Stonewall urges employers to drop mother for 'parent who has given birth' to boost equality ranking

·10 min read
A person wearing a sweater with 'Progress Pride Flag' colors, including rainbow and black and brown stripes for communities of color, walks past rainbow flags at the Stonewall National Monument, the first US national monument dedicated to LGBTQ history and rights, marking the birthplace of the modern lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer civil rights movement, on June 1, 2020 in New York City.  - AFP via Getty Images
A person wearing a sweater with 'Progress Pride Flag' colors, including rainbow and black and brown stripes for communities of color, walks past rainbow flags at the Stonewall National Monument, the first US national monument dedicated to LGBTQ history and rights, marking the birthplace of the modern lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer civil rights movement, on June 1, 2020 in New York City. - AFP via Getty Images

Stonewall has advised organisations to replace the term mother with “parent who has given birth” to help boost their ranking on an equality leaderboard, The Telegraph can reveal.

The controversial charity has advised employers wishing to be included on their Workplace Equality Index that they must remove all gendered language, and allow those who self-identify as a woman to use female toilets and changing rooms.

The Ministry of Justice – which comes in fifth in the leadership board – has said that its HR policies have in recent years been updated to include non-gendered language and in some internal documents terms mother and father had been removed, though not it says at the request of Stonewall.

The Home Office, MI6, the British Army, the Department for International Trade, the Government Legal Department and the House of Commons all also appear in the top 100 on Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index.

The revelations come amid growing pressure for Whitehall departments to cut ties with Stonewall, with equalities minister Liz Truss telling officials they should not be paying at least £2,500 a year to be a Stonewall Diversity Champion.

A string of public bodies including the equalities watchdog have already quit the champions programme, which provides diversity training.

'Misrepresenting' equality laws

Now a series of Freedom of Information requests, seen by The Telegraph, have led to warnings from lawyers that the LGBT+ charity is “misrepresenting” equality laws in advice to Government departments, councils, police forces, NHS trusts and a raft of private companies.

Campaigners last night called for a public inquiry into how the “lobby group” have secured such an influential position at the heart of Government.

Documents released under FOI from several public bodies reveal for the first time the lengths employers must go through to get to the top of the Workplace Equality Index.

Feedback to organisations on how they can improve their application shows that several were advised by Stonewall they should “remove” the term mother and father from all their policies.

Edinburgh University were told that they would “recommend using a gender neutral term, such as ‘parent who has given birth’ whilst Merseyside Police were advised the “pregnant employee” was a “more inclusive term”.

The Welsh Government, which appears ninth on the list, deleted the term mother from its Maternity policy in 2019, though the term father appears once.

Lobby group

Maya Forstater, co-founder of campaign group Sex Matters, has called “for the Committee on Standards in Public Life to undertake a public inquiry as to how an organisation that is basically a lobby group got into such an influential position in so many institutions”.

Stonewall said it is “confident in our advice on the Equality Act which is based on the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Equality Act Code of Practice”.

How Stonewall became so influential

When MI6 was recognised as one of the top 100 employers for lesbian, gay and trans rights, it put out a rare press release saying they were “proud” of its achievements.

But what was not known until now was the hoops that the security service and other organisations have had to jump through to achieve such status from Stonewall.

An investigation by The Telegraph reveals for the first time the application process and the extent of the guidance the charity provides to employers wanting to make the list.

Advice to those applying – more than 500 in the last year - includes ditching all gendered language outlawing single sex toilets and changing rooms.

Employers are urged to add gender pronouns to all email signatures, and even run a “rainbow laces campaign”. Whitehall is already under pressure to quit the charity’s Diversity Champions scheme, with equalities minister Liz Truss telling departments that they should not be paying the £2,500 membership fee.

The scheme provides guidance and training on how to be inclusive and offers perks including a free review of all HR policies by Stonewall. But legal experts have warned the 850 employers who have signed up, including around 250 Government departments and public bodies, that the charity is “misrepresenting” equality law.

Correspondence released under FOI laws shows that the charity informed Historic England that it is a “legal right” for an individual to “use the facility that corresponds with their gender identity”.

What is gender identity?

Gender identity is how a person defines themselves. To be legally recognised as the opposite gender a person needs to fulfil the legal requirements to obtain a gender recognition certificate.

The 2010 Equality Act says single-sex facilities and services are allowed, if shown to be “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”, such as privacy in women’s changing rooms and refuges.

Naomi Cunningham, a barrister specialising in discrimination, warned: “They are misrepresenting the contents of the Equality Act… But public authorities are believing it and because of that they're finding themselves in breach of the law. So it's a real trap.

“The obsessive focus on this tiny, tiny proportion of any given workforce is unbalancing, and it does mean that there is a strong likelihood that as employers sign up to Stonewall programmes, there will be equality impacts for other protected groups, particularly women but also religious groups.”

The chance to use the pronoun Mx

FOI requests by a group of lawyers, analysed by The Telegraph, have also revealed the detailed process that more than 500 organisations have gone through to attempt to gain recognition on Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index 2020.

