This article is from the May issue of Total Politics
Tell me about Stonewall. What are its key campaign objectives and goals for the next 12 months?
Stonewall’s main objective is to achieve equality for lesbian, gay and bisexual people. We’ve secured the Equality Act. Gay people can now serve in the military, can adopt, and can’t be discriminated against in the provision of goods and services. We’ve seen some really major changes. Marriage is the big, lobbying, parliamentary campaign. Underpinning all that is our work to achieve equality at school. The vision is about a cradle-to-grave approach. How do we ensure that the policies are absolutely integral to the tapestry of our lived experience?
How do you overcome the resistance to gay marriage?
The world has changed, so politically there’s less resistance than there’s ever been. Historically, there’s been discomfort associated with using the word ‘marriage’ to describe same-sex couples. In other countries where they have partnership rights, there are differences in those rights compared to opposite-sex marriage.
We’ve always had the same rights and responsibilities in civil partnerships that you have in marriage. It comes down to terminology. People in the UK are very emotive about language – it gets some really riled up.
Is this going to be an ongoing, perpetual campaign, or will there come a point where you’ve won all the battles that need to be won?
I see a time when Stonewall’s work will be done. And that will be about changing a culture in such a way that schools are able to do this stuff without us having to tell them to do it.
If I didn’t think that was a reasonable objective, then I would have been running the campaign incorrectly. It should be our aim to shut up shop. How quickly that happens, I don’t know.
How important is digital campaigning for Stonewall?
Why? What value do you get from it?
Gay people have always been early adopters of social media, and in the pre-Twitter/Facebook days, there were a lot of message boards – on sites like Gaydar – that created online social communities. If you’re one gay guy, on your own, you’ve just come out…
…in Skegness, finding a community online is incredibly important.
Are there any specific techniques you would say are key?
I wouldn’t claim to be an expert. I’m 32. I’m too old now! But what Stonewall does particularly well is recognise that we need to be relevant and brief, that we don’t need to bombard. It’s not a space for extensive policy discussion, and I’m not interested in the latest expert queer theory analysis.
We’ve underpinned that with providing a personal perspective on those broad policy issues. My style appeals to lesbians – I’ve got hundreds of lesbian followers – and Ben Summerskill’s style appeals to a different demographic. We’re aware of that distinction, and we play to it accordingly.
So would you say it’s about a personal narrative?
Yes, which is why I talk about ‘my wife’, because that resonates with a group of people who I know will pay attention when I ask them to lead a consultation on marriage.
Is it as much about trying to create a bit of personality around an issue as driving the message home?
Absolutely. For me, the personal is my work. I don’t have a dual agenda, where I try to pursue one set of ambitions versus my campaign objectives. They’re part of the same thing. The key to social media is being authentic; the moment social media fails is when people start being inauthentic.