Ben Summerskill

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Ben Summerskill
OBE
Ben Summerskill Stonewall awards Nov 2011.jpg
Giving a speech at the Stonewall awards, November 2011
Born Ben Jeffrey Peter Summerskill
6 October 1961 (1961-10-06) (age 53)[1]
Kent, England
Residence London, England
Nationality British
Ethnicity White British
Education
Alma mater Merton College, Oxford
Occupation
Years active 1987–present
Title Chief executive of Stonewall (2003–14)
Predecessor Angela Mason (1992–2002)
Successor Vacant; Ruth Hunt (acting chief executive)

Ben Jeffrey Peter Summerskill OBE (born 6 October 1961, Kent)[2] was the Chief Executive of the UK-based lesbian, gay and bisexual equality organisation Stonewall, the largest gay equality body in Europe, from 2003 to 2014. He has a lesbian twin sister, Clare, who is a performer.[3] He has also worked as a businessman and journalist. Ben Summerskill is an occasional contributor to The Guardian, The Independent on Sunday, The Observer, The Times, Time Out and other publications.

Early life and education[edit]

Summerskill was educated at Cobden Road Infants School, Amherst County Primary School, Sevenoaks School, where he held a scholarship, and Merton College, Oxford, where he was an Exhibitioner (holder of a junior scholarship) [4] but which he left after two years without taking a degree. He later wrote in The Guardian: "I still recall being struck dumb on being shown, as an undergraduate, a note from an Oxford tutor to a successful candidate's father: 'Many thanks for lunch, and the trip in the Rolls.'"[5]

Professional life[edit]

His first career was in the restaurant trade. He was Operations Director from 1987 to 1990 with Kennedy Brookes,[who?] by then a publicly quoted hospitality company, responsible for 300 staff and an £18m turnover at the age of 26.[citation needed] Becoming a journalist in 1990, he rose to the position of Assistant Editor of The Observer newspaper which he joined in 2000 after having worked with Peter Hitchens and Peter Oborne[6] as Media Editor for Daily Express editor Rosie Boycott, and the London Evening Standard under editor and mentor Max Hastings and other magazines.

Stonewall[edit]

As chief executive of Stonewall, he succeeded Director Angela Mason in early 2003, expanding its work from parliamentary lobbying into other fields including workplace equality and campaigning against homophobia in schools.[citation needed] He led successful campaigns for the repeal of Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988,[citation needed] the introduction of Civil Partnership for lesbian and gay people in the UK and the introduction in 2007 of protections against discrimination in the provision of "goods and services", covering areas from healthcare and housing to hotels and holidays.[citation needed] He also led a successful parliamentary campaign in 2007–08 for introduction of a criminal offence of incitement to homophobic hatred and a campaign in 2009–10 to enable gay people to celebrate civil partnerships in religious premises. He also restored Stonewall to financial good health after a number of very precarious years. (Its turnover was £1.4m in 2003, during which it ran a deficit of £117,000, and £4.3m by 2013, with reserves having risen from £11,000 in 2003 to £3m and staff numbers rising from 21 to 64.) [7][8]

Under his direction, Stonewall's Diversity Champions programme, promoting good practice among major UK employers, has grown from 35 to more than 600 members, employing 5.5 million people between them, ranging from IBM and Tesco to all of Britain's armed services and MI5.[9] Stonewall's Education for All programme, launched in 2005 to help tackle homophobic bullying in Britain's schools, is supported by 70 major teaching and children's organisations.[citation needed]

In 2006, Summerskill was appointed a Commissioner on the Britain's new Equality and Human Rights Commission. [10] He had for three years been a member of a Steering Group advising the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on establishing the Commission, which has statutory powers for the first time to promote equality for lesbian and gay people. He was appointed an Officer of the Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2009 New Year Honours.[11] He was appointed to the committee of the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service in 2009. [12] In 2010 he was a finalist as Ernst & Young Social Entrepreneur of the Year and in 2011 he was shortlisted as Britain's Most Admired Charity Chief Executive in the Third Sector Awards.[13]

