Meeting date: Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Meeting of the Parliament 21 February 2017
Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, National Review of Maternity and Neonatal Services, Business and the Economy (Support), Scottish Rate Resolution, Scottish Fiscal Commission (Appointments), Business Motion, Decision Time, LGBT History Month Scotland 2017
- Time for Reflection
- Business Motion
- National Review of Maternity and Neonatal Services
- Business and the Economy (Support)
- Scottish Rate Resolution
- Scottish Fiscal Commission (Appointments)
- Business Motion
- Decision Time
- LGBT History Month Scotland 2017
LGBT History Month Scotland 2017
The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-03713, in the name of Annie Wells, on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history month. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament celebrates and raises awareness of LGBT History Month Scotland 2017; notes that the nationwide event, which is coordinated by LGBT Youth Scotland, takes place in February each year and is aimed at promoting equality and diversity in society with the specific goals of increasing the visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their lives, history and experiences in educational, political and cultural institutions as well as the wider community; recognises the importance of raising awareness of the issues affecting LGBTI+ people so that every individual reaches their full potential and leads a fulfilling life, and notes that LGBT Youth Scotland is encouraging as many people as possible to get involved in the full programme of events, which will be delivered by a wide range of people, partners, community groups, schools, universities, colleges and local authorities.17:18
I thank all the members who will speak tonight. I am extremely grateful to have secured a debate to raise awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history month Scotland, which I take part in every year and which has an extremely important message. As many members are aware, the month-long event is co-ordinated nationally by LGBT Youth Scotland, some of whose members have kindly come along tonight, along with representatives from the Equality Network, Stonewall Scotland and LGBT Health and Wellbeing.
LGBT history month provides an opportunity not only to celebrate the contribution that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people make to local communities and cultures across Scotland, as well as the tireless work of campaigners, but to reflect on the progress that is still to be made. There is no doubt that legislation has provided a more positive picture for LGBTI people in Scotland. It is three years since same-sex marriage was legalised, eight since same-sex couples became able to adopt and 13 since the Gender Recognition Act 2004 allowed trans people who are over 18 to have their gender legally recognised.
Last year, the Scottish social attitudes survey showed that social attitudes are changing—the figure for those who view same-sex marriage in a negative light has dropped to under 20 per cent. In the political world, Scotland is the only country in the world where the majority of political party leaders identify as LGBT and, in the House of Commons and the United Kingdom Cabinet, we see more diversity in sexual orientation than ever before. This is a time to celebrate all that. Those markers highlight just how tolerant Scotland has become, which is something that I am immensely proud of.
Although progress is being made—much of which I have personally benefited from—we should not be complacent about eradicating all the prejudices that still exist. We should always seek to further improve the life experiences of LGBTI people. In particular, I feel passionate about removing any barriers that are in the way of any young person coming to understand their sexual orientation or gender identity.
As the equalities spokesperson for my party and as a member of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee, I have spoken a lot about the issues, but I have never quite spoken in detail about my own journey to understanding and accepting myself as an openly gay woman. Many of my younger years were spent in a fairly dark and confusing place, because I did not have the environment or support that I needed. I came out at the age of 13 at an all-girls Catholic school, only to be told by those around me that it was just a phase that they could help me to get through.
With no support or guidance, that confusion led to even more confusion. While I told those around me that I now liked boys and that everything was okay, inside I did not really know what I wanted or who I was. Because I could not express my feelings for girls—something that I linked to my uncle’s transition from male to female—I assumed that I must want to change gender, too.
When I got to 16, I left school, because my school was merging with an all-boys school and I did not think that I could handle that. Four years later, I married the father of my son, and later followed some of the darkest years of my life—I did not wish to lie to myself or my family, yet I did not want to hurt my family.
Eventually, things got so bad that I sought help. As well as seeking support from mental health services, I attended counselling through my work to try to come to terms with my sexuality and to work out what I wanted and how I wanted my life to be. I finally came out for the second time in 1997 at the age of 25 and, after an intensely difficult period of internal family tension, I finally began to lead the life that I believed I should be leading.
