LSE managers found Stonewall incompatible with ‘faith’

Published On: January 19th, 2023

Soon after announcing the LSE’s withdrawal from Stonewall, the School Management Committee (SMC) offered to have a Stonewall discussion with the LGBTQ+ leadership in the School. We have obtained a draft of the meeting minutes, in which the SMC communicates that they view the LGBTQ+ rights that Stonewall stands for as problematic because they are incompatible with “faith groups” and women’s networks.

Attendants in this meeting included committee members Spectrum (the LGBTQ+ Staff Network) and staff and student members of the LGBTQ+ Steering Committee. Two senior managers attended (Andrew Young and Ben Plummer-Powell), as well as a member of the EDI division and one of the co-directors of the Communications division. Participants below have been anonymised as either [SMC Member] or [Participant].

WARNING: Some comments from the SMC below contain unsubstantiated misinformation about Stonewall. In particular, there is no evidence that Stonewall is against free speech, as has been shown in a memo on free Stonewall and speech by a faculty member of the LSE.

These minutes were forwarded to us by an original recipient. Highlights are added.

SMC Representatives Meeting With LGBTQ+ Leaders in the School
Minutes, 19 January 2023, 4:00-5:00pm, Zoom

4:05pm [SMC Member] welcomed everyone and opened the meeting.

[SMC Member] stated the SMC is committed to LGBTQ+ people in the LSE and that they now must demonstrate it to the community.

[SMC Member] added that the EDI team will be taking over what’s lost by leaving Stonewall, with oversight from other SMC members.

[Participant] asked for the full reasoning why the LSE is leaving Stonewall.

[SMC Member] said first because Stonewall is a “Pressure Group” who take positions on contentious e.g. trans issues, so many in the School felt we are committed to Stonewall’s positions when we are not. Second, many people feel their freedom of speech is compromised by Stonewall.

[Participant] pointed out that the LSE is not bound by any of Stonewall’s advice, and that Spectrum would have liked to see more consultation in the School.

[Participant] agreed there was lack of consultation and asked what the directorate is doing to safeguard transgender people in our community, given that leaving Stonewall is linked to a broader anti-trans sentiment.

[SMC Member] replied what we’re doing is the LGBTQ+ Steering Group’s Action Plan.

[Participant] said in LGBTQ+ communities Stonewall is not a Pressure group but a Mentorship group, and a National LGBTQ+ benchmarking group. He also asked the SMC to consider making a trans-positive statement about leaving Stonewall, in order to take control of the narrative away from transphobes on social media.

[Participant] responded to Andrew’s point that Stonewall takes contentious positions, saying many trans students feel the contentious position is that trans staff and students should be respected.

[Participant] agreed in the chat, pointing out that several students in the LGBTQ+ Society reported experiencing extreme transphobia at the LSE.

[SMC Member] responded that the SMC solicited views on both sides, and from across the organisation, but faced the problem that many from diverse backgrounds felt unable to discuss these issues out loud at the LSE, because of the “chilling effect” of Stonewall.

[SMC Member] made five points: 1) Stonewall is tied to employers and thus about staff not students, but that students have been continuously consulted as they rotate through their representative roles; and, it was impractical for the SMC to meet with wider groups; and, if this had gone to then Academic Board, then they would have voted to withdraw from Stonewall. 2) [PARTICIPANT] and LGBTQ+ Steering Committee members should not be surprised given the way discussions developed last summer, and that a note was received from members of the Steering Group during summer 2022 which laid out their expectation that membership wouldn’t be renewed with Stonewall, and making requests and recommendations, should that decision be taken; and, a Spectrum meeting should not have been held yesterday before receiving the input from SMC today. 3) Staff and students have been told by SMC to be very careful about how they publicise the withdrawal from Stonewall because it could lead to a social media spiral, and sadly it did, noting his concerns regarding Spectrum and SU publicising their announcement before this meeting. 4) Stonewall does not respect the needs of LSE’s broader networks, like faith groups, and our [Professional] Women’s Network, e.g. because of Stonewall’s requirement that all toilets be non-gendered. 5) trans and non-binary students going to meetings on this topic do not seem ready for what they might hear, and so facilitation of discussions with them should be done with care.

[Participant] responded that he disagreed with [SMC Member]’s second point that we should have known, and that on his fourth point he is not aware of any Stonewall advice requiring all toilets to be gender neutral. Even if it were, we are not obligated to take their advice.

[Participant] reported receiving many messages to the Student Union all expressing unwavering support for the statement condemning the withdrawal from Stonewall by LSESU and Spectrum, and many wondering what the LSE’s official reasons are. She pointed out students have been very pleased with non-gendered bathrooms, and invited the SMC to the student Town Hall on Tuesday.

[Participant] responded to [SMC Member]’s second point about the Spectrum meeting yesterday, that it was a professional obligation to offer support as soon as possible to colleagues who have been hurt and worried since December. He also noted, regarding [SMC Member]’s third point, that the SMC’s strategy of a School wide announcement fluctuated, resulting in staff and students approaching us concerned and worried. Also asked for the SMC to make a statement, in light of the danger that leaving Stonewall will lead to increased transphobia as it did at UCL.

[Participant] responded that [SMC Member]’s 5th point, that trans students are not prepared for what they will hear in these discussions, seems to imply that one side of the debate consists in anti-trans bigotry, and she asks why the LSE takes this view to be on par with requests for every group’s rights to be respected. She invited the SMC again to the student Town Hall on Tuesday.

[SMC Member] clarified to [Participant] that when these discussions do happen at the LSE, some vulnerable trans students will hear views that hurt and that they will think are transphobic, but that it is too quick to call the opposing view transphobic. We need to have these debates, and to make sure people on both sides are treated well.

[Participant] pointed out that Stonewall provided external scrutiny, and that this must be replaced. Also agreed with [Participant] that Spectrum was right to meet yesterday.

[SMC Member] replied to [Participant]’s first point that it will be, and we will do it with you.

[Participant] replied on the meeting that he just wanted to have a dialogue first. Added to be careful that what we commit to writing conveys what we want. SMC is happy to talk about why we left Stonewall, but we also want to talk about our positive policies.

[Participant] clarified that the Spectrum members meeting was an activities meeting that had been planned for months. On external scrutiny and benchmarking, he said we will face the same political challenge we do now: either solicit a trans-exclusive charity, or choose Stonewall.

[SMC Member] replied SMC is aware of this problem, and that the current plan is to avoid this by partnering with multiple charities, perhaps more specific, rather than one.

[Participant] said it is critical to avoid misinformation going forward, and that some in the School have already fallen prey to misinformation about Stonewall restricting speech when it does not.

[SMC Member] agreed and said this challenge should be added to the LSE’s developing policies on this issue, to balance freedom of speech against misinformation going forward.

[Participant] added that this highlights the importance of renewing our commitment to training going forward, and to building bridges between communities.

[SMC Member] agreed and promised to continue the conversation, to proceed with the action plan as soon as possible, and to work to build better bridges across the organisation.

5:04pm [SMC Member] thanked everyone and closed the meeting.