The national lottery was [on the 22nd December] accused of breaking its ban on political funding after giving a large grant to a second controversial transgender lobbying group.
The Big Lottery Fund (BLF) will pay £494,000 to “empower trans leaders and organisations” in “facilitation, media and influencing”. The money is being handed to the advocacy group Stonewall for distribution to other activists, creating a “network of leaders” to lobby for change. Stonewall was central to the campaign for contentious changes to gender laws.
Last week The Sunday Times revealed the lottery had awarded £500,000 to the trans advocacy group Mermaids, which campaigns for children to be allowed prohibited sex-change hormones. More large sums to trans lobbyists are thought to be in the pipeline.
The award to Mermaids, which triggered a backlash, is now under review by the BLF. It is today criticised by a coalition of academics and feminists, who have written to this newspaper calling for a public inquiry into the 25-fold rise in children seeking NHS help with gender issues over the past decade.
The group says it is “concerned” about the role played by Mermaids — which has been accused of bullying doctors, promoting falsehoods and pressuring parents to support life-changing medical interventions for their children — and “welcomes” the review.
One of those who organised the letter, Debbie Hayton, who is herself transgender, said of the Stonewall grant: “The rules say lottery money should not be used for ‘political activity’, but giving lobbying groups a grant for ‘influencing’ is funding political campaigning by another name.”
The BLF said: “We do not fund political activities.”
[The activism of Morgan Page, who now works for the advocacy group Stonewall on its “transgender leadership programme”] may not assuage those feminist concerns. In 2012, amid some controversy, she ran a workshop [in Canada] called Overcoming the Cotton Ceiling. The “cotton ceiling” is a term used by some trans lesbian women to criticise biological lesbian women for refusing to have sex with them because they have penises.
The organiser, Planned Parenthood Toronto, insisted that “sexual consent was absolutely paramount . . . the workshop was never intended to promote overcoming any individual woman’s objections to sexual activity”.
When The Sunday Times revealed last week that the Big Lottery Fund (BLF), which awards grants from the national lottery, had given £500,000 to Mermaids, a trans group that advocates sex-change treatment for children, there was an outcry — and an immediate review.
News of this second grant for a partisan lobbying operation will trigger further questions about the lottery’s approach.
Other Stonewall trans leaders include Aimee Challenor, a former Green Party deputy leadership candidate who was suspended, then resigned, after using her father as her election agent, even though he had been charged with imprisoning, raping and torturing a 10-year-old child. He was later sentenced to 22 years in prison.
Challenor claimed to have known nothing of the crimes, which took place in the attic of the house they shared. Stonewall has since promoted Challenor to secretary of its trans advisory group, according to her Twitter feed.
Stonewall said the new lottery project was “designed to help trans people from all walks of life reduce both the discrimination they face and the fear of violence that is still a daily reality for many”.
David Davies, the Tory MP for Monmouth, said: “Nobody objects to grants designed to provide services to LGBT people. But my concern with grants explicitly described as being for ‘influencing’ is that the lottery is taking a clear position at one extreme of what is a highly contested political debate.
“That is explicitly prohibited by their own rules which say that ‘political activity’ cannot be funded.”
The grants to Mermaids and Stonewall may be traceable back to an event last year held by the LGBT Consortium, an umbrella body for most of the sector’s charities and lobbyists, with the BLF’s portfolio development director, Gemma Bull.
“Basically the pitch was that public donations to LGBT organisations have gone down dramatically since equal marriage, so the lottery needs to step in,” said one person who was there.
A few months later Bull went on an LGBT leadership course run by Stonewall and this year was named as an LGBT role model by the organisation OUTstanding.
Early this year the lottery paid for the LGBT Consortium to hire a new staff member, Matt Halliday, to draw up grant applications and work on a new funding model. Halliday left in July in apparent dismay. He tweeted that he had “written to the funders of my project with a report on my project and the things I’ve seen” but neither he nor the consortium would comment last week. The BLF said it had received no report from Halliday.
It appears that neither the Mermaids nor Stonewall awards were considered at the highest levels. One former staff member said only the largest grants went to the BLF board to be scrutinised by external figures. Projects of £500,000 or less were approved by heads of funding, the 12 or so people who are part of the BLF’s middle to senior management.
They “would typically have up to 165 different funding applications to consider in a three-hour meeting”, the former officer said, which meant a little more than a minute on average for each grant. “They would make their decision based on three to four sides of A4 submitted by the funding manager responsible for assessing the application. The vast majority just went through on the nod.”
A senior BLF manager disputed this, saying a maximum of 25 applications were considered at each meeting and the paperwork ranged from 1-10 pages.
The former officer said levels of scrutiny had deteriorated in recent years because of problems with a computer system: “In order to cope, they cut down a lot of the questions they asked applicants including, crucially, on safeguarding. You used to have to describe in detail what the safeguarding risks were and how you’d address them. But now you only have to tick a box saying you’ve considered safeguarding.”
The review of the Mermaids grant could prove important in setting parameters for political grants in the future. Passions are high on both sides: MPs have weighed in and the charity’s supporters have adopted the Twitter hashtag IStandWithMermaids.
Even before its recent spending spree, the BLF was the ninth largest funder of LGBT causes in the world, according to the Global Philanthropy Project, and its money has been pivotal in the creation of a powerful UK trans lobby.
The LGBT Consortium says 89% of all funding for LGBT organisations comes from official sources, including the lottery. Further large grants are expected: the consortium has promised a “very exciting announcement” next month.
In the northeast, Northumberland Domestic Abuse Services, which has received £756,000 from the lottery since 2012, faces closure by March after a new funding bid was turned down. Provided by the charity SixtyEightyThirty, it helps about 1000 people a year and is the county’s only specialist domestic abuse service to offer support and counselling for children.
A charity for male victims, Abused Men In Scotland, came within weeks of closure after losing its £419,000 lottery grant. It was bailed out at the 11th hour last month by a new funder, the Crerar Trust, which gave £29,000 to keep it going.
Dame Esther Rantzen’s national helpline for the elderly, The Silver Line, which has received just under £11m from the Big Lottery Fund since 2013, was told this year that funding would end. Rantzen said the charity was “secure for the moment” but its situation “isn’t easy”.