I think sometimes of how, if the right education and support had been in place to help me through, it could have improved my situation and given me the confidence to listen to what I truly wanted. Mental health is intertwined with this. In a survey of young people across Scotland, nearly 70 per cent said that they had experienced bullying at school based on their sexual orientation. More than 40 per cent of those who experienced homophobic or biphobic bullying and nearly 70 per cent of those who experienced transphobic bullying considered themselves to have a mental health problem.
That is why I have been so supportive of the time for inclusive education—TIE—campaign, which seeks to introduce LGBTI-inclusive education as part of the school curriculum. I am pleased that that proposal is under review by the Equalities and Human Rights Committee and that the Education and Skills Committee will hear from TIE this week. I sincerely hope that the Scottish Government will ensure that the proposal is progressed so that those who are trying to understand their sexual orientation or gender identity do not carry confusion into their adult lives.
As for legislation, I am pleased that the 2004 act is due to be reviewed in Parliament this year. I would welcome any review that looks at lowering the age for recognition and at provisions on recognising non-binary people’s identities.
I highlight again the positive work of LGBTI groups across Scotland and I thank those who campaign hard on the issues. This Sunday, I shall be doing my own small bit by running in the rainbow relay with the Glasgow FrontRunners—I think that the distance is 3km and I might do a couple of hundred metres—and this Friday, I shall be showing my support for purple Friday, which is an initiative that celebrates equality and recognises personal LGBTI purple heroes. For me, they happen to be none other than the tennis player Martina Navratilova and, of course, Ruth Davidson.
Scotland, along with the rest of the UK, is doing well on promoting and improving the lives of LGBTI people, but we can always do better. I am conscious that people are still slipping through the net and failing to understand who they truly are or to celebrate the fact that they have as many positive attributes to contribute to society as the next person. Along with the celebration that comes with the great initiative of LGBT history month, let us also reflect on what still needs to be done.17:25
I thank Annie Wells for bringing this members’ business debate to the chamber and for her moving opening speech. It is important that we discuss all aspects of LGBTI equality and history month in order to highlight the success of the movement and, crucially, to focus on what still needs to be done.
Scotland has been a world leader in promoting equality and introducing progressive legislation for a more inclusive and fair society. In 2005, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender was banned. In 2009, equal rights were given to same-sex couples who were applying for adoption. More recently, Scotland has been regarded as the best country in Europe for LGBTI equality. That is an incredible success and we should be proud of that progress.
The Scottish Government’s current review of hate crime legislation is welcome. Our policies have improved the lives of LGBTI people in Scotland relative to the lives of those elsewhere in the UK, which is exemplified by the fact that Scotland meets 92 per cent of the rainbow index’s criteria, compared with a figure of 86 per cent for the UK as a whole.
However, as Annie Wells said, the experiences of too many LGBTI young people do not reflect that. Our schools are still a focal point of discrimination and bullying, and that must not be allowed to continue. Research by the time for inclusive education campaign found that 90 per cent of LGBTI people experienced homophobia, biphobia or transphobia at school.
Members of the TIE campaign have bravely shared their stories of that cruel and consistent bullying and of a school system that has rejected their identity and ignored their daily abuse. Many LGBTI children throughout Scotland are terrified of going to school, and children are harming themselves as a direct result of the abuse that they receive there. Stonewall Scotland’s research has found that one in four LGBTI children who have been bullied in schools have attempted suicide. That cannot be allowed to continue. We need to not only recognise their stories but act on them, to bring more inclusivity into education and to discourage the ignorance and bigoted views that are at the heart of that discrimination. That is the least that we can do—we must get it right for every child.
Research by Stonewall shows that 44 per cent of secondary school staff in Scotland say that they are not allowed to, or are not sure whether they are allowed to, teach about LGBTI issues and that only 16 per cent of teachers have received any specific training on how to tackle homophobic bullying. That simply is not good enough. We must tackle this horrific inequality at the earliest possible age with sensitive education.
