An Independent Testimony from People Who Know Stephen Reid
We are a group of friends and supporters of Stephen Reid, whose lives have been changed for the better thanks to his community service and care.
We are providing this collective testimony, independently of Stephen, in order to invite everyone to look at the allegations against him in a more nuanced and compassionate light. He will not have read this in advance of publishing. If you agree with this, please add your signature below.
We feel it's important to present the greater dimensions to this story, but this isn’t a rose tinted view of Stephen. We want to acknowledge there is much truth to these past allegations, and the pain that people in the Seeds of Solidarity collective have suffered is real.
We believe that the movement of revealing truth and confronting abuses by the powerful that began with #MeToo is a necessary force in the world. We understand that the Seeds of Solidarity collective feels Stephen has abused his position of power, and needs to be held to account. We support an accountability process, but we do not support the manner in which it is being done.
We understand and accept there is a need for deep reflection and listening to the allegations made by the collective both by Stephen and his friends and community, and would have preferred not to make an immediate response. However given the allegations are being published in the press we felt an immediate response was necessary.
As a quick recap, the allegations relate to Stephen’s role as initiator of co-created Burning Man inspired gatherings, and as a leader of social change organisations, including The Psychedelic Society.
Some of the allegations, include:
Before these allegations were released, the anonymous collective offered Stephen a right of reply, which can be viewed here. Stephen’s reply acknowledges where previous hurt was caused and outlines the measures he has taken to learn and grow from his mistakes over the past five years. These include seeking one-to-one therapy, attending intimacy trainings, stepping back from leadership positions, and taking extensive steps to establish cooperative structures to share power in gatherings and organisations he initiated.
His reply also offers much more nuance on each allegation, and generally presents a picture of a human, who like all of us, has many flaws and blindspots and has made mistakes. It presents the Stephen we know: someone who has made mistakes, has hurt people, but crucially has taken responsibility and has been making a concerted and ongoing effort to change. The collective decided not to publish his reply alongside their allegations.
If they had done so, his testimony would highlight that a number of the allegations are highly nuanced, including the rape allegation, and his relationship with LB. We do not seek to arbitrate this and we encourage people to read both their testimonies. LB froze during intimacy and was not able to communicate that they wanted to stop, while Stephen didn’t pick up on their internal shift. This must have been a horrific and traumatising experience for LB. Stephen says there was verbal consent at several stages and rejects the characteristion of this interaction as rape. It is one of several examples of highly evocative words being used to describe complex social interplays between people. The published record of their text messages shows lots of friendly exchanges in the following months. LB has a right to define and characterise their experience and there is an equal right for Stephen to challenge it given his perception of their relationship, the nature of the communication he received from LB and the repercussions of using such a word as rape.
Another core allegation is that Stephen abused his position of power as a facilitator on a Psychedelic Experience weekend by having sex with one of the participants. This conjures up images of Stephen taking advantage of a participant in a therapeutic retreat who was under the influence of psychedelics. In reality, this was a pilot event organised with friends, the person he had sex with was a close friend and it didn’t take place during the psychedelic trip. The collective revealed these intimate details about Stefana Bosse without her consent and portrayed her as a victim of abuse to serve their own ends. This is a characterisation that Stefana fully rejects. She has issued a statement in response.
Stephen offered to engage in a mediation process with the group’s members, which, according to the Seeds of Solidarity collective, was declined because they said they had pursued mediations with Stephen before and found them unsatisfactory. To our knowledge, Stephen has only had one mediation with only one of the fifteen members of the group. To our knowledge, no other members have sought a mediation, learning or accountability process with Stephen or via any of his friends and colleagues. This very public allegation and take down process is the first time most of them have attempted any process of confronting Stephen about his behaviour, while having harboured silent concerns for a number of years. If the goal is healing, justice and collective learning, we believe claiming Stephen has not engaged with mediation or accountability processes is a willful mischaracterisation.
The crux is that the website presents him as a sociopath with no care and remorse. Some of us believe a more accurate interpretation is that Stephen is neurodivergent and doesn’t have the same levels of emotional sensitivity as most. An example is that some of us were surprised to read the detached nature of his apology letter to LB which we felt is an example of him aiming to be compassionate and make amends but missing the mark. It is not an excuse, but worth noting that Stephen lost both his parents in quick succession in his early twenties. This kind of tragedy shapes us in complex ways. The collective speaks to the importance of having compassion for people who are neurodivergent and traumatised but don’t extend this to Stephen.