Summerskill stood down as Chief Executive of Stonewall in January 2014.[14]

Political role and background[edit]

Summerskill was a Labour councillor for the Westbourne Ward of Westminster City Council from 1994 to 1998. His paternal grandmother (Baroness) Edith Summerskill and his aunt (Dr) Shirley Summerskill were both Labour Members of Parliament and government ministers. Dr Edith Summerskill, a former Chairman of the UK Labour Party, was an early advocate of Britain's free National Health Service and a vocal campaigner for women's equality. Shirley Summerskill helped introduce the UK's Sex Discrimination Act, as a Home Office minister. His maternal grandfather Sydney Elliott was a newspaper editor of various papers, including the London Evening Standard. In 1944 Elliott became Editorial Advisor at the Daily Mirror, where he masterminded its campaign to support the Labour Party at the 1945 general election.

In July 2009 Summerskill resigned as an EHRC commissioner citing differences over leadership with its chair Trevor Phillips.[15] Five other commissioners resigned at the same time.

Speaking to The Observer in March 2014, he controversially criticised the Liberal Democrats as having only supported equal marriage in order to draw "clear blue water" between their coalition partners, the Conservatives, despite Stonewall having not been in favour of equal marriage when the issue was introduced into the Coalition-led Parliament.[16] Peter Tatchell was particularly critical:

Stonewall does great work but the gay campaign for marriage equality faced an uphill struggle, which was made worse by Stonewall constantly undermining our efforts. Some of the arguments Ben and Stonewall put forward at the time [2010] were quoted by homophobes to justify their opposition to same-sex marriage and this was hugely damaging. I am not a supporter of the Liberal Democrats, but on the issue of same-sex marriage the party took an early position, while Stonewall did all it could to sabotage that position.[16]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ "Researcha". [dead link]
  2. ^ The Times (London) http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/public_sector/article410296.ece |url= missing title (help). Retrieved 2013-11-01. 
  3. ^ "Clare Summerskill's website". Claresummerskill.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-12-04. 
  4. ^ http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/features/2013/07/08/ben-summerskill-we-dont-think-religion-is-evil-or-wicked/
  5. ^ Ben Summerskill (26 April 2005). "Why would you want to go to public school?". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 27 May 2010. 
  6. ^ Ben Summerskill (19 April 2005). "Time to rain on Paxo's parade?". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 3 February 2009. 
  7. ^ http://www.stonewall.org.uk/documents/stonewall_financial_overview_0312.pdf
  8. ^ http://www.stonewall.org.uk/documents/stonewall_equality_ltd_2013.pdf
  9. ^ http://www.stonewall.org.uk/at_work/diversity_champions_programme/diversity_champion_members/default.asp
  10. ^ http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20081211181514/equalityhumanrights.com/en/aboutus/whoweare/pages/commissioners.aspx
  11. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 58929. p. 12. 31 December 2008.
  12. ^ http://www.direct.gov.uk/prod_consum_dg/groups/dg_digitalassets/@dg/@en/documents/digitalasset/dg_181029.pdf
  13. ^ "Six sector leaders in contention to be Most Admired Chief Executive". Thirdsector.co.uk. 18 August 2011. Retrieved 1 November 2013. 
  14. ^ "Ben Summerskill to step down as Chief Executive". Stonewall. 23 January 2014. 
  15. ^ Sam Jones and James Sturcke (24 July 2009). "New resignation hits Equality and Human Rights Commission". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 1 November 2013. 
  16. ^ a b Tracy McVeigh (16 March 2014). "Lib Dems' support for gay marriage 'cynical', says former Stonewall chief". The Observer. Retrieved 16 March 2014. 
Business positions
Preceded by
Angela Mason
Chief Executive of Stonewall
2003–14
Succeeded by
Ruth Hunt (acting)