LGBTI bullying does not happen only in school but, sadly, that is where it starts. At a time when children should be building and developing their confidence and skills for the future, many are being broken down and are losing their confidence and sense of worth. We have a collective responsibility to ensure that that stops happening to children, and it must stop now. In 2017, there is no place for discrimination or abuse of that nature.17:29
Television evangelist Pat Robertson once described Scotland as
“a dark land overrun by homosexuals”,
and it is true—the weather can be quite gloomy on occasion. However, as the skies opened at this year’s Glasgow and Edinburgh pride events, a cornucopia of colour marched its way through our cities, and I was proud to march with it.
My personal journey, from growing up in Greenock where being gay was a very dangerous label to be given, to sitting in the chamber as an MSP and setting up and co-convening the Parliament’s first cross-party group on LGBTI rights and issues, has been a long one. When I was at school, being “gay” was, and sadly still is, an insult: the suggestion is that, somehow, something gay is stupid or pathetic.
It is almost 23 years to the day since Sir Nicholas Fairbairn stood up in a House of Commons debate and said,
“Why should there be an age of consent for an act of perversion at all?”—[Official Report, House of Commons, 14 March 1994; Vol 239, c 719.]
How far the Conservatives have come. How far politics has come. LGBT history month is very personal to me, and it brings back many memories. I remember calling the Lesbian and Gay Switchboard in London as a teen, and panicking for weeks as I waited for the phone bill to arrive. I remember the support that I received from the volunteers at the Glasgow gay and lesbian centre in Dixon Street in Glasgow, which ran the city’s first gay and lesbian youth groups. As a 17-year-old at that time, it would have been a crime for me to have had a boyfriend—and on that, your honour, I plead guilty.
I remember my first warm summer’s evening in Soho in 1999. I nervously went into a bar and ordered a pint. There were balloons everywhere. “What are we celebrating?” I asked the barman. “Today is our reopening”, he said. It was the Admiral Duncan. Just nine weeks earlier, a nail bomb had exploded there, killing three people and injuring 70.
It is sad that so many lives have been lost over the years in homophobic attacks, so behind the colour and pride of LGBT history month are serious, and political, messages. While we have marriage equality in Scotland, our friends a few miles across the sea in Northern Ireland still do not have that equality. That is a sad reflection of the prejudice that still exists in this country, as it does in Australia—a country that I once called home. It is time for politicians there to give LGBT people the right to marry the person they love: no ifs and no buts.
I have had the great privilege of meeting many people who are part of the fabric of LGBT history. They include Lord Montague of Beaulieu, whose arrest for being gay paved the way for the Wolfenden report in the 1950s; Peter Tatchell, who probably disagrees with me politically on everything, but whom I respect for his tireless campaigning; and my friends Ed Hall and Simon Ingram, who successfully fought to repeal the ban on gays in the military.
We have come far, but we can go further. We are failing the children of tomorrow if we do not today create a country, or indeed a world, that is inclusive and accepting. As we sit here and take pride in our shared LGBT history, young teens in Scotland are still committing suicide because of bullying. A few weeks ago, a teenage boy was thrown from the roof of a building in Syria after he was accused of being gay. His only crime was to have been raped by an ISIS soldier. Gay, lesbian and trans activists are beaten and silenced in Russia. Just yesterday, Tanzania threatened to publish a list of known gay men. There are 79 countries worldwide that still have anti-gay legislation, and 39 of them are Commonwealth countries.
I want to look back at my time in Parliament and know that I did the right thing for a community that has done so much for me. Let us celebrate LGBT history month, but let us do so in the knowledge that so many others cannot.17:33
I thank Annie Wells for ensuring that Parliament participates in LGBT history month, and I commend her for her personal courage in having spoken as she did this evening.
It is important to note how far we have still to travel to ensure that LGBTI people have full and equal rights in law, and that there is equal application of the law in everyday life. We need to tackle attitudes to LGBTI people and protect them from homophobia and bullying wherever it may occur. It is our duty to change minds in all cultures and religions, and across all ages, wherever we have influence.
We have come a long way. I want to offer an international perspective on lesbian and gay rights. It cheered me up to see the picture of the Canadian Prime Minister marching in a gay pride parade—he was the First Canadian Prime Minister to do so—alongside a Syrian refugee. Members should have a look at it; he is waving the rainbow flag. That shows that we have come a long way.
