“Stonewall? Oh, you mean Sonewall. The T is silent.”
Those working in LGBTQ activism may be familiar with the quip, which rightly ridicules the organisation’s lack of work on trans* issues. Stonewall takes its name from the Stonewall Inn, one of very few venues that explicitly catered to an LGBT clientele in 1960s New York. In the early hours of the 28th of June 1969, police raided the bar, but the patrons fought back. The ensuing riots were largely led by trans* women of colour – but this is often overlooked by the modern movement.
A few weeks ago however, in a milestone for trans* rights, Stonewall announced that their work will now include trans* people. As quoted in Pink News, Chief Executive Ruth Hunt said: “Stonewall no longer needs to maintain a strict distinction between sexual orientation and gender identity”. In other words, they will now try to live up to their name. Previously, Stonewall campaigned for the rights of marginalised sexualities – lesbian, gay and bisexual – but not on issues of gender identity.
The headline to that article, “Stonewall announces it will now campaign for trans rights too”, almost reads like a joke. An equality charity waited until 2015 to deem trans* issues important? Even the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT charity in the US, and notoriously homonormative, has had trans* issues on the agenda for some years.
Better late than never. To their credit, Stonewall did apologise in their report for past mistakes that hurt trans* people – a necessary step in regaining the community’s trust.
It is crucial that trans* issues are fought for by every equality organisation. Gender identity and sexuality are two different things, but the bigotry against them comes from the same harmful structure: heteronormativity. It is this structure that enforces the idea that a man or a woman should only act a certain way, dress a certain way, love a certain way, have certain genitals – even that one can only be a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’.
Trans activists have long fought for change and Stonewall is finally stepping towards it.
The full report that accompanied Stonewall’s announcement is available here. Birkbeck LGBT Officer Reubs Walsh was one of hundreds of trans* activists to consult with Stonewall on their introduction of trans* lobbying. You can read Reubs’ comment on the announcement here.