As gay charity Stonewall launch their latest campaign "Gay: let's get the meaning straight", tackling the homophobic and colloquial use of the word "gay" to mean "rubbish, we caught up with Chief Operating Officer, Cathryn Wright, to find out more about about the organisation's history from launching in 1989, and what they get up to now. From recent popular campaigns like the ads on London buses, to their current one, and even what they're doing to help support those affected in Russia, Cathryn kindly talked us through it all.
And not only did we get the opportunity for an in-depth chat, but they've also given us a fabulous goody bag to give away! For your chance to win a Totes Equal Marriage bag full of Stonewall goodies email firstname.lastname@example.org by Monday 2nd December 10am with the email subject "I want a Stonewall bag please" and the correct answer to the following question...
What year was Stonewall founded?
Stonewall was set up to battle Section 28, but now you focus on fighting homophobia... can you tell us three ways in which you do so?
Stonewall’s fundamental mission has always been to secure equality for lesbian, gay and bisexual people. For many years this was all about changing legislation. In the past decade we’ve successfully run campaigns to allow gay couples to adopt, to ensure you can’t be fired because of your sexual orientation and legal recognition and protection for your relationship.
But we also know that we need to change opinions outside of Westminster. Our biggest campaigns now are our programmes in workplaces and schools across Britain.
Our Workplace Team works with over 600 employers – who employee more than six million people in the UK – to help employers create gay-friendly workplaces. Organisations that value equality for gay people make better employers for everyone. We’re now extending this work to support LGB people around the world too.
We also work with 10,000 schools across Britain to tackle the really shocking levels of homophobic bullying that still exists. This includes getting involved with school assemblies, providing guidance and training for teachers and running national campaigns to tackle things like homophobic language.
The bus campaign has had far-reaching global acclaim- were you expecting this level of success?
Not at all! The slogan ‘Some People Are Gay. Get Over It!’ was originally thought up by a group of school children for a campaign against homophobic bullying. We had no idea at the time that it would develop in to an iconic statement that would be seen on buses and posters up and down the country.
Despite the fact that SPAGGOI (as it’s known at Stonewall!) is nearly 5 years old, we’re constantly amazed how it continually appeals to new audiences.
What are your personal favourite Stonewall campaigns past and present?
That’s a tricky one – and I wouldn’t want to get in trouble for picking favourites!
I think one of the most exciting campaigns we’ve ran lately was our ‘Rainbow Laces’ campaign to tackle homophobia in football. I’m not a football fan, but it was pretty incredible to see how we were able to start a national conversation about gay footballers and homophobia. It also showed how important it is to move out of your comfort zone and reach new audiences.
We’ve always believed there’s no point always talking to people who already agree with you. That’s why it was inspiring to see us campaigning with groups and individuals we’d never reached before.
I’ve also absolutely loved Stonewall’s equal marriage campaign. There was such a sense of history around the campaign and it was brilliant to see hundreds of people at the rally outside the House of Lords. It was a great mixture of Stonewall’s traditional lobbying with MPs and members of the House of Lords with some amazing public involvement with supporters.
What can we look forward to in 2014 from Stonewall?
It can sometimes feel a bit daunting when we look at all the work still to do in school, workplaces and internationally.
2014 is going to see a big focus on our International work. We’ve achieved so much in Britain, which really contrasts with other countries around the world. We see places like Russia and Uganda actually regressing in terms of their treatment of LGBT people. We’ll be campaigning hard to support LGBT activists and help them run campaigns to protect their human rights.
In Britain our campaigns in workplaces and schools will continue, but we’ll also be working much more prominently to tackle pretty shocking rates of hate crimes against gay people. We’ve seen in Hackney in the past few years that violence against LGBT people can be shockingly brutal. We need to make sure police forces take a zero tolerance approach so people feel safe in their communities.
Can you recommend some great grassroots LGBT projects in London that are worth a look?
I love the work that the Bethnal Green charity, Step Forward, does. They have a long-standing LGBT group which focuses on personal development as well as the more traditional ‘youth group’ social aspects. One of the ways it differs from some LGBT services is that it sits within a young people’s centre, which means that they have a much greater opportunity to have conversation with young people about their sexuality and identity. They also have other programmes which bring people together from diverse communities which helps to de-stigmatise LGBT people and build community cohesion. They’ve been going for over 20 years so have stability that young people can rely on.
What are you fave queer spaces in the city?
I live in Hackney and I think it’s quite a unique area now, in that most places have a queer vibe or are at least queer-friendly. The great thing though is how well integrated the gay community are - it’s often visibly queer, but it’s not a gay ghetto.
I love stuff like the Fringe Film Festival, which grows year on year and is rooted in the East London queer creative scene, but is welcoming to everyone. I also have a soft spot for some of the stalwarts – pubs like the Joiners Arms and nights like Unskinny Bop. And of course Dalston Superstore - the epicentre of Kingsland Road!
What do you do in your role as Chief Operating Officer?
All the ‘boring stuff’... I oversee things like Finance, HR, IT and strategic planning. Our team is proud to be the backbone of the organisation!
It’s a tough economy for all charities, so to ensure our work can continue on track we really have to focus on making sure every pound is spent effectively and that we know what our key priorities are.
One of the great things about Stonewall is that every staff member gets involved in all of our campaigns and events, so no matter which area you work in you feel part of the whole team.
What can the rest of us do to help support Stonewall?
Stonewall couldn’t function without volunteers and supporters. We don’t take any core government funding which means we’re reliant on the generosity of thousands and thousands of individuals. We always need new people to get involved - that might involve volunteering to help out in the office, buying a ‘Some People Are Gay’ t-shirt, or becoming a Friend of Stonewall.
We also want gay people to be the change that they want to see in their local community. By stepping up and becoming a school governor, getting involved with a local hospital patient group or joining an LGBT network group in your workplace you can make an incredibly positive difference.
We love your t-shirts in cyrillic... can you tell us more about what Stonewall is doing to support Russian LGBT people?
The truth is that the situation in Russia is incredibly complicated. Britain’s ability to influence the Russian Government is pretty limited as we don’t give them international aid and our diplomatic relations are quite strained.
Despite that, we’re working with groups like the inspiring Russian LGBT Network to advise them how to run campaigns. Stonewall was founded to campaign against ‘anti-gay propaganda’ legislation like the kind being imposed in Russia now.
We’re also making sure that the issue doesn’t slip off the agenda here in Britain by talking to the media and, importantly, to agencies like the Foreign Office, the Department for International Development as well as the Commonwealth.
What's one song that would be the Stonewall office's anthem?
Cold Rock A Party by MC Lyte. Oh no, sorry, that’s just my favourite song…
Our musical tastes are too diverse - I don’t think we could ever agree on an organisational anthem. There’s usually blood on the dance floor at the staff Christmas party with people fighting over the playlist…
Visit Stonewall's website to find out more about their latest campaigns: www.stonewall.org.uk