It is LGBT history month, so I want to look back to November 2000—which is not that long ago, if you think about it—when the age of sexual consent was equalised at 16 after many attempts to remove that particular form of discrimination against lesbian women and gay men. It is worth noting that although the age of sexual consent for gay men had been 18, there was, because there was no acknowledgment of lesbian sex, no statutory age of consent for lesbian women. In 2000, MPs including Edwina Currie and Tony Blair—the list of names is interesting—stuck their necks out to force a change in the law.
The situation on the international scene is a bit depressing. A total of 73 countries have criminal laws against sexual activity by LGBTI people. The Russian President famously said at the 2014 winter Olympics that Russia was not forbidding anything for LGBT people but, shockingly, he completely distorted matters by conflating LGBT rights and lifestyles with paedophilia. It is nothing short of disgraceful for a country like Russia to have done that, and we must continue to show visible opposition to such attitudes.
A Moscow court banned gay pride for 100 years, despite the fact that the European Court of Human rights said that it was illegal to do so. In Egypt, a gay wedding on the Nile in 2014 resulted in a three-year jail sentence for the men involved, and there are many countries across the Arab world where the same would happen. A school in Saudi Arabia was even fined for having what was seen to be the emblem of homosexuals—rainbow colours—on its roof, and one of its administrators was jailed.
In my research for this evening’s debate, I discovered that 40 countries have a “gay panic clause”, which allows the fact that the victim was gay, lesbian or bisexual to be used as a defence for committing crimes including assault or murder. New research on the experiences of women who have been persecuted for their sexuality choices, which was published only last week by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, found that women are subjected to corrective rape and forced into marriages on the basis that they might be cured.
In Africa, there are at least four countries where being LGBT attracts the death penalty—Mauritania, Sudan, the Northern Region of Nigeria and southern Somalia—and we think that there are at least 10 countries around the world where that is the case. To sound a hopeful note, it worth noting that there are many African nations where being LGBT is not illegal. In Algeria, Chad, the Central African Republic, the Congo, Rwanda and Mali, LGBT rights are lawful. I do not know what the status of those rights is, but it is important to note that they exist.
Interestingly, the green benches of the lower house of India’s Parliament were mostly empty on the afternoon of 18 December last year, when two members of that Parliament tried to introduce a bill to decriminalise gay sex. They were jeered across the floor by other MPs and, sadly, the bill fell by 24 votes to 71. For me, that is at least a sign that some Indian politicians are still fighting for what is right, and I believe that gay sex will one day be decriminalised in that country. As I said at the beginning, it is not that long since Britain ought to have hung its head in shame at its treatment of LGBTI people.
I am sure that there will be more debates on the issue in the years to come and that we will be able to make a difference to the lives of LGBTI people. I thank Annie Wells and the lesbian and gay youth network. At long last, I have signed the “time for inclusive education” pledge after receiving a very helpful email that explained what it was about, and I am proud to have done so.17:39
I thank Annie Wells for bringing the debate to the chamber, and I am grateful to have the chance to take part in it.
In previous LGBT history month debates, I have been prompted to recall one of the last things that I did in my previous job for a gay men’s project—an HIV agency in Glasgow—which was to create a book of training exercises for mainstream youth workers who wanted to address their understanding and their level of confidence in dealing with LGBT issues.
One of the exercises involved a timeline. Each person picked a card from a pile, which had on it an event, incident or quotation, and they were asked to put it on the timeline. The earliest event was a cave painting from 8,000 BC of a same-sex couple in joyful embrace, and the most recent event was from the year in which we were taking part in the exercise, 2000, when the German Government issued a formal apology and pardon to those people who had been persecuted under the Reich because of their sexuality. In between those two examples, there were a plethora of moments in history that had often been forgotten and which are certainly not taught as part of our understanding of mainstream history.
