November 6, 2012

IconWhy Stonewall is wrong to name a ‘Bigot of the Year’

Stonewall’s annual awards celebrate the LGBT community’s heroes and villains. But is the category ‘Bigot of the Year’ just unhelpful name-calling?

Last week Stonewall announced that Scotland’s Roman Catholic leader, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, had been awarded the “Bigot of the Year” award thanks to his persistent and vicious homophobia, writes Anna Llewellyn.

Lesbilicious writer Carrie Lyell applauded the decision, saying “Sometimes, you have to call a spade a spade, and other times you have to call a Cardinal a bigot” and tweeted “Bigotgate. Stonewall vs the Catholic Church. Which side are you on?”

It is difficult to be nuanced in 140 characters, but ‘which side are you on’ immediately sets up an opposition between the church and a leading LGBT action group. Of course, Cardinal Keith O’Brien does not speak for all Catholics, which was rightly pointed out in the comments from readers.

However, for some people it can be difficult to identify as both LGBTQ and religious, as they are often positioned as mutually exclusive and in conflict. This applies to established gay folk finding their religious identity as well as lifelong religious people finding their sexual identity. This positioning is discriminatory and it is also unhelpful, as it stops us moving forward and maintains a division.


Cardinal O’Brien may be pushing this conflict, but does that mean that Stonewall or the gay community have to follow suit? Is it fair, and morally just, to call someone behaving like a bigot a bigot? Is it fair and morally just to give them an award for such a thing? Moreover is it helpful and does it advance equality? My answer to these questions is no!

In the first instance the name ‘bigot of the year’ is directly aimed at a person not at a person’s actions. But even if they changed it to ‘bigotry act of the year’ I still wouldn’t advocate it. Since when do you fight name calling with name calling, especially if you want to live in an equitable and caring society.

I guess the more serious point is that Stonewall are making a stand against bigotry, raising awareness and asking some serious questions about human rights. They have got a lot of publicity from the award, which of course is an aim of an activist charity like Stonewall, but is this really the best way to do it?

I’m afraid I can’t see one positive reason for the award. If we position people, and/or groups, as bigots and publicly shame them, where is the space for redemption? Where is the space for conversation and for forward movement? Where is the space for sharing similarities and finding common ground?

You might think I’m being naive here, as Cardinal Keith O’Brien clearly thinks people like me are beyond redemption, but I am not going to lower myself to his level, and I will stand proud as a gay person who has no wish to vilify others, no matter their opinions of me.

Heckling and jeering in a room full of celebrities is nothing better than bullying, and I for one cannot condone this. Thus I suggest that it is time for Stonewall to cut the small minded negativity, to forget the ‘bigot of the year’ and to lead the way for a more caring and equitable society.

Anna Llewellyn works at the School of Education, Durham University. She is responsible for equality and diversity on Initial Teacher Training courses and as such runs workshops on ‘tackling and preventing homophobic bullying’ in schools.

7 Responses to Why Stonewall is wrong to name a ‘Bigot of the Year’

  1. Jayne galloway says:

    Yes. It IS right to call a bigot a bigot. Furthermore, it’s right to have an “award” that highlights these vile comments and provokes debate. The title “bigot” was rightly earned, it wasn’t a name conjured up to cause upset or controversy, it was merely an observation. Stonewall are not responsible for “naming and shaming” the Cardinal, sadly, the Cardinal did that all by himself.

  2. Niamh says:

    “…for some people it can be difficult to identify as both LGBTQ and religious, as they are often positioned as mutually exclusive and in conflict.”

    This is a sensitive issue and one I can understand. However, ‘calling a spade a spade’ is something that has not happened enough, I feel, in relation to religious leaders, especially when talking about the Catholic Church. They are an institution who wield immense social and political sway – Barclay’s and Coutts have threatened to pull their sponsorship, even though the award has been given out before. Why such fuss now? Why is it suddenly not ok to have a bigot award? Because it’s a Cardinal?

