Joanna Williams Joanna Williams

Why are high street banks teaming up with Stonewall?

Credit: Getty images

Pride month is over but my local bank still has its rainbow-striped window display firmly in place. The LGBTQ+ theme continues inside with rainbow bunting galore. If you’re lucky enough to spot a member of staff, they’ll be wearing a rainbow lanyard and possibly a pronoun badge to boot.

Today’s revelation that most high street banks are signed up to Stonewall diversity schemes will shock no one. Long after organisations such as the BBC, the Department of Health and even some universities, cut ties with the LGBTQ+ advocacy group over impartiality concerns, banks are still there, dutifully doling out money to Stonewall for the privilege of following its dubious guidance.

For banks to attempt to impose such views on staff and customers alike is to enforce gender ideology by stealth

Stonewall recommends the use of gender neutral language and spaces. This might mean describing mothers as ‘birthing parents’ or allowing men who self-identify as women to use female toilets and changing rooms. Institutions keen to climb up the rankings of Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index, or join its Diversity Champions Programme, strive to put these recommendations into practice.

According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, HSBC – which allows customers to register as gender-neutral – Barclays – which offers private medical cover for employees transitioning, and Nationwide – which encourages staff to use pronouns in email signatures – all feature in Stonewall’s top 100 employers. HSBC’s decision to permit accounts without the ‘Mr’ or ‘Mrs’ appellation shows that these policies can extend beyond rules for staff and impact upon customers, too.

One person who knows this already is the Reverend Richard Fothergill, who had his 17-year-old Yorkshire Building Society account shut down just days after he complained about the company’s messaging during Pride month. Since the Reverend’s story broke, news has come to light of numerous people who suspect their bank accounts have been closed down because of their political views. Among those who claim to have been affected are high profile Brexiteers and people who are gender critical.

The impact of having your bank account shut down suddenly, when so many businesses now operate on a cashless basis, cannot be overstated. Victims become non-persons, effectively unable to function in a society that runs off direct debits, bank transfers and tap to pay. That this can happen because of someone’s sincerely held opinions is truly shocking.

The government now plans to warn banks that they must protect free speech. They might have to give customers a longer notice period before closing their accounts and be more transparent about the reasons for their decision. This is a small step in the right direction.

But the power banks have to close the accounts of customers they deem to hold the ‘wrong’ political views is about more than just free speech. It gets to the heart of what it means to be a citizen in a democratic society. Surveys show that the public are not in favour of making it easier for people to change their legal gender. Britons oppose transgender athletes being allowed to compete in sporting events for the opposite sex and transgender women being permitted to use female changing rooms.

For banks to attempt to impose such views on staff and customers alike, not least through the prevalence of rainbow bunting and pronoun badges, is troubling.

It is too easy to blame Stonewall for this sorry state of affairs. Stonewall is influential but it is not all-powerful. No institution is compelled to join its Diversity Champions programme.

It seems that banks, along with numerous other British institutions, have lost sight of their primary justification. No longer content with merely storing, investing and loaning us money, bankers seek an apparently more virtuous purpose in progressive causes. Why sit around calculating interest rates when there is rainbow bunting to be pinned up? Why get bogged down with mortgages when there are diversity workshops to attend?

Stonewall’s success is down to the fact that no one wants to be seen getting their hands dirty making money or, indeed, engaging in any kind of economic function or public service. The drive to substitute progressive politics for the actual business of producing, buying, selling and banking, not to mention education, health care and policing, comes from the very top. We learnt this week that in an application to Stonewall, the Bank of England itself uses the phrase ‘birthing parent’ and expresses its commitment to providing staff with gender neutral toilets. Claims that the British public might be better served by more focus on tackling inflation are purely speculative.

Government ministers issuing polite reminders about the importance of free speech will do little to stem the politicisation of our institutions. The message from Westminster is, at best, misleading. Free speech might be important but Natwest, which is still one-third taxpayer owned, partners with Stonewall to ‘deliver best practice’. Any government serious about running a country that enacts the views of the electorate urgently needs to work out how to depoliticise businesses and institutions or encourage the emergence of viable alternatives.

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