Former NHS trust chief executive Kate Grimes shares her three-fold concerns over Stonewall.

I was already working as a hospital manager when I came out as a lesbian in the late 80s. My internal post arrived with “dyke” scrawled across it. In the early 90s I was proud to run one of the country’s leading HIV/AIDS services. We had two wards full of mainly young gay men we could not save. The beds filled as quickly as they emptied. I battled prejudice in the hospital for my staff and patients. I marched on the streets for equal rights and repeal of the hated Section 28. And then along came Stonewall. They changed the world for those of us who were lesbian, gay or bisexual.

So imagine my distress to find myself adding my voice to the many others urging organisations to break with Stonewall. Liz Truss, the equalities minister suggested that government bodies should withdraw from Stonewall’s “Diversity Champions” scheme. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission and ACAS have now left and last weekend the Ministry of Justice signalled it was planning to leave stating that the charity had “lost its way”.

At last count, over 90 NHS and healthcare organisations are members of Stonewall’s diversity scheme including the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England, the Care Quality Commission, the GMC and many hospitals and other healthcare providers. The NHS has been well and truly captured by what some now describe as an extremist trans lobby group.

My concerns are three-fold. First, and most importantly, Stonewall’s influence is undermining our ability to keep our patients safe. Secondly, it stifles free speech and creates a culture of fear amongst some staff. Thirdly, it gives misleading and potentially unlawful advice, opening up NHS organisations to litigation and reputational damage.

I believe that working with Stonewall is no longer compatible with NHS values and risks the reputation of the NHS and the safety of our patients and staff

Stonewall argues for the removal of same sex spaces and widely promulgates the incorrect notion that any man who identifies as a woman is legally entitled to access women only spaces. Since 2019, this has been built into NHS policy in England (see Annex B of this guidance) so that female patients no longer have access to single sex accommodation in wards or bathrooms.

Secondly, Stonewall insists that there should be no debate or discussion about the implications of this change for other groups. Indeed, Nancy Kelley, the CEO of Stonewall, said last week that anyone who believes that sex is binary and immutable is a transphobic bigot akin to anti-Semites.

The implications for patients are significant. Female patients are exposed to the distress and dangers of sharing private space with men who are strangers, at a time when they are vulnerable. Religious requirements are disregarded. Additionally, the censoring of discussion together with the air of legitimacy offered by such broad membership of the Stonewall scheme means that other, more dangerous changes have been introduced without discussion of the potential risks and how they might be mitigated.

In many places we no longer collect data on sex, restricting our ability to undertake accurate research. Children under 16 who identify as trans may be given completely new medical records and NHS numbers showing their new (incorrect) sex, with potentially life-threatening consequences. Meanwhile the High Court has had to intervene to stop the NHS giving children as young as ten experimental drugs that can have devastating effects.

There are also serious ramifications for staff. Hospital workers are losing their rights, enshrined in law, to separate bathroom and changing facilities. Anyone who speaks up may face disciplinary action, as policies are brought into line with Stonewall’s view of inclusion. A black lesbian barrister is currently suing Stonewall after they tried to pressurise her chambers to drop her when she helped establish a new charity representing LGB people. Another woman lost her job for saying there are only two sexes. Nurses speak of their distress at being instructed to insist to their female patients that there are no men present, in the clear presence of a man identifying as a woman. Who can they turn to when their employer, union and regulator are all Stonewall Champions?

Organisations are also risking litigation and reputation damage. The University of Essex recently publicly apologised after an independent review found its policies misrepresented the law “as Stonewall would prefer it to be rather than as it is”, to the detriment of women.

There are many ways that trans staff and patients can be included and respected alongside all others. We need open conversations, without fear, to find the best way through for all our patients. Stonewall’s divisive approach places the rights of trans people above those of women, religious minorities and LGB people and censors discussion about how those rights might best be balanced. I believe that working with Stonewall is no longer compatible with NHS values and risks the reputation of the NHS and the safety of our patients and staff.