On Thursday, Ofcom announced its withdrawal from Stonewall’s diversity program, The Diversity Champions. It’s a decision that has rocked the LGBT + community, at a time when support for us seems to be steadily declining.
In an official statement, Ofcom begins by saying how Stonewall laid the groundwork to better support diversity, which means they now feel more capable of moving forward on their own.
As a stand-alone comment, while slightly alarming for an organization to believe it has nothing else to learn, it doesn’t cause much concern. However, coupled with the context of the remaining statement, Ofcom’s decision, certainly to me, quickly takes on a more disturbing connotation.
“In recent months, some of Stonewall’s political positions have come under scrutiny. In the case of Ofcom, we examined whether our relationship with Stonewall posed a conflict or a risk of perceived bias.
They continue: “Taking a step back from the Diversity Champions program, in this context, is the right thing to do. As a communications regulator, an important part of our responsibility is to ensure that we remain impartial and independent at all times. “
By citing impartiality as a determining factor in its decision, Ofcom apparently implies that supporting the queer community is, in a way, a statement of bias. Yet all that supporting an LGBT + program or organization does is demonstrate a commitment to equality for all.
Furthermore, my point is that by withdrawing from such an important and vital scheme Ofcom is becoming more biased than it claims. Supporting the queer community is not a political or one-sided process, it is an equality process – a feeling that a so-called impartial regulator should be all in favor.
When Dame Melanie Dawes, CEO of Ofcom, attended a small parliamentary committee last December, she appeared to suggest that the BBC not engage with the LGB Alliance. In quick response, Ofcom explained that Dawes’ statement in no way suggested that broadcasters should not speak with gender-critical organizations. Considering that the LGB Alliance has come under fire for transphobia, this was a disturbing development. The LGB Alliance has denied being transphobic.
All of a sudden, Ofcom appeared to suggest that intolerance, especially that aimed at LGBT + people, is acceptable in the name of fairness. But fairness, and indeed freedom of expression, does not mean that intolerance must be able to operate freely.
This then begs the question: why is defending diversity, in a public and transparent capacity, considered such a biased statement?
Asked about Ofcom’s decision, a Stonewall spokesperson said: “We respect Ofcom’s decision and will continue to work with them in their role as the UK’s communications regulator. It is sad, however, that participating in a program that supports an inclusive workplace for LGBT + employees is seen in any way as a non-impartial act. “
The belief that support for LGBT + inclusiveness is not impartial is a belief that Ben Pechey, an LGBT + activist and writer, shared with me.
“Impartiality is important,” they explain, “however, ensuring that an entire community is represented authentically and securely does not make an organization impartial. The main scrutiny has come from those outside of the LGBTQIA + community, suggesting that the decisions that have been made are not unbiased and instead are biased by a lack of experience.
To me, this analysis of Ofcom’s statement certainly carries weight when you consider its corporate responsibility page.
In its section on Diversity and Equality, Ofcom prides itself on affirming that diversity is “essential to the achievement of its organizational objectives by Ofcom”. So it seems odd that in order to achieve this fundamental foundation of equality, they very publicly withdrew from a well-known LGBT + charity diversity program.
Supporting minorities is not about being biased, but truly embracing what equality represents. Promoting the idea that this support is expressed differently is to make equality an unnecessarily divisive political tool. It seems to me, therefore, that organizations like Ofcom are aligning themselves more with right-wing sentimentality.
“This decision shows how increasingly disconnected Ofcom is from the LGBT + community, and how they are sadly aligning themselves with the right-wing press which actively opposes and targets them.” Sharing Sarah O’Connell, host of Sarah O’Connell Show.
The way in which right-wing sentiment is increasing across the UK continually fuels the fires of intolerance. In recent years, hate crimes against the LGBT + community have increased; between 2018 and 2019 alone, more than 14,000 crimes against LGBT + people were reported to police.
Since then, discrimination has continued and spread across the country more fiercely than before. Arguably this is due to the way right-wing sentiments continue to defend the interests of white, cis, middle / upper class citizens; anyone who falls outside this range becomes secondary, whether institutions like Ofcom want to admit the truth or not.
“As with all changes like this, it suggests to LGBT + members that our needs and priorities are seen as a secondary requirement by businesses, especially when it comes to the cost of committing to a program.” Pechey adds: “It would make me doubt the strength of Ofcom’s decisions in the future.”
Pechey’s concern is reflected in much of the queer community. In an age where we are more frequently targeted for being different, we redouble our efforts to seek support wherever we can. When official bodies turn away from us, it sends the message that we, the queer community, must act with caution.
It reminds us that we are still seen as outsiders by many, especially those with authority and power.
This is why charities like Stonewall are so important: They are the foundation on which we grow and we feel safe. They are a beacon for equality, giving us hope when we desperately need it, as seen in the way they have worked tirelessly for helping LGBT + people in Afghanistan.
How can a charity that promotes such hope, such security, be seen as a gateway to partiality?