18 May 2014

We're listening.

When I became Acting Chief Executive of Stonewall I sent an email to Stonewall supporters with a simple message: we’re listening.

On Friday I spoke frankly about the issue of boycotts – whether they work and what they achieve and what the alternatives are. We’re concerned that noisy boycotts have the potential to harm the very people we’re trying to support. In some cases, the extra focus from the West specifically on the LGBT community makes it worse (if that can be imagined) for those people. None of us want that.

I know a lot of you share our concern about the harm that boycotts can cause. But I also accept that there are others who are very clear that using our individual and collective economic clout to protest can be a powerful tool for change.
We’re sorry that we didn’t anticipate the strength of feeling in the LGBT community, and beyond, and take longer to talk to you about our position and ask what you think. That was a mistake on our part.

Stonewall’s decision not to join a boycott of the Dorchester Hotel was not taken lightly. We spent a great deal of time considering the views of human rights campaigners and activists. Activists like Julie Dorf, Senior Advisor at the Council for Global Equality, who has said that it is risky to endorse campaigns without consulting activists in the region, and Jessica Stern, President of the International Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Commission, who has called for any strategies to be carefully vetted by those on the frontline who are most at risk of harm. But we didn’t talk enough to you.

We weren’t of course expecting everyone to agree with us – there is a genuine diversity of views on this issue.  But one criticism we hadn’t anticipated was the suggestion that our stance was for commercial reasons.

I want to reassure you that any suspicion of a conflict of interest is groundless.  Our position on this matter is based on nothing more than a principled view of the likely effectiveness of this boycott. However, I can confirm that we will not be using the Dorchester for our future events.  We simply do not need this distraction from the vital work of promoting respect for the human rights of LGBT people the world over.
As for the boycott – and whether we should promote it – we’re still deeply concerned about the unintended consequences for LGBT people in the region. But we recognise a larger conversation is needed, here and abroad.

We will be creating opportunities for you to feed-in your views about what you think we should do –on boycotts and our wider international agenda. We’re currently working with activists in 30 countries, from Armenia to Peru, and we’ll ask them what they think too. They know how we can best help them, and keep them out of danger. We will give you more information about the work we’re doing abroad and explain, listen, and learn from you and others abroad about the best approaches to take.

I meant what I said. We will continue to listen.  So keep talking.  It works.

Ruth Hunt
Acting Chief Executive

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