By Hugo Greenhalgh
LONDON, Feb 21 (Openly) - The head of Britain's leading LGBT+ rights group, Stonewall, said on Thursday that she was stepping down after a tenure marked by debates that have "not always been a comfortable conversation" as transgender rights took greater prominence.
Ruth Hunt has been with gay and transgender lobby group Stonewall for 14 years and chief executive since 2014. She will step down in August with her replacement yet to be announced.
Her decision to leave comes at a time when Stonewall has faced increasing criticism for the group's decision to lobby more for trans rights alongside its fight for lesbian, gay and bisexual equality.
"Recognising the diverse experiences and needs within LGBT communities ... has not always been a comfortable conversation for Stonewall to have but it has been a vital one," Hunt, 38, said in a statement.
"Expanding our work to ensure we are more closely speaking alongside and sharing power with these communities is a journey we are still on."
Stonewall's message has been clear: "Trans women are women."
But many feminists believe hard-won rights for women should remain ring-fenced for those born into that gender, pitting former allies against each other in the battle for rights.
Stonewall was criticised in a letter to Britain's Times newspaper last year by prominent LGBT+ campaigners for "demonising as transphobic" those who dissented from its line.
Last week, 14 British and U.S. transsexual men and women published an open letter to Stonewall distancing themselves from the organisation, saying they disagreed "profoundly" with the organisation's decisions and statements.
"As transsexuals we cannot continue as part of this Stonewall umbrella, which, we feel, conflates a sex based medical condition with lifestyle choices and gender expression," they wrote.
Stonewall declined to comment on the letter.
Under Hunt's leadership, Stonewall grew significantly, more than doubling overall staff numbers to 160 and seeing income rise by almost two-thirds to about 9 million pounds ($12 million).
Stonewall said Hunt's work to include trans issues would remain "integral to our development as an organisation".
Jan Gooding, chair of the board of trustees of the organisation, said Hunt had been a "visionary, bold and inspirational leader" during her years at Stonewall.
"Over the course of her tenure, she has changed the organisation's culture, expanded our remit and shown an unequivocal commitment to supporting parts of the LGBT communities that have been traditionally excluded," she said.
($1 = 0.7670 pounds) (Reporting by Hugo Greenhalgh, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith @BeeGoldsmith. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org))
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