Ged Killen and Monica Lennon: We still have so much to do in the fight for equality

Writing in the Red Robin on the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, Monica Lennon MSP, Scottish Labour’s equalities spokesperson and Ged Killen MP, campaigner for LGBT rights, highlight the progress Scotland has made on LGBT rights but warn against complacency.

The history of LGBT rights in Scotland is, like most countries, chequered.

In 1889, Scotland was the last jurisdiction in Europe to abolish the death penalty for same-sex sexual intercourse with the punishment downgraded to life imprisonment. Same-sex relations were eventually decriminalised almost 100 years later in Scotland in 1981 - fourteen years after England and Wales. A ban on the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools was only lifted in 2000.

However, since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, Scotland has reached a high point for LGBT rights – leading to recognition in 2015 and 2016 that Scotland was the best country in Europe for LGBTI legal equality.

From the introduction of civil partnerships for same-sex couples in 2005, followed by the more recent achievement of marriage equality in 2014, Scotland’s achievements in LGBT rights have been hard fought and hard won. They should be an immense source of pride for all Scots, especially the LGBT Scots who led the way.

And yet, despite the fact that in terms of public discourse and legal protections, Scotland appears to be a cut above the rest on LGBT equality – issues of everyday homophobia, biphobia and transphobia remain a persistent and stubborn problem.

Day to day, too many LGBT people in Scotland still face discrimination which is as severe and in some cases worse than the UK average.

In Scottish schools, for example, LGBT young people are more likely to hear homophobic language than their colleagues in the rest of the UK. In Scotland 63% of young LGBT people will hear homophobic slurs ‘regularly’ or ‘often’.

Research from the Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) campaign shows 90% of LGBT people experience bullying at school, and 27% of those have attempted suicide as a consequence of bullying. 

At work, almost a quarter of Scottish LGBT respondents said they had personally experienced discrimination or harassment because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, higher than the UK average.

Comparing a survey from the Equality Network in Scotland and Stonewalls LGBT in Britain report, 82% in Scotland and 87% in the UK have faced harassment based on their sexual identities.

An obvious example is that most heterosexual couples never think twice about holding hands or kissing goodbye at the train station – but most LGBT people would tell you they make a quick calculation about the environment they are in before deciding to display even the smallest hint of affection towards a partner. 

Heterosexual couples don’t normally get asked invasive questions about their sexuality, nor are they required to repeatedly “come out” as heterosexual.  Non-LGBT people don’t have to worry if the outfit they wear or the way they behave will reveal their sexuality or gender identity in a context that puts them at risk. 

We should be proud of the social progress we have made in Scotland, but we must never allow ourselves to be convinced that we are uniquely progressive, or underestimate the scale of the challenges which still lie ahead.  

Scottish Labour has never shied away from the challenges of LGBT inclusion. We have pioneered and supported the legal changes that have led us here and it remains our ambition for Scotland to be the best place in the world to be LGBT.

Achieving this will require us to face up to some hard and uncomfortable truths, doing so only serves to help build Scotland up, not to talk it down.

That is why on this International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia we are restating Scottish Labour’s commitment to LGBT equality.

Scottish Labour believes that tackling the root causes of LGBT discrimination must begin at school.  Almost twenty years after Labour scrapped Section 28, we must renew our resolve. It cannot be right that LGBT young people are still being bullied as a result of their sexuality or gender identity and are being taught curriculums that are not inclusive of LGBT identities. 

That is why we support the recommendations of TIE, which would create new legal requirements to train teachers, to record and tackle LGBT bullying in schools, and to develop modern and inclusive school curriculums. 

It’s a welcome move that the Scottish Government has established a working group on the aims of the TIE campaign, but Scotland’s young people cannot afford to wait.

We must have real, cultural change as soon as possible to improve the experiences of LGBT people in Scotland, and that must come from a willingness to confront the hard truths about discrimination in Scottish society. Only then can we achieve further positive change for the LGBT community, and make homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in Scotland a thing of the past.

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