Ben Summerskill


Ben Summerskill

Ben Jeffrey Peter Summerskill (born 6 October 1961) is the Chief Executive of the UK-based Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual equality organisation Stonewall, now the largest gay equality body in Europe. He has a lesbian twin sister, Clare, who is a performer [http://www.claresummerskill.co.uk] .

Educated at Cobden Road Infants School, Amherst County Primary School, Sevenoaks School and Merton College, Oxford, where he was an Exhibitioner (holder of a junior scholarship) but which he left after two years without taking a degree, just like his future employer and journalistic mentor Sir Max Hastings. (Hastings was also an Oxford Exhibitioner, at University College, for two years until he left "to get on with life".) Summerskill evidently disliked Oxford. 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.' "

He first went into the restaurant trade. He was Operations Director from 1987 to 1990 with Kennedy Brookes, a publicly-quoted hospitality company, responsible for 300 staff and an £18m turnover at the age of 26. 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 for the "Daily Express" under editor Rosie Boycott, the London "Evening Standard" under editor Max Hastings, and other magazines.

Summerskill was a Labour councillor for the Westbourne Ward of Westminster City Council from 1994 to 1998.

He succeeded former Director Angela Mason to the position of Chief Executive of Stonewall in early 2003, expanding its work from parliamentary lobbying into other fields including workplace equality and campaigning against homophobia in schools. He led campaigns for repeal of Section 28 of the Local Government Act, the introduction of Civil Partnership for lesbian and gay people in the UK and the introduction of 2007 protections against discrimination in the provision of "goods and services", covering areas from healthcare and housing to hotels and holidays. He also led a successful parliamentary campaign in 2007-2008 for introduction of a criminal offence of incitement to homophobic hatred. He is also remarked for restoring Stonewall to financial good health after a number of precarious years.

Under his direction Stonewall's Diversity Champions programme, promoting good practice among major UK employers, has grown from 35 to 400 members, employing 4.2 million people between them. Stonewall's new Education for All programme, launched in 2005, is supported by 70 major teaching and children's organisations.

In 2006, Summerskill was appointed a Commissioner on the UK's new Equality and Human Rights Commission. 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.

His grandmother (Baroness) Edith Summerskill and his aunt (Dr) Shirley Summerskill were both Labour Members of Parliament and government ministers. Edith Summerskill, a former Chairman of the UK Labour Party, was an early advocate of Britain's free National Health Service. Shirley Summerskill helped introduce the UK's Sex Discrimination Act, as a Home Office (Interior) minister.

Ben Summerskill is an occasional contributor to "The Guardian", The Independent on Sunday, The Observer, Time Out and other publications.


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