Of course, history is about more than just a series of snapshots, or unrelated and unconnected incidents or events; there is a sweep to it, and it can move in more than one direction. Jamie Greene mentioned Russia, which saw the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1993. About 10 years later, there was an equal age of consent and the beginnings of a civil society movement growing around it. Very soon after that, however, there was a backlash of deliberately cultivated homophobia, transphobia and bigotry that served the interests of the Government in power, which has continued since that time and is getting worse all the time.
Around that time, we saw some of the same things happening in this country. My own coming-out story began just after section 28 had been introduced by the Thatcher Government, when repeal seemed a long way away. There were marches and demonstrations to complain about, object to and expose the deliberate way in which the Tory Government was cultivating and whipping up homophobia as well as prejudice and fears around HIV by the use of section 28 as a weapon of fear. However, it took another decade after that for me to see the new Scottish Parliament take action to repeal section 28. It was not only the Tories who voted against the repeal of section 28, although it must be said that many of the comments that were made at that time were not so far away from Nicky Fairbairn’s comments a wee bit before then.
It is not just by our best actions that we should be judged, any more than the timeline exercise would have been completed just by pulling another card from the pile and seeing what happened next. How we are judged as people, as political parties, as a Parliament and as a society is not just by our best actions but by our worst. How will history judge this generation of politicians? Will it be only by what we—the members who choose to come to a debate on LGBT history month—say, or will it be by what the Murdo Frasers and the John Masons say? Will we look at the action that the UK Government has taken on equal marriage and judge Theresa May on that, or will we look at her whole career including her repeated votes against an equal age of consent, her vote in favour of section 28 and against its repeal and her vote against same-sex adoption? The fact that she has changed her position now is only one aspect of that history and, if we want to respect all our history, we need to understand all of it. When this generation’s history is understood and judged, maybe that will include glowing references to Ruth Davidson’s speech in the equal marriage debate. It should, because that was a good speech. It should, however, also note the fact that half of her own parliamentary group pressed their buttons against her right to be treated as a legally equal citizen of this country.
We should be judged not only by what we do in this place, but by what all our political parties do as they select candidates—who may be beginning their political careers—at local government level in the next few months. Will they be the kind of people to follow in the footsteps of Nicky Fairbairn, or will they follow in the footsteps of Ruth Davidson? Will we all, as parties, commit to not selecting anyone who will not implement the goals of the TIE campaign and genuinely commit to inclusive education? It is those local council candidates who will have the power to make it happen or to block it, and we all need to take responsibility for the decisions that we make in that regard.17:45
I thank Annie Wells for bringing this very timely debate to the chamber today. Although we are remembering the history of the movement, it feels as if this place could be starting to make some of that history, too.
I want to talk about that history. I want to talk about people such as Marsha P Johnson, Harvey Milk, Larry Kramer, Peter Staley, Freddie Mercury, Martina Navratilova, K D Lang, Alan Turing and, of course, my favourite quotist—if that is a word—Oscar Wilde. I also want to talk about some of our future—the Jordan Dalys and Liam Stevensons of this world. I want to talk about our past, our present and our future. Learning our history means that we can learn lessons from that past to implement in this present to change that future.
As the cliché goes, it is good to talk. If we communicate with one another in a compassionate, caring and non-judgmental way, we build our understanding of one another and of the big global issues that involve us all. However, talking is not enough. Sitting in this chamber listening to speeches, wonderful as they are, is not enough. What matters is action. Of itself, that action can achieve what we need to do. Once action or a series of actions comes out of these debates and all of the talking that we do, those actions become deliverable.
We should ask many of the young people who have discovered that they are gay. I know many of them, and they feel lost, alone, miserable and isolated—they do not feel that anyone will understand their predicament. They may or may not have empathetic and understanding parents or family members, but most will endure various kinds of bullying, abuse and other attacks. We have heard of those very eloquently in the speeches today. That is why movements such as TIE, Stonewall and LGBT Youth Scotland’s development are very important. That brings us the reality by offering somewhere for LGBT young people to go when they need a safe environment. Buildings cannot offer that, but organisations and people can.
Let me give members a few snatches of the present, from the comments of the young people whom I know and some of the work that LGBT Youth Scotland has done. I thank them for giving me some case studies. I always find that testimony is the best teacher when it comes to learning about how things affect people.
