Stonewall boss addresses founder’s claim it should ‘stay out’ of trans rights: ‘Times change. Charities change’

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Stonewall chief executive Nancy Kelley has addressed one of the charity’s founder’s saying it should stay out of the fight for trans rights.

Over the weekend, Stonewall co-founder and former Tory MP Matthew Parris wrote in The Times that the charity has lost its way and should stay out of the fight for trans rights.

Parris was among the 14 founders of the charity, which was set up in 1989 to fight against Section 28 and for the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual people. He renounced the charity in 2020 citing its modern, trans-inclusive focus, months after another co-founder, Simon Fanshawe, signed a letter saying the charity undermines “women’s sex-based rights”.

Current Stonewall CEO Nancy Kelley addressed statements such as these head-on in a series of tweets on Wednesday morning (26 May).

She wrote there had been a lot of “media covering the fact that a couple of our founders think we shouldn’t advocate for the rights of trans people”.

Kelley explained this is a “normal” phenomena in the charity world.

“Founder syndrome is a whole thing in charity world and founder-led charities often crash and burn in the tension between founding vision and the changing world we live in,” Kelley wrote.

“Often organisational infrastructure hasn’t professionalised – many charities just don’t make it.”

She added founders who “step away” from the charity can become the “trickiest customers” and likened them to parents watching their children grow up.

Kelley explained: “The baby grew up, you see, and it didn’t grow up into quite the person they imagined.”

Kelley said she had “met charities that had restraining orders against founders” who disagreed with the organisation’s evolved strategy or policies.

“Very few charities with more than a decade under their belt are doing exactly the things their founder established them to do,” Kelley explained. “Times change. Needs change. Charities change.”

She argued the “surprising thing” about Stonewall’s founders is “not that a couple of them disagree with our inclusive stance”, but that “so many of them are still right by our side” and are “powerful, compassionate activists for all LGBTQ+ people” 32 years on from its founding.

Wishing Stonewall a happy birthday (its anniversary was Monday, 24 May), Kelley sent “all the love in the world” to founders Ian McKellen, Lisa Power and Michael Cashman.

“Maybe a few more national columns for you?” she added.

Stonewall was founded in 1989 by a group of 14 people, including McKellen, Power and Cashman, who campaigned for the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

In 2015, the organisation began campaigning for trans rights. The decision, announced by then-CEO Ruth Hunt, following years of criticism by LGBT+ advocates, including PinkNews, over the charity’s failure to represent the trans community.

Stonewall has become a vocal campaigner for trans rights in the years since, advocating for reform of the Gender Recognition Act among other issues.