    At the end of the day, Cardinal O’Brien is a member of an institution. Not only that, he holds a position of power in that institution. That institution rejects homosexuality as a sin. Calling the Cardinal a bigot, then, reflects not only the Cardinal’s personal stance but also the views and practical teachings of that institution – the Catholic Church.

    It is hard (to say the least) to feel that you cannot fully express your self because of the fear of discrimination due to your sexuality, and religion is an integral part of many people’s lives so this is also an important arena where equality needs to be gained. But that’s just it – it needs to be gained, to be fought for. To have to fight an institution whose basic tenets preach love, compassion and forgiveness, but whose practice has allowed the spread and dissemination of anti-gay propaganda, advocated ‘praying the gay away’, and funded political campaigns to prevent equal marriage and adoption rights for the LGBTI community etc. etc. etc. in countries around the world, is incredulous. There is also no sign that the Church is going to change its stance on homosexuality in the near (or distant) future so perhaps it’s about time a movement as big as Stonewall starts ‘name calling’.

    You ask “where is the space for conversation and for forward movement?” The Cardinal threw the first stone with his statements and Stonewall has responded with their award. There is now a very public arena for him, the church, the Catholic community, the LGBTI community, and everybody else to converse and debate. It is also important to remember that the award is given to the person that the Stonewall members vote for – 10,000 of them voted for the Cardinal.

    As Carrie put it, “Apparently he [the cardinal] and his pals are a bit upset about [the award], probably in much the same way Nick Griffin gets upset when someone calls him racist.” If people find the label ‘bigot’ offensive – and receiving an award for being a bigot even more offensive – perhaps they should review the language they use when debating issues that affect so many people. (source for the voting number of 10,000) (source for names of other awardees)

  3. Felix says:

    I feel like this kind of argument leads to the logic that if we just behave well enough our oppressors will magically stop oppressing us and we can hold our heads high and get the rights we have been demanding. This is not the case, you just have to take a quick peek through any history book to see that this is not how oppression works, especially not systemic, institutionalised oppression.

  4. Ralph says:

    Hi Anna.
    I wrote a New Statesman article about this, disagreeing with you and Nelson Jones (who took a similar line). Please read if you’re interested:

  5. ailsa says:

    definition of bigot – One who is strongly partial to one’s own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ. This definition of the Cardinal seems pretty accurate to me.

  6. Anna Llewellyn says:

    interesting comments
    Ralph – a really good piece so thanks to the link, and I will think about what you have said a bit more
    I will just stress that my main problem is with an award ‘bigot of the year’ – I just find it quite childish and not very useful. I am not at all advocating silence – or ignoring the Cardinal and hoping he will go away, I just think there are more mature and constructive ways to deal with things

    Also I think it’s also not particuarly helpful to use the argument, ‘look at history’ – we are products of our time – thus it’s very difficult to compare past and present when so many different norms are in place

    my position on this comes from my background and work, which is in teacher education, working with school teachers and children on inclusion, bullying etc… hence I always think ‘would I want the kids to do that’ – and in this case, my answer is no

    but thanks for your engagement
    debate is good :)

  7. Commissioner Diss says:

    You can call someone a Bigot but it why you are chosing one individual over another. Stonewall’s Diversity Champions List is not liked by a lot of LGBT employees because Stonewall has a rule “WE WILL NOT GET INVOLVED WITH DISPUTES OF HOMOPHOBIC BULLYING WITH ORGANIZATIONS ON THE LIST” That is selling Immunity by anyones standards
    The allegation can be made that the only reason Stonewall came up with the idea of a Bigot Award was to do what some people see them as doing. Picking high profile peolple to get Donations. It’s bullying.
    Just note Stonewall CHARGE Victim Support the full amount, who are struggling for funding to help Victims of Crime to be on the List.
    And now they are tweeting Police and Crime Commissioners pressuring them for donations. Check out their recent tweets.


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