A Christian businessman who refused to print business cards for a trans customer has been suspended from his networking group.
US-based networking franchise BNI contacted Out News Global this morning to confirm that iti is investigating allegations of discrimination against 52-year-old Joanne Lockwood.
In a statement, the company’s National Director, Tim Cook said: “As a global organisation which is both non-religious and non-political, operating in more than 70 countries, our ethos does not tolerate discrimination on any level.
“To this end, the membership in question has been suspended pending investigation of the wider issue which requires further in-depth enquiries due to a number of unsubstantiated claims. We have a meeting arranged with Joanne Lockwood to discuss and resolve the issues at hand.”
in an email on 29 September, Mr Williams rejected Joanne Lockwood’s request for business cards for her diversity company explaining: “The new model of diversity is used (or misused) to marginalise (or indeed discriminate against) Christians in their workplaces and other parts of society if they do not subscribe to it. Although I’m quite sure you have no intention of marginalising Christians it would weigh heavily upon me if through my own work I was to make pressure worse for fellow Christians.”
He went on to explain that he was happy to print for Joanne Lockwood personally, but not for her company. However, further requests by Ms Lockwood for her other business interests including the local LGBT Conservative Association met with no response.
Speaking exclusively to Out News Global following Mr Williams’ suspension, Joanne Lockwood said: “I am pleased that BNI have finally decided to take this matter seriously. I understand that they have due process to follow but I feel this could have been dealt with in a more efficient and sensitive way much sooner.”
Despite his suspension, at time of publication, Mr Williams still boasts that he is a ‘Gold Club Member’ of BNI and shows off two ‘BNI Member of the Year’ awards on his company website.
Following the story, Ms Lockwood says she has been harassed on the phone and by email, though not by Mr Williams, and at least 5 local businesses in Hampshire have apparently cancelled their BNI membership in protest.
One former BNI member wished to stay anonymous but told Out News Global: “As a member, I asked what was being done to investigate this situation.”
After an allegedly aggressive call with a leading member of the local BNI group, the former member continues: “I resigned after that call. 4 others followed from the group in Southampton including another gay guy who had called me in tears following the meeting on Tuesday (which I didnt attend).”
The former member concluded: “I am extremely relieved to no longer be a member.”
BNI says it is not concerned about a potential exodus of members from its Hampshire ‘chapter’: “Of the thousands of members of the organisation who meet in the spirit of goodwill every single week across the UK, they realise there is a diverse mix of personalities and individuals with differing outlooks on life – this is in fact the organisation’s strength.
“As with any organisation of a similar breadth and size, there can be individuals who may act inappropriately. Processes are in place to review membership where this is the case.”
BNI’s national director, Tim Cook is now arranging a meeting with Joanne Lockwood to discuss her experiences and find a resolution.
Joanne Lockwood reported Mr Williams’ email to the police and it was recorded as a hate incident.