’t done this work sooner. Our lack of trans inclusion was utterly baffling,” Hunt told The Guardian.

Stonewall became trans inclusive following a six-month consultation in 2015.

In February 2019, Hunt announced she would be stepping down as Stonewall’s chief executive with a planned exit date of August 2019. She spent 14 years working at the charity, with the last five in the top position.

Hunt also acknowledged that Stonewall, Europe’s largest LGBT+ rights organisation, was “a very white, very establishment, very ‘good gay’ organisation, and arguably it had to be like that to change the law for same-sex marriage.” Including trans issues in its remit was part of a new purpose, which is to translate that existing support “to, say, a lesbian Muslim teenager in Yorkshire,” she said.

Hunt was criticised last year by prominent anti-trans feminist Julie Bindel, who said that Stonewall was “failing” and “abandoning” lesbians while “caving to trans activists.” However, Hunt said that support for Stonewall’s trans-inclusive stance “significantly outweighs the opposition.”

“We’ve lost a few donors but we’ve gained a huge number, and maintained relationships with people who wouldn’t be working with us now if we weren’t trans-inclusive,” Hunt said.

Stonewall’s soft diplomacy its most effective weapon

This month is the 30th anniversary of Stonewall’s founding.

The organisation has played a key part in advancing LGBT+ rights and supporting gay activism, but Hunt doesn’t consider the organisation radical.

In fact, she said, the organisation has been criticised for not being radical enough. “Why haven’t we called what’s happening in Birmingham schools homophobic? Why haven’t we come out and said it’s because all Muslims hate gay people?” she said.

But, in her view, Stonewall’s soft-touch diplomacy and pragmatism has been more effective.

“We work with 2,000 schools a year and do a lot of work with faith schools. We work with many Muslim parents and LGBT Muslims; the work is about bringing parents from all backgrounds to understand the journey of different things sex education covers,” said Hunt. “It’s not a religiously motivated battle. This necessity to take things down to its lowest common denominator dominates all discourse now and it’s just deeply annoying.”

“Fourteen years is not a bad stint. It’s good activism,” Hunt told The Guardian of her time at Stonewall.

Her next move is to head a leadership business with her partner.