Stephen is an extraordinary and unusual character. He is wired in a different way, moves very fast in the world, and can unintentionally overstep boundaries without recognising it until after the fact. When people find the courage to raise this with him, they have been unsatisfied with the emotional depth he shows, which we believe is a consequence of his neurodivergence.
As people who know and have worked with him for many years, we have had to have ongoing difficult feedback conversations with him about this, which he takes seriously. Those of us who work closely with him have seen a dramatic change in the past few years, and it’s still unfinished. Change takes time.
The positive is that he can and has created a lot of amazing things that benefit the world. His work for UK Uncut, the Green Party, Extinction Rebellion, and the Psychedelic Society is an enormous contribution to a more socially just world.
This does not discount the negatives. He has hurt people along the way. However the allegations made are from several years ago, and since then Stephen has made a concerted effort to learn from these mistakes and grow. The Seeds of Solidarity collective do not acknowledge this.
The larger perspective is that as a charismatic leader Stephen is a lightning rod for people’s trauma around the ways patriarchy, hetronormativity and white supremacy are replicated in psychedelic, sex positive, new age and Burner culture. Inevitably, all of us are complicit in this to varying degrees.
The gatherings that Stephen and others initiated were deliberately experimental spaces that offered opportunities for many people to explore the boundaries of connection, intimacy, mind altering substances, and spiritual growth. They take place within a wider environment that is still getting to grips with intersectionality, neurodivergence, consent, colonialism and general in and out group dynamics.
They are spaces where the powerful and not so powerful are carrying wounding and trauma which spills out and hurts other people, and often themselves. The potential for all of us to make mistakes is high, particularly those in positions of power.
If a group of all the people you have ever slighted or wounded personally or professionally over the past 10 years came together to compile a list of your actions and sent it to the national press, how would you feel? And would any of us come out squeaky clean?
The co-created gatherings we were all part of were non-commercial. At once, both a large event that required some formal duty of care, and an extended friendship group having a wild party. While Stephen often initiated the gatherings at the beginning, they were always co-lead by an organising team and co-created by everyone attending. In those early days, we were a bunch of young friends making it up as we went along, using the best group processes we discovered in activism and community organising. Over time, the gatherings included more and more collective safety measures that tried to reflect our emerging understanding around intersectionality, consent, psychedelic harm reduction, and psychological welfare. Stephen himself emphasised the importance of this, attempting to write up new principles and agreements for how we would spend our time together.
We weren’t present for Stephen’s one to one alleged abuses of power, particularly claims of sexual misconduct. A more nuanced and compassionate observation we can offer having been closer to him is that Stephen was both in an informal leadership position, and was another participant at the party, so the power dynamics were blurred. He should have recognised that he wielded more power than most, and had greater awareness and care when engaging in romantic and sexual behaviour with people, particularly those on the outside of the friendship network.
Anyone with informal power and influence should do the same. We all have more to do in recognising our power and creating more inclusive, safe and diverse spaces. That’s the most important point. We are all complicit, and the best we can do is create a mature conversation where we grow together.
The side of Stephen that isn’t portrayed on the website is that he is a deeply kind, caring person who is constantly in service to his communities. We hope in writing this letter, that the hundreds of people whose lives have been positively affected will come forward to share a more accurate picture.
If this is the Stephen Reid you know, please come forward and sign this collective testimony. Right now, the Seeds of Solidarity collective are contacting newspapers to maximise the reputational damage they can cause without having sought mediation or accountability, and without publishing Stephen’s responses on their website.
This isn’t just about standing for this more accurate picture of Stephen, it’s about standing against one-dimensional portrayals that are designed to inflict as much damage as possible.
This letter was collectively drafted by a small group of Stephen's colleagues and supporters. Signatories below are those that are showing support for the content of the already published letter.
Signing with your job/role title is more powerful, but you can sign with your initials if this feels safer for you to do.
Signed,Dr Rosalind Watts, Clinical Psychologist