Week 30 - Stonewall
"Acceptance without exception" - That's what Stonewall strive for.
How many of you really feel comfortable in your own skin? How many of you reading this feel able, in every situation and capacity, to be who you truly are?
I cant imagine by any stretch of the imagination that there will be anything close to 100%.
Isn't that sad?
I'm a gay man. I am proud of that. I have no qualms or issues stating that in a public forum. But getting to a point in my life where I can write that to so many people, many of whom I don't know, has been a long and challenging journey.
Which is why I was so very excited to be joining the team at Stonewall.
Stonewall have been an integral part of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi & Trans) life and helped shape the landscape of diversity and acceptance in the modern world.
But before I start, I feel that I need to dive, be it very briefly, into a little bit of history for you all. Prior to 1950 it was illegal to be gay across in the UK, let alone anything else. But because of a small select group of very brave and courageous people, they started to fight for equality. After years and years of abuse, a group of individuals fought back; they couldn't take it anymore. After the famous Stonewall riots in New York City, a group of inspired individuals set up Stonewall (including Sir Ian McKellan) and founded the charity in response to the Section 28 legislation. Fast-forward to 2015 and the world we now live in is a stark contrast to those 65 years ago.
Same sex couples can now legally get married in Britain, Ireland and USA. We can now work in this country free from the fear of being abused for our sexuality without recompense. We now live in a more accepting society where more people can feel open and safe to talk about their sexuality. But unfortunately this is still not true for all corners of our diverse society. Things are changing, you only have to look at the recent media explosion of the Rugby player Keegan Hirst this week. Who, despite being a high-profile rugby player, came out as gay in an industry that is not typically very accepting of homosexuality. It's because of the work that is done by the likes of Stonewall that we have fostered a culture of acceptance. But the work is far from over.
As you walk through the doors of the Stonewall office you are struck by how unassuming it is. You could really be anywhere; but I guess that's the point; a beautiful irony.
But as you take a closer look you start to see how Stonewall are different. Acceptance is the string that is so magnificently woven throughout the organisation; a diverse collection of incredibly inspiring and intelligent individuals. But fundamentally a collection of people who, at their core, live and breathe their truest self. Stonewall thrive on accepting and promoting their difference, from within. And boy, it's refreshing.
After being whisked around and meeting everybody I spent time across a few different departments on my first few days; from the Young Stonewall program to fundraising and communications. But what I experienced from every single person at Stonewall is nothing short of admirable. They value everybody, no matter who or what they stand for.
My admiration is not just founded on the fact that I am a gay man but for what they have done and continue to do for so many LGBT people across the UK and the world. There in a relentless spirit that pours out of every person in that office; a will to make the world a truly inclusive place. Free from fear of being who you really are.
This spirit and culture is led by Ruth.
Ruth is an inspiration. Different from her peers on every level. In many people's eyes the classic stereotype of a lesbian. Undeterred by her differences she went on to graduate from Oxford University and became the President of the Oxford Univerity Students Union. She is now one of the youngest Chief Executives of a medium-large sized charity in the UK; an incredible feat but a very well deserved role.
Ruth's tenacity, passion and drive is a benchmark to any young leader and I have nothing but the highest respect for her. It is clear to see that Stonewall is firmly in the best hands under her leadership and a very exciting future lies ahead under her vision.
But it's not just Ruth that inspires me. But all those who work alongside her. We still live, unfortunately, in world that feels it's ok to pass off prejudice. That it's ok to call somebody a "faggot" in the street or shout "dyke" whilst walking past a woman in the supermarket or even turn a blind eye to school kids telling a trans boy that he is not 'normal'.
Every single individual that works alongside Stonewall helps to ensure that this type of cultural behaviour is eradicated. Wiped off the face of the earth so we all, can live a life free from fear.
It's the work that they do with young people through their leadership programs. The work they do in creating the list of 100 top LGBT employers. The work they do in challenging institutions and organisations on how they deal with inclusiveness.
They penetrate to the very core of our society to ensure that they are doing their best to help guide, educate and support everyone on the importance of equality.
Only recently Stonewall began advocating for trans equality. Using their 26 years experience to ensure that trans people across the UK and the world have the same rights as everybody else.
All charities start with a passion and drive to change something. But sometimes I feel that passion is sometimes hidden behind the mountainous tasks from fundraising to press and everything in between.
Something I have come to admire about Stonewall this week is their unprecedented determination to push forward with their core vision. To ensure we live in a world of acceptance. I challenge anybody who does not feel that this issue is imperative to our future. No matter who you are, what you believe and how you feel. We all yearn for one thing. To be accepted.
It's a trait that we as a collective species hold at the very centre of our being. So why should we tolerate living in a world where that isn't the case?
Stonewall may represent the LGBT community but what they stand for at a fundamental level applies to us all. I strongly believe that if we, and every charity, non-profit and for profit organisation live by the values that Stonewall do, the world, truly, would be a much better place to live.
So if you take anything from my week with stonewall; let it be this. Challenge anybody who does not allow you to be who you want to be. Because we all are united by one similarity; our differences.
Every grain of sand is unique, but together they make a beautiful beach.
If you have any questions regarding LGBT issues you can contact: 0800 50 20 20 - Or you can email email@example.com