Being innovators in LGBT History Month
One of the benefits of devolution has been an ability to defend and promote LGBTI rights. This has shown we are an open and inclusive nation and actions we are taking highlight we are determined to remain so.
We have strongly supported LGBT History Month for well over a decade now, and so it’s important we look back on the steps and achievements reached to get to where we are now – a place where we can and should celebrate diverse communities that enrich Scotland socially, culturally and economically, and make Scotland the welcoming country that it is.
2017 is the Scottish Government’s year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, and so it’s fitting that this year’s LGBT History Month theme is heritage in recognition of the contribution those in the LGBTI community have made to Scotland’s rich and vibrant society.
The LGBT History Month organisers are asking for us all to highlight our LGBTI innovators – people whose heritage has changed the shape of the arts, science and business, who have come to make Scotland the place it is today. Well, there are plenty to choose from.
The significance of these innovators is not to be underestimated – from the unknown person who organised Scotland’s first gay disco in Edinburgh in 1971, and Scotland’s first Makar, Glasgow’s Poet Laureate Edwin Morgan, to world-renowned authors like Val McDermid.
Scotland was the first country in the UK to consult on introducing same-sex marriage, and of that we are rightly proud. We introduced same sex marriage legislation, robust hate crime legislation and extended the law on adoption to allow same-sex couples to adopt jointly.
Scotland was also the first the first to host a transgender and intersex conference, the first country in Europe to provide national government funding to a transgender rights project, and we have our own standalone Gender Reassignment Protocol.
And in the 2016 Rainbow Map, Scotland was ranked as the most inclusive for LGBTI equality and human rights legislation in ILGA Europe’s Rainbow Index.
But all of that would not have been possible without innovators from the LGBTI community in Scotland. The people who pushed relentlessly for equality and who have helped Scotland become the open and inclusive nation we are, and will continue to be.
We know we are making great strides in LGBTI rights in Scotland – but LGBT History Month gives us the chance not only to reflect on what action has been taken, but, importantly, to look ahead to what still needs to be done to make sure our country is a fair and equal society for all.
This year, the Scottish Government has a number of further actions to take. Within my own portfolio, we will review the Gender Recognition Act 2004 to bring the legislation up to date, so it is in line with international best practice for those who are transgender or intersex.
In addition, later this year the Justice Secretary will bring forward legislation to ensure that gay and bisexual men convicted under previous discriminatory sexual offence laws