Wednesday, 11 April 2012

"LGB" charity Stonewall fails us... yet again

By Lesbian, Gay, Bi & Trans 'sector' standards, Stonewall is a great big organisation with a turnover in the millions of pounds. It proclaims its mission as equality for lesbian, gay and bisexual people, and attracts flak from a number of directions: not least for being almost entirely focused on lesbians and gay men, and only remembering the existence of bisexuals now and then. Usually, they remember the bis when there is the prospect of money involved.

This has been going on a long time; when I first dipped my toe into queer activist circles in the early 1990s, I fast learned why Stonewall were widely and rightly seen as a joke among bisexual people and activists. They never mentioned the "b word" on their materials except when it came to the bit asking you to donate, when suddenly, bis were very welcome too.

In 2003, when Ben Summerskill took over the helm, my first conversation with him was about bisexual inclusion. A change at the top could be a good opportunity for cultural change throughout the organisation. Alas, it was not to be.

Report after report, press release after press release, soundbite after soundbite, Stonewall 'forgets' bisexuals. Oddly it's the only one of the LGB strands they miss out: I've yet to see them issue a correction to a press statement where they, say, mentioned lesbians and bisexual people and completely forget to refer to gay men. Come to that, they have yet to issue corrections for the times they miss out the bis.

There is a notable exception: their report on the experience of bisexuals in the workplace. When commissioned to do specifically bi work, they remember us. Just as on those donation appeals in the 90s, where there's brass...

And so, as the government's consultation on how to implement same-sex marriage rolls out, Stonewall publishes its response. To one of the questions they say...
Question 8: The Government is not considering opening up civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples. Do you agree or disagree with this proposal?
Stonewall's Answer: This is a matter for heterosexual couples and Stonewall would recommend that the Government consults with them and stakeholder organisations representing them.
The thing is, lots of people who are in mixed-sex couples are not heterosexual. Perpetuating the myth that your relationship defines your sexuality helps perpetuate bisexual invisibility: it is a classic piece of bisexual erasure as identified in The Bisexuality Report (pub. 2012 Open University, endorsers including... Stonewall... talking the talk but not walking the walk). 

Now, I can imagine some voices at the back suggesting that maybe this was a bit of a slip-up: that anyone can read a question, fail to spot a certain angle, and so miss something. Most of us at some point have done that in an exam and got back a mark noticeably lower than we thought we were going to get. Didn't Stonewall just make a bit of a boo-boo and we should let them off?

Fair question. But on this one... no. As long ago as last August, Stonewall published their draft of what they would have to say when the marriage consultation began. That ran with the same "being in a mixed sex couple means you're heterosexual" line.

I challenged Stonewall over their bisexual erasure then, here.

What I said then still applies now:
Newsflash, Stonewall: bisexual people get married. Bisexual people get civil partnerships. Some of the bis who do the one would like to do the other, in either direction, but the law won't let them.

A charity claiming to give voice to lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, really ought to be listening to and giving voice to those bisexual people too - even when it does make the answer on a form a little more complicated.

Come on. A campaigning group that was working for lesbian, gay, and bisexual rights, would be able to remember bisexuals existed all the time rather than just now and then.

And the most frustrating thing is, in discussing the marriage / civil partnership divide that currently exists, bisexuals are a brilliant case to cite for what's so broken. Ten years ago, bisexual people found their relationships were treated differently in law based on the genders of themselves and their partners: today, after so much equality campaigning and the introduction of civil partnerships, that situation is exactly the same.

Bi people get into relationships with lesbians, gays, straight people and other bis.  Gay and lesbian people get into relationships with bis.  We are your queer family.  And LGB equality is only worthy of the name if we break down the barriers around civil partnerships as well as marriage: campaigning and lobbying for anything less puts the lie to a claim to be campaigning for equality for lesbians, gays and bisexuals. 
Now, I know from comments elsewhere that the relevant people at Stonewall read that. If this were an accidental oversight last summer, that defence no longer applies. It seems to me that this can only be read as a deliberate and premediated pretence that there is no such thing as bisexuality from an organisation that soaks up the lion's share of funding for LGB work in the UK.

If you're thinking of donating to an LGB cause any time soon, I suggest there are far better alternatives. And if you haven't responded to the marriage consultation, please make sure you do so. And make your submission better than Stonewall's.


  1. If I remember correctly, didn't Stonewall anticipate that this question would be about "civil partnerships for heterosexual couples", rather than "opposite-sex" as the consultation actually said? I think that's very telling about how they think of the world.

  2. " This is a matter for heterosexual couples and Stonewall would recommend that the Government ***consults*** with them and stakeholder organisations representing them."

    Consults? WTF? Not only does Stonewall perpetuate bi erasure, but clearly they have no idea how to use the subjunctive.

  3. To cite a quote attributed to Voltaire, the loss of your subjunctive is the loss of your civilization.

  4. @ josy - if I had a clue what that meant... 8) but it sounds profound!