Government departures from Stonewall scheme have nothing to do with trans rights, officials say

Stonewall claims 'coordinated attacks' by British media over trans guidance

The British government’s Cabinet Office – including the Government Equalities Office – has quietly severed ties with a major Stonewall employment scheme promoting LGBT+ acceptance.

Officials confirmed to PinkNews that the Cabinet Office, a sprawling ministerial department that supports the cabinet and the premier in their decision-making, withdrew from the charity’s Diversity Champion scheme in 2020.

The reason? Concerns from a budget holder over its “value for money”, officials said, stressing that the decision was not political in nature.

While Cabinet Office representatives said the department left the programme “last year”, Stonewall said this was not the case. They left, it claimed, in 2019.

The Stonewall Diversity Champions scheme is described by the charity as “the leading employers’ programme for ensuring all LGBT+ staff are accepted without exception in the workplace”.

More than 250 government departments and public bodies are counted among the scheme’s over 850 members, where employers are helped to promote inclusivity in workplace practices.

Membership starts at around £2,500 and participants are ranked on a workplace equality index which publicly celebrates the top 100 inclusive employers each year.

But with the Cabinet Office not renewing its membership, this also severs the government’s Equality Hub, which works with agencies and public bodies on equality policy, from the programme.

The hub operates with the Government Equalities Office, the Social Mobility Commission, the Race Disparity Unit and the Disability Unit.

Liz Truss equalities minister

Equalities minister Liz Truss arrives at Downing Street (WIktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto/ Getty)

Representatives of the Cabinet Office said the hub will continue to work with Stonewall, among other stakeholders, on issues such as banning so-called conversion therapy and the International LGBT+ Conference.

“The Cabinet Office and Equality Hub support inclusive workplaces and, as has been the case for many years, departments work with a variety of external schemes,” a government spokesperson told PinkNews.

The Cabinet Office touts some 2,050 staffers, many of whom work at Whitehall and includes supporting the Prime Minister’s Office.

Representatives added that the Civil Service HR, which sits within the Cabinet Office, is still a member of the Diversity Champions Scheme, covering the entire civil service.

The Civil Service HR boasts some 3,500 employees, according to its page on the government website. One of its groups, the Civil Service Fast Track, is listed on Stonewall’s queer-inclusive jobs board Proud Employers as one of its founding members.

The news emerging that one of the government’s top departments withdrew from the scheme comes after equalities minister Liz Truss urged all government departments to cut ties last month.

Truss reportedly questioned the point of being in the project after the government’s equality watchdog, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, did not renew its contract with the programme in March.

Once again, the reason cited by commissioners was “value for money”.

Several other government bodies, including the House of Commons, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) all left in 2020.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, meanwhile, withdrew in 2019.

Stonewall has become embroiled in backlash over its emphatic support for trans rights.

A flashpoint came in May when the mainstream press launched what Stonewall dubbed a “coordinated attack” against it.

In a statement to PinkNews, an ever-resilient Stonewall said the Cabinet Office left not last year, but in 2019.

“As with every membership programme, organisations come and go depending on what works best for them at the time,” a spokesperson said.

“But we’re pleased to say that our Diversity Champions programme is continuing to grow.”

Membership has soared, they added, by some 30 organisations in the last year. “It is encouraging that, despite the challenges of living and working through a global pandemic, so many organisations are committed to supporting their LGBT+ staff,” they said.

“All employers need to ensure that their staff, including LGBT+ staff, are free from discrimination and prejudice at work, and our Diversity Champions programme is one way for organisations to be supported to meet this requirement.”

Considering that a third of queer staff hide who they are at work, they said, schemes such as Stonewall’s are vital.

“We are very proud of the work we’re doing with more than 850 organisations,” the representative said, “to help create inclusive working environments for their lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer staff.”