John Lewis axes LGBTQ+ exhibition after backlash to trans-inclusive staff magazine feature

John Lewis has cancelled an LGBTQ+ photographic exhibition to mark LGBT+ History Month after the brand faced anti-trans backlash to a feature in its staff magazine. 

The Identity Project JLP Edition photography exhibition – a collaboration between John Lewis Partnership’s internal LGBTQ+ network and photographer Chris Jepson – was on display at the high-end department retailer’s Oxford Street store and featured portraits of LGBTQ+ staff members.  

On Monday (19 February) a spokesperson for the brand confirmed to The Telegraph that the exhibition had been closed “for the safety and protection” of staff after those involved in putting it together faced abuse on social media. 

Following this, the web page outlining details about the exhibition on the John Lewis Partnership media centre appears to have been deleted. 

John Lewis has been under fire in recent days after gender critical campaigners got their hands on a staff magazine published by the brand’s Pride in the Partnership network, which featured trans-focused content. 

The publication, entitled Identity magazine, was shared with the more than 70,000 employees that work at John Lewis and Waitrose to mark LGBT+ History Month – which is celebrated in February in the UK. 

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It included a feature with statistics from Stonewall on the number of trans youth attempting suicide, advice for trans youngsters from the charity Mermaids, and information how to safely carry out chest binding.  

Binding refers to the practice of using a garment or cloth to compress or minimise chest tissue to achieve a flatter or more traditionally masculine chest appearance.

Anti-trans trolls have left a litany of negative comments on John Lewis’s social media accounts following the outrage, calling for a boycott and labelling the brand “child abusers”, saying it is complicit in “dark social engineering propaganda” and will “go woke, go broke”. 

A John Lewis store marking Pride in 2019. (Keith Mayhew/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Notable gender critical voices also weighed in on the topic. 

Helen Joyce, from Sex Matters, told the Daily Mail the magazine “demonstrates how far brands are willing to go to placate the vocal minority of activists on their staff” and it is “packed with hyperbole, scaremongering and ideologically driven content, it’s a complete departure from the culture and values people associate with the John Lewis brand”. 

Claire Loneragan, from Women’s Rights Network, told the publication John Lewis is being “incredibly dismissive of their core shoppers – women”. 

She said the concept of ‘gender identity’ is being used by employers to “justify the removal of single sex facilities and opportunities for women”. 

Members of the LGBTQ+ community and allies, however, said initiatives such as Identity magazine could help create a welcoming environment at the company. 

Robbie de Santos, director of campaigns and human rights at Stonewall said: “Companies who want to be true leaders in their industry, attract the best talent and unlock the potential of all their staff know, that they have to foster an inclusive and welcoming environment, where anyone can thrive.

“Setting up employee support networks, actively listening, but also actively educating all of the staff members about the needs and experiences of LGBTQ+ people doesn’t put anyone else at risk or harm, but only helps them to navigate difficult conversations and nurture mutual respect.”

Dr. Alex Powell, senior lecturer and programme lead for Law at Oxford Brookes University, wrote on X/Twitter: ‘It is wonderful to see Waitrose and John Lewis standing up for their staff and creating an inclusive work environment. Reasons to shop ther more I feel. 

“It is a shame creepy obsessives with nothing going on in their lives are choosing to bully and harass staff in response.”

Commenting on the magazine’s content, a spokesperson for the company said in a statement shared with The Telegraph that the editorial content is “at the discretion of the LGBTQIA+ network and doesn’t constitute a corporate position on the issues covered”. 

They continued: “It’s entirely wrong to suggest the magazine provides advice from the John Lewis Partnership. It’s in fact a group of our employees sharing their experiences of being in the LGBTQIA+ community, for which some have faced unacceptable online abuse and hatred.”

A spokesperson for John Lewis Partnership told PinkNews: “We want the Partnership to be a place where people can work or shop with confidence, irrespective of their backgrounds. We have closed the exhibition for the safety and protection of our Partners.”

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