THIS week I was honoured to attend the first ever Scottish LGBTI Awards, a fantastic event organised by the Equality Network, Scotland’s national lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) equality and human rights charity.
The awards, supported by Scotland on Sunday and held at the Grand Central Hotel in Glasgow, sought to celebrate and reflect on the huge progress we have made in Scotland towards equality for LGBTI people, and to recognise the diverse range of people and organisations that have contributed to that progress.
Many LGBTI young people still face bullying in schools
The night itself was both a joy to attend and a big success. Hosted by one of Scotland’s favourite comedians, the openly gay Karen Dunbar, with entertainment from Horse McDonald and Michelle McManus, and more than 400 guests including Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, television star Lorraine Kelly and leading politicians, journalists, businesses, public bodies, community groups and activists from across the country.
Derek Ogg QC, the leading Scottish advocate who won the Lifetime Achievement award at the event for his work campaigning to decriminalise homosexuality in the 1970s, made a poignant speech that reminded the room just how far we have come in recent years.
We have come such a long way since decriminalisation, and progress on LGBTI equality in Scotland has accelerated since the Scottish Parliament was established in 1999. We saw the homophobic Section 28 repealed as one of the first acts of the Scottish Parliament, gender recognition, adoption, fertility, hate crime and civil partnership laws passed, legal protections from discrimination at work and when accessing services secured, and of course most recently the passage of Scotland’s historic equal marriage law.
Since the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014 came into effect last December well over 1,200 same-sex couples have married. As someone who intends to make use of the new law very soon when I marry my partner Jacqueline, I was particularly proud to see the Scottish Parliament pass such progressive legislation with an overwhelming majority, sending out a strong message about the kind of country we want Scotland to be.
Earlier this year Scotland was named the best country in Europe for LGBTI legal equality, when we met 92 per cent of ILGA-Europe’s criteria for legal equality. We also know that social attitudes towards LGBTI people have changed dramatically since the 1980s when polls showed a majority of people thought same-sex relationships were mostly or always wrong. So there is much progress to celebrate and reflect on, but we also know that there is also much still to do.
As the SNP spokesperson on equalities, women and children, I spend a lot of my time listening to LGBTI people talk about the issues affecting their lives. I was struck by the recent Equality Network report that revealed 97 per cent of LGBTI people had faced an incident of prejudice or discrimination in their lifetime, with incidents ranging from verbal and physical abuse to discrimination at work and in services. We know from LGBT Youth Scotland and Stonewall research too that many LGBTI young people still face bullying in schools and often feel unable to come out and be themselves even among those they are closest to. And while we’ve seen significant change in recent years for LGB equality, we know that there is still so much more work to be done before transgender and intersex people will have full equality in the law or their everyday lives.
That’s why events like the Scottish LGBTI Awards are so important, to encourage politicians and the public and private sectors to do more. It’s why I’ll continue to push for further progress on LGBTI equality and human rights at home and abroad, not least by continuing to make the case for equality law to be fully devolved to Scotland so that we can continue to build on our progressive record of ensuring everyone has equal treatment and protections in the law.
I strongly believe that equality is a fundamental human right, and I’m optimistic that by working together we can build the fair and equal Scotland we all want to see. «