Pride Month reflections from our departing vice chair, Simon Blake OBE | Stonewall
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Pride Month reflections from our departing vice chair, Simon Blake OBE

As part of our #ProuderTogether campaign, our departing vice chair Simon Blake has reflected on how much our movement has achieved in the past six years, and how much further we have to go.

In 2015 I was honoured to be appointed Deputy Chair of Stonewall by Jan Gooding and the Stonewall board of trustees. After serving my two terms, today is my last day. So this is, I guess, my farewell blog.

As a gay man who grew up in the 1980s I remember the moral panic about gay men, the fear of HIV, the perceived dangers of teaching about homosexuality, our immoral promiscuous lifestyles and the homophobic pernicious legislation, Section 28. It was a grotty time to grow up that caused pain for most of us and irreparable damage for many. 

In 1989 when Stonewall was born, I could have written what I knew about gay rights and the gay rights movement on the back of a postage stamp. I had strong feelings, but few words and little understanding of my sexuality. There was no internet and my sex education at school taught me that 'rabbits do it and human do it too'. Not great for anyone let alone the queer kids like me. 

My ears pricked up when I first heard about Stonewall. I remember being taken aback that people felt able to stand up for gay rights publicly and proudly. I was in awe of their courage to do so.  

10 or so years later when I was Director of the Sex Education Forum, I worked with Stonewall: first on the Playing It Safe report about the chilling effects of Section 28 on pupils and teachers, then on equalising the age of consent and the repeal of Section 28. There was controversy along the way. We were dangerous, often to be found lurking in toilets and changing rooms. We would turn children gay with a leaflet or a video, and lesbian and gay people were not ‘real men and women’.

It was a time before social media so the name calling and threats to our safety came in the form of letters to editors and sometimes in the post to our workplaces.

By the time I joined the Stonewall board six years ago, Section 28 was no more and the age of consent equal across the UK. Stonewall had also played a major part in securing the right to civil partnership and equal marriage, adoption rights, to serve in the army and many more steps to equality.

And the world was still turning. 

Yet, despite all the progress the data showed – and shows – that some people within our LGBTQ+ communities both in the UK and overseas had benefited from that progress far more than others. I believed then, and still do now, that this had to change. 

I was excited. Ruth Hunt had recently been appointed with a vision to ensure Stonewall became trans inclusive and to bridge the gap between legislation, cultural attitudes and social change. I had worked with Ruth in her previous roles. She was sharp, witty, empathic and committed to true equality for all. 

Fast forward six years. We have continued supporting the development of inclusive schools, local authorities, workplaces and sport. We have continued our empowerment work training LGBTQ+ leaders and allies, as well as building important work on race equity, trans inclusion and healthcare, mental health, faith and belief, and supporting human rights defenders in some of the most hostile countries.

I am driven by a belief that we cannot and must not allow another generation to grow up with the same fear, guilt and shame so many of us did. And we have so much more to do.

Just look at laws prohibiting and affecting LGBTQ+ folk around the world, read the newspapers and listen to the radio, look at the division, fear and scaremongering by some, reflect on the visibility and lack of it among some parts of our communities, talk to LGBTQ+ people of colour, talk to young and older gay, lesbian, bi, trans, including non-binary, and queer people living in the UK and around the world.

The path of justice is never a straight one (forgive the pun!). Equity and social justice is political but it must not be party political. Our basic human rights to live and love are not a culture war. Being acutely aware of the inequalities and injustices in society (yes, call it woke!) is something we should all aspire to be.

There is so much work to do for ALL lesbians, gay men, bi, trans, including non-binary, and queer people across the UK.

The Stonewall I love will always be at the vanguard of change. The Stonewall I love will always be a place that stands up for all LGBTQ+ people. The Stonewall I love is driven by a deep understanding of the importance of solidarity across and beyond our LGBTQ+ communities. 

As a white gay man approaching 50, I have benefited disproportionately from the legislative and cultural change Stonewall has made such a significant contribution to. I owe a debt of gratitude to those who paved the path for us now – including some of our co-founders such as Sir Ian McKellen, Lisa Power and Michael Cashman. 

It has been such a massive a privilege to serve on the board of trustees over the past six years and be part of the work on becoming a more diverse and trans-inclusive organisation. To work on trans rights, to build our partnership with UK Black Pride, to campaign for inclusive relationships and sex education, on the ban for conversion therapy, as well as creating inclusive workplaces, schools and sport, healthcare for LGBTQ+ people, our international strategy and so much more.

Thank you to Ruth Hunt, Nancy Kelley and the whole staff team for all you do, day in day out, for LGBTQ+ communities. To our partners, collaborators and supporters, thank you for all you do for LGBTQ+ communities.

Massive gratitude and appreciation to Jan Gooding and Sheldon Mills, the two Chairs I have been privileged to be deputy to, and all the trustees I have served with. I couldn't think of a better person than Mitch Oliver to pass the precious deputy chair baton to.

My six years as a trustee have come to an end. My commitment to LGBTQ+ freedom, equity and potential continues. I will be cheerleading all the way. We are always prouder and stronger together.