The misinformation that ‘Stonewall is a lobbying group’

Published On: November 1st, 2023

Some have recently criticised the UK charity Stonewall as a ‘lobbying group’, a ‘pressure group’, and a group with an LGBTQ+ ‘political agenda’. It was among the primary reasons cited by senior managers at the London School of Economics for leaving from Stonewall in early 2023.

Of course, Stonewall is a UK civil rights charity founded to combat Section 28, and civil rights are inherently political.

However, the slippery suggestion of critics is that Stonewall is the kind of political campaign group that is unusual—or even inappropriate—for a university to be associated with. That suggestion is misinformation.

In this article, we reveal how LSE senior managers committed a procedural error when they left Stonewall. They claimed that it is unusual practice for the LSE to be associated with lobbying or pressure groups, while maintaining a deep connection between the LSE and corporate lobbying.

We next show how the Stonewall charity’s benchmarking programme is analogous to other external human rights accountability standards that the LSE remains affiliated with, such as Athena-SWAN and HR Excellence in Research.

LSE affiliation with corporate lobbyists

BP logo

Like many UK universities, the London School of Economics maintains a formal affiliation with British Petroleum (BP), a corporation and lobbying group in the fullest legal senses of the word.

The LSE-BP affiliation was established in 1990 by the donation of £1.25 million from BP. That led to the establishment of the LSE BP Centennial Professorship. That affiliation was in place when senior managers decided to leave Stonewall in November 2022. It remains in place for the indefinite future.

The LSE-BP affiliation is not just in name. The first formal duty of BP Centennial Professors is to promote the educational aims of BP, as stated in the professorship’s charter:

“7.1. The formal duties of the BP Centennial Professors are: To contribute to the internal education programme of BP and to develop contacts between the School and BP….”

Lobbying is a legally regulated industry in the UK, and BP is a full-fledged lobbyist. The oil giant often uses the lobbying industry to further the aims of its shareholders. That includes the recent disruption of investigations into the UK energy crisis.

BP’s lobbying efforts and affiliation with the LSE have also affected LSE policy. For example, the LSE refused to divest from fossil fuel companies in 2021. The School initially refused to disclose the names of its fossil fuel donors, citing the difficulties it would create for future fundraising. This was not cited as a problem when the LSE left Stonewall.

LSE civil rights affiliation for external accountability

Many important charities do civil rights campaign work. Some of these groups support the formulation of LSE policy by providing external accountability standards.

This is completely standard practice. Without external accountability, there is little incentive for senior managers to adhere to promises to improve civil rights in the university. Moreover, civil rights groups involved in the cutting edge of campaign work are an effective way to support this. The LSE EDI office warned managers about this when they first paused their Stonewall membership.

Stonewall is no different in structure from any of the other civil rights groups that are affiliated with the LSE. Two of those groups are compared below, associated with women’s rights and with career development.


The LSE is a participant in the Athena SWAN benchmarking charter, organised by the AdvanceHE charity. The charter’s mission is:

“to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine (STEMM) employed in higher education and research.”

This is an admirable aim that higher education institutions generally welcome.

However, AdvanceHE is also inherently political. What distinguishes it from Stonewall is not a lack of political lobbying. The AdvanceHE charity is a similar political organisation that aims to change higher education for the better.

What distinguishes AdvanceHE from Stonewall is only the values that they choose to promote.

HR Excellence in Research

The LSE also participates in the HR Excellence in Research framework. It is organised by Vitae, a wing of a UK charity called the Careers Research & Advisory Centre (CRAC).

Vitae plays an important role in supporting the career development of researchers in the UK. The charity’s stated aims charity are to:

  • Influence the development and implementation of effective policy relating to researcher development.
  • Enhance higher education provision to train and develop researchers.
  • Empower researchers to make an impact on their careers.
  • Evidence the impact of professional and career development support for researchers.

These are admirable aims too, and ones that every UK university should share. They include the political aim to “influence” of policy in universities in a way that promotes the charity’s values.

As with Stonewall, the CRAC charity mainly engages with universities through its benchmarking and award programme. However, also like Stonewall, the CRAC is also involved in more general data collection and lobbying. For example, they released a survey revealing widespread bullying in the higher education sector. This formed part of a political lobbying effort to better empower researchers to develop their careers in a healthy way.

Universities support the political efforts of this charity because they share the same values. It is not because they are any less involved in lobbying than Stonewall.

Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme

Nearly all Russell Group universities participate in the Stonewall Diversity Champions benchmarking programme, with the recent exception of UCL (since 2022) and the LSE (since 2023). Stonewall is the international standard for LGBTQ+ policy and accountability in universities Europe. Kings College London, a close competitor of the London School of Economics, is regularly ranked amongst the top twenty Stonewall Diversity Champions in the UK, through an index called the Workplace Equality Index.

Although Stonewall represents different groups than Athena-SWAN and HR Excellence in Research, it is no different in structure. Its civil rights work in favour of internationally-accepted civil rights is not a reason to disaffiliate.

What was the Diversity Champions programme at the LSE?

The Stonewall Diversity Champions programme programme provides non-binding advice to its participants about how to improve, together with a ranking in comparison to other participants.

Stonewall creates that advice and ranking on the basis of an annual poll and analysis of a university’s staff climate. Data from that poll is collected, together with a university report, and used to provide feedback on the treatment and understanding of LGBTQ+ people. Topics include things like policies and benefits, monitoring, senior leadership, and community engagement. It provides an annual occasion to form an action plan to hold the senior managers accountable to their commitments to LBGTQ+ staff and students.

The LSE had been falling in the Workplace Equality Index year on year, dropping out of the top 100 participants just before its decision to withdraw in 2022.

However, the LSE has never participated in an investigation of why its LGBTQ+ climate index was falling. Instead, senior managers paused their participation and then disaffiliated from Stonewall entirely.

Stonewall’s campaigns

Stonewall’s political campaigns are no different than those civil rights charities discussed above. Only its aims are different: to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people.

As an LGBTQ+ charity, Stonewall’s campaigns include the promotion and protection of trans rights. Trans people have been under increasing attack in the UK, with hate crimes against trans people reaching record highs in October of 2023. It is not Stonewall’s status as a civil rights group that was the problem, but the fact that it advocates for trans rights.

For example, a small group of trans-critical LSE professors and staff have taken to twitter to criticise Stonewall’s support of trans people, sometimes veiling their critiques in claims about preserving academic freedom. LSE senior managers publicly cite academic freedom as a reason for leaving Stonewall. Ironically, Stonewall is a strong supporter of free speech, for example providing a wealth of tailored advice and resources about how to maximise free speech in different countries, as others in the LSE have pointed out.

The LSE is one of only two major universities currently unaffiliated with Stonewall. That is a political statement, as is the LSE’s continued affiliation with corporate lobbyists and with civil rights charities.

So, let us dispense with the rhetoric that the School left Stonewall because it is a lobbying group. It had nothing to do with lobbying. It is because senior managers did not value the civil rights that Stonewall aims to protect.