The 13-page application form for the next scheme, which has been delayed until 2022 because of the coronavirus pandemic, provides both guidance for employees and examples of best practice.

It advises that the organisations should use “gender neutral language” and pronouns throughout their policies, avoid terms such as husband or wife, and offer employees the chance to use the pronoun Mx.

They say that “guidance must make clear that all trans employees can use the facilities (e.g. toilets, changing rooms) they feel most comfortable using” and there should be “a formal commitment to introduce gender-neutral facilities”.

Different gender each day

Gender fluid employees should be given “multiple passcards with different forms of gender expression” so they can be a different gender each day, Stonewall states. Applicants could “choose a gender marker other than male or female” or even “remove gender markers and titles from your systems altogether”.

Another question asks whether the members of the board or senior management have appeared at Pride or given speeches which should include “specific messages of bi, nonbinary and trans equality”.

Employers are also asked to prove how they have utilised social media accounts “with the widest reach” to communicate messages of LGBT, bi, non-binary and trans equality.

Similar or identical questions and guidance was included in previous years application forms.

Chestfeeding

The Welsh Government – which made it to number nine on the list in 2020 – has proven to be one of the more enthusiastic adopters of the advice offered by Stonewall.

In its application they noted: “The Maternity and Adoption Leave Policy was updated in April to incorporate gender neutral language, removing binary gender references wherever possible ... An accompanying policy, previously called New & Expectant Mothers Policy has been renamed ‘Policy for Pregnant or Nursing Employees’.

“It has been revised to use non-gendered language, using the umbrella term ‘nursing’ to cover breastfeeding and chestfeeding.

“There are specific references to chestfeeding and we have ensured that the policy is inclusive for trans and non-binary parents.

“All pronouns were updated in line with all of our HR policies (they/their instead of gendered he/she/his/her etc).”

Mugs and trans flags

Other Government departments including the Home Office, MI6, the British Army, the Department for International Trade (DfIT) and the Government Legal Department have either refused to provide details of the applications or have failed to respond to FOI requests.

It is understood that the British Army and DfIT still use gendered terms including mother and father and woman in their policies.

The other departments have failed to respond to questions about their HR policies. Some completed applications for the Workplace Equality Index run to hundreds of pages. Employers are told that they could signal their commitment with badges, mugs, bi and trans flags and by profiling transwomen on International Women’s Day.

Feedback to the Government’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO) includes praise of its use of social media to promote LGBT rights which it describes as “great to see”.

Great feedback

The IPO is among those encouraged to use unconscious bias training, despite a ban on such courses across Whitehall because there is no evidence that they work. In its submission, Edinburgh University referred to its use of Rainbow lanyards, pens, t-shirts, cakes, flags and banners 28 times, leading to “great” feedback from their Stonewall marker.

Maya Forstater, co-founder of campaign group Sex Matters, warned that the evidence showed that “Stonewall staff are coaching public servants, civil servants” on their social media policy and “because the the rainbow has become such a kind of feel good symbol, people haven't seen that this is corruption of public institutions.

“We think it needs a public inquiry as to how it happened and how we take care that this kind of capture doesn't happen again.”

Stonewall has apparently sought to keep the details secret, telling one organisation they should refuse FOI requests as “disclosure would represent a breach of confidence” and “public interest in applying the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosure”.

But the documents which have been released reveal the extent of its influence with thousands of communications with public bodies in 2019 and 2020.

The Metropolitan Police, after its failure to make it onto the equality leader board for 2020, noted in a feedback review that it should use Stonewall to review “all HR policies”, a service offered free of charge to all diversity champions.

Dr Nicola Williams, director of Fair Play For Women, warned: “It's almost as if Stonewall has become a government department in its own right, the government is almost outsourcing its views on equality.”

Stonewall defence

Stonewall has defended its Diversity Champions programme, saying that it was one way for organisation to fulfil the requirement that “their staff, including LGBTQ+ staff, are free from discrimination and prejudice at work”.

“Since we set up the Diversity Champions programme in 2001, many large employers have developed major internal programmes to promote diversity and inclusion across their staff,” they added.

They said that they were “confident in our advice on the Equality Act which is based on the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Equality Act Code of Practice” and claimed it had recently been affirmed in the High Court.

However, Amanda Jones, a barrister at Great Street Chambers specialising in equality laws, said that its training was “misleading”, particularly around the law on the provision of single-sex spaces. Stonewall is currently lobbying for the removal of the single-sex exemption from the law.

“What stands out in general is the extraordinary willingness of many organisations to pay through the nose to be lectured and condescended to. Paying people to lobby you is a new and impressive development,” Ms Jones told The Telegraph.

Bad advice

Simon Fanshawe, a co-founder who has found himself at odds with the charity, warned that it risks losing its hard-won credibility, while its focus on trans rights is alienating women and the gay and lesbian community.

“It is giving bad advice on the Equalities Act and companies should be very careful in taking Stonewall’s advice,” he said. “That credibility is now being used in a way that is not credible.”

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