Honour for British LGBT+ leader revives row over trans rights

by Hugo Greenhalgh | @hugo_greenhalgh | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 10 September 2019 16:36 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Light trails made by cars driving over Westminster Bridge, are seen in front of Britain's Houses of Parliament in London January 18, 2011.REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

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At the heart of the debate is Stonewall's mantra that trans women are women, a statement with which some feminists and other campaigners vehemently disagree

By Hugo Greenhalgh

LONDON, Sept 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The appointment of the former leader of Britain's largest LGBT+ charity to the upper house of parliament sparked controversy on Tuesday, reigniting anger at her staunch support for transgender rights.

Ruth Hunt, who stepped down as Stonewall's chief executive last month after five years, was made a cross-bench – or politically independent – life peer in the House of Lords in former Prime Minister Theresa May's resignation honours list.

Some LGBT+ activists welcomed the move, among them the veteran campaigner Peter Tatchell who praised Hunt's "stupendous work" at the charity where she worked for 14 years.

Jan Gooding, chair of Stonewall's board of trustees, lauded Hunt, 39, as an "inspirational and dedicated leader".

But others criticised the appointment, accusing Hunt of promoting divisive policies on transgender issues during her leadership of Stonewall, which she quit acknowledging recognising all LGBT+ needs had not always been a "comfortable conversation".

"I think she's been a disaster," writer and broadcaster Beatrix Campbell told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"(The peerage) is a shame as she has presided over the virtual erasure of lesbians from the gay and lesbian firmament, and endorsed the promotion of an approach to transgender rights that has nothing to do with gay politics at all."

Hunt did not respond to a request to comment via Twitter.

At the heart of the debate over her tenure is Stonewall's mantra that trans women are women, a statement with which some feminists and other campaigners vehemently disagree.

In October last year, a group of high-powered LGBT+ activists wrote to Britain's Times newspaper lambasting the organisation for "demonising as transphobic those who dissent from Stonewall's trans policies".

Ex-Stonewall supporter Katharine Harris, a signatory to the letter and a former vice-president at American Express, said she was "slightly gobsmacked" by Hunt's peerage.

"Ruth has presided over the destruction of Stonewall," she said.

Each outgoing British prime minister is granted an honours list to recognise individuals' work during their tenure.

The process is often mired in controversy with accusations political favours are repaid with peerages and other honours.

Among the other LGBT+ people honoured on Tuesday were Debbie Wilcox, the leader of the Newport Council in Wales, who was also made a peer, and Britain's most senior police officer, Cressida Dick, who was awarded a damehood.

Lisa Power, one of the founding members of Stonewall in 1989, said the fact people were complaining about Hunt reflected well on the former chief executive's record.

"She was controversial at times, for sure," Power said. "But if you think defending LGBT+ people and bringing us together was a disaster, then you are no friend to our community." (Reporting by Hugo Greenhalgh @hugo_greenhalgh; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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