Equalities minister Liz Truss is pushing all government departments to withdraw from a major Stonewall employment scheme promoting LGBT+ acceptance.
The Stonewall Diversity Champions programme is described as “the leading employers’ programme for ensuring all LGBT+ staff are accepted without exception in the workplace”.
It counts 250 government departments and public bodies among its 850 members, who are given the tools and training to embed LGBT+ inclusion in their working practices.
Membership starts at around £2,500 and participants are ranked on a workplace equality index which publicly celebrates the top 100 employers each year.
The Times reports that Truss questioned the point of being in the scheme after the government’s Equality and Human Rights Commission raised concerns over its “value for money”. The EHRC itself left the scheme in March citing cost reasons.
The decision to cut ties has come amid bitter clashes between Stonewall and the government commission over the issue of trans rights.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine, the EHRC’s newly-appointed chairwoman, recently suggested it is “entirely reasonable” to question trans people’s gender identity and that cis women should freely express “gender critical” views without being “abused”.
As head of the commission she has controversially backed the appeal of Maya Forstater, a woman who tried and failed to convince an employment tribunal that her anti-trans views should be a protected “philosophical belief”.
Stonewall’s chief executive, Nancy Kelley, replied that although Stonewall believed in freedom of speech it was “not without limit”.
She told the BBC: “With all beliefs, including controversial beliefs, there is a right to express those beliefs publicly and where they’re harmful or damaging – whether it’s antisemitic beliefs, gender-critical beliefs, beliefs about disability – we have legal systems that are put in place for people who are harmed by that.”
News that the EHRC left the Diversity Champions scheme in March came days after Stonewall and several other LGBT+ groups signed an open letter criticising the commission’s “deeply damaging” messaging on trans people, as well as its LGBT+ record as a whole.
Now several other government bodies, including the House of Commons and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, have followed the EHRC in withdrawing from the Stonewall scheme.
The Crown Prosecution Service has also said that it is reviewing its membership; however the ultimate decision on whether to withdraw lies with the Cabinet Office.
It’s the latest strike against Stonewall after a “coordinated attack” in mainstream media last week which saw the Diversity Champions scheme accused of providing “unlawful advice” on trans rights.
The barrage was prompted when Essex University, a member of the scheme, was forced to apologised for cancelling invitations to two anti-trans academics.
Regarding the incident, Stonewall said: “The programme and our staff have absolutely no sway over any organisation’s wider decision-making.
“A recent report on free speech at University of Essex referenced Stonewall’s membership of the Diversity Champions programme. These claims had no basis, Stonewall staff had no involvement at all in this decision.”