We have Aaron, who told us that he approached LGBT Youth Scotland as he was struggling with who he was and that:
“There was no support or safe space to explore, I felt lost and like I didn’t belong. Finding LGBT Youth Scotland online and attending the group gave me someone to talk to and somewhere to be.”
Aaron explains that he was offered one-to-one sessions and education on LGBT matters, which were really helpful to him in becoming comfortable with himself. Why should Aaron have to become comfortable with himself? It is because we have created an environment that is uncomfortable for him and we need to change that.
We have Ben, who says that LGBT Youth Scotland allowed him to meet other young people just like him. He felt alone. As Annie Wells eloquently said earlier, that is how she felt. That was three years after Ben had come out. He was able to meet some other young people, other trans people. He did not realise that there was a community there, and that there were people he belonged to. LGBT Youth Scotland helped him to do that, to broaden his horizons and to make new connections and friendships with people who were going through similar things.
Megan’s story points up what being in the LGBT group can mean when someone is at school. She says:
“When I was 13, I walked into a group of people hurling abuse at me in the corridor at school. I was sitting trying to get on with my work when a 5th year called Chris came over and offered some help.”
She took that help and he pointed her in the right direction.
That is why the work that the Equalities and Human Rights Committee of this Parliament is doing on school bullying is vital. If Chris had not put his hand out and pointed that young woman in the right direction, where would she be now? He was just one person. We have to ensure that the whole school is an environment that points that young woman in the right direction.
We can use very simple tactics to do that. If we look at the past, as we have done with some of the people we have spoken about; if we look at the present, in hearing from some of the young people today; and if we look at LGBT Youth Scotland, Stonewall and the TIE campaign in particular, with Jordan and Liam and the work that they are doing, we can change that future for the better.17:49
I, too, congratulate my colleague Annie Wells on securing this important debate and for her courageous and personal speech.
LGBT history month provides us all with an annual opportunity to celebrate and reflect on the progress that we have made in advancing LGBTI equality. It is now three years since same-sex marriage was legalised in Scotland, and same-sex couples have been able to adopt for eight years. Those are just some of the many equality-enhancing achievements of Scotland, which shines as an example for others across the world to follow. Sadly, there are still too many places in the world where LGBTI rights have not progressed beyond the medieval era and, disturbingly, where LGBTI rights are regressing rather than progressing. Pauline McNeill highlighted a number of those. It is our duty to shine a light on those dark corners of the world.
LGBT history month allows us to reflect not only on the achievements of the present, but on the immense challenges of the past. It is a time for learning, discussion and debate, so I am delighted to see so many groups and individuals getting involved in cultural and celebratory events across Scotland. In Aberdeen, for example, Four Pillars has organised a fantastic LGBT history exhibition, which will be on display until 24 February at Aberdeen arts centre. The exhibition, which has been made possible by funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, highlights the impact of four pioneering LGBT individuals in the areas of mental, emotional, physical and sexual health.
Although we should, of course, recognise and celebrate the progress that we have made as a society, the fight for LGBTI equality permits no room for complacency. Despite the enhanced legal protection, reports show that the lives of LGBTl people can still be far from equal. We must not allow the equality-enhancing efforts of the many to be eroded by the prejudice and hatred of the few. Instead, we must proactively and expediently stamp out discrimination whenever it rears its ugly head.
It is still a black mark on our society that one in six LGBTI people in Scotland has been the victim of a hate crime in the past three years, but so many of those vicious crimes go unreported because of lack of confidence in, and fear of further prejudice from, the police or the system. Prejudice is an epidemic that remains entrenched in society, and although I support the Scottish Government’s commitment to reviewing and strengthening existing hate crime legislation, I firmly believe that more must be done to eradicate prejudice at an early age—our schools being the natural place in which to do that.
It is deeply concerning to me that 52 per cent of LGBT young people in Scotland never hear LGBT issues being mentioned in the classroom. According to research that was commissioned by Stonewall Scotland, 75 per cent of primary school teachers say that they are not allowed to, or are not sure whether they are allowed to, teach about LGBTI issues in the classroom. What is more, it beggars belief that a staggering 84 per cent of teachers have received no specific training on how to tackle homophobic bullying. That is why I am proud to have signed the time for inclusive education pledge, and I encourage all MSPs to add their support to it.
It is evident from the alarming statistics that we cannot merely use LGBT history month as an opportunity to pat ourselves on the back. We need visible and effective leadership to promote equality and to preclude prejudice from happening in the classroom. LGBT inclusion in the curriculum can no longer be regarded merely as best practice; rather, it is an essential component of preparing young people for life in a modern and inclusive Scotland.17:54
I thank Annie Wells for bringing today’s debate to the chamber to raise awareness of LGBT history month in Scotland. I also thank LGBT Youth Scotland for co-ordinating the incredible nationwide event.
Throughout history, minorities have had to fight for their rights. Women were given the right to vote only 88 years ago, the first legislation to address racial discrimination was passed only 50 years ago, and transgender people were able to change their legal gender only 12 years ago. What the suffragists, the abolitionists and the LGBT movement all have in common is that they have struggled to obtain the same rights as those of us who are members of the majority, and who automatically enjoy basic human rights due to our gender, sexual orientation or race. Those basic rights are the right to choose whom we want to marry, the right to change our gender legally, the right to adopt a child, the right to join the military, the right to serve openly in politics, the right to employment equality and opportunity and—most important—the right to love whomever we want to love, the right to look however we want to look and the right to be whomever we want to be.
That is why we celebrate LGBT history month. We acknowledge those who have not had it easy: those whose rights have been taken away from them by their own Government simply because they identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender; those who feel as if they were born in the wrong body; and those who have been exposed to violence and trauma because of who they are. We recognise not only our own LGBT community, but those in other countries and societies who still live under a law in which being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is punishable by death. Most important is that we recognise that every individual can and should reach their full potential and lead a fulfilling life regardless of gender or sexual preference.
As a country, we have made immense progress. On a national level, the UK holds the world record for having the most LGBT members in Parliament, and I am proud to say that Scotland is recognised as the best country in Europe for LGBT legal equality. Scotland now meets 92 per cent of the criteria, compared with 86 per cent for the UK as a whole. I truly believe that that is the result of this Government’s willingness to communicate properly with the LGBTI community.
In my constituency, the “flavours of Fife” LGBT youth group is open to young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and their friends and supporters. NHS Fife offers advice and support services to point LGBT youth in the right direction for health services. The mood cafe in Kirkcaldy promotes mental health and national helplines for the local community. Such services make Scotland the most progressive country in Europe for LGBT rights.
Scotland—a country whose leaders are open about their sexuality—has a duty as Europe’s most progressive country for LGBTI equality to set an example to the rest of the world. However, Scotland still has room to improve and there is much more to do to achieve full equality for people in Scotland. It is important to note that changes in the law are not always reflected in everyday life. LGBTI people in Scotland and around the UK still face unacceptable levels of discrimination and disadvantage every day.
With my fellow MSPs—there has been cross-party support for the motion—I pledge to support fully the events of LGBT history month in Scotland, and I encourage colleagues to attend as many events as possible in order to raise awareness of the issues that the LGBTI community faces.
I thank Annie Wells again for securing today’s debate, and LGBT Youth Scotland for its efforts in promoting equality and diversity in our society.17:58
I am privileged to close this important debate on behalf of the Scottish Government. I thank Annie Wells for bringing the debate to the chamber and I thank other members for contributing to the discussion.
Members have talked about personal journeys and made important points about international situations. I am particular grateful to Pauline McNeill for reminding us that, in the history of LGBT people and their struggles, women have too often been ignored by society or told that all that we need to fix us is the love of a good man.
I also thank those who have taken the trouble to join us in the gallery to hear the debate.
This year’s LGBT history month has the theme of heritage, in recognition of the contribution that those in the LGBTI community have made to Scotland’s rich and vibrant society. It also recognises the contribution that those people have made to others, giving many of us the personal strength and courage to come forward and to stand tall for who we are.
Although there are currently many well-known and inspirational members of the LGBTI community—as there have been in our history—there are many more who are perhaps not so well known and who do not seek recognition, but nevertheless work tirelessly to help to progress equality. They are innovators and inspirational in their own right and have made Scotland the place that it is today.
Equality and human rights matter, but they are real only when they are enjoyed by all. Even in 2017, with all the advances that have been made in legislative provision, it is important that we continue to celebrate LGBT history month, to acknowledge the challenges that people face, and to understand the impact that each and every contribution has to make in moving us another step closer to eradicating discrimination and prejudice for LGBTI people. We cannot allow ourselves to think that now that we have marriage for same-sex couples and same-sex couples can jointly adopt, or because we have hate crime legislation that covers both sexual orientation and gender identity, we have achieved equality for LGBTI people. As recent surveys show, we have not. Our job is not done yet.
The Equality Network’s “The Scottish LGBT Equality Report: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People’s Experiences of Inequality in Scotland”, published in 2015, stated that 79 per cent of LGBT people in Scotland had faced prejudice or discrimination within the previous year and that a majority of LGBT people in Scotland still never or only sometimes felt able to be open about their sexual orientation or gender identity for fear of the prejudice that they might face.
Despite showing positive changes in attitudes towards LGBTI people, the 2015 Scottish social attitudes survey showed that lesbian, gay and bisexual people continue to face discrimination on a daily basis. Just under a fifth of people still believe that same-sex relationships are wrong. It is worse for trans people, about whom the most negative attitudes are held. Two fifths of respondents to that survey said that they would be unhappy about a close relative marrying someone who cross-dressed in public, and a third said that they would be unhappy about a close relative marrying or forming a long-term relationship with someone who had undergone gender reassignment.
The Government recognises the discrimination that lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people face every day of their lives for no other reason than that they are being who they are. Members have talked about bullying. There is more than bullying; there is the feeling of not fitting in, not being like everyone else and being different. For our young people, that feeling of not fitting in and being different is often the source of anxiety and upset. At times, that leads to even worse consequences in their lives, which other members have mentioned.
Attitudes and the fear of difference can start with, but also be stopped with our young people. Therefore, it is right that the Government has given a commitment to take forward the issues that the TIE campaign has raised. That is exactly why we need to celebrate LGBT history month, which involves a series of events to recognise the struggles that people before us have faced and that people still face today; to mark the progress that has been made; and to proudly state that we are who we are, regardless of our sexual orientation or gender identity, and that we have talents, abilities and contributions to make to our society, families, neighbourhoods and friends.
There is strength in numbers, and more people are having the confidence to come out and be their true selves, but LGBT history month is not about only LGBT people standing up for their rights. The power of allies and role models in that respect should not be underestimated.
The Government is a strong and persistent ally and advocate for LGBTI equality. Colleagues have mentioned same-sex marriage legislation and the recognition of Scotland as the most progressive country in Europe for LGBTI equality and human rights. I should also mention our commitment to reviewing and reforming gender recognition legislation to improve the lives and experiences of trans and intersex people in Scotland.
Laws are important—both as protection and also as a signal of the important areas that we as a society, and this Parliament want to address. However, there is more to the issue than laws.
I remember the days when, as a lesbian, the best that you could expect was that your female friend was not talked about too much. I remember, too, the debates in this country, not so very long ago, around section 2A of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1986, and how we argued, back and forward, about what could, or could not, be taught in our schools and what could, or could not, be mentioned to our children and young people about their heritage, their society and those who were around them. Those debates were hard fought and, at times, they were bitter.
We have made progress, but there is a great deal more to do. Removing the barriers that exist for LGBTI people in Scotland so that everyone has an equal chance to participate in every aspect of life is the most effective step that we can take towards ensuring that everyone in our society can make their fullest contribution to Scotland.
We can individually and collectively be innovators. We can have our voices heard. We can—and we should—be proud of the contributions that each of us has made in shaping history and the role that we might have played in supporting the progress of equality in Scotland. But then, Presiding Officer, we can, we should and we will commit to doing more.Meeting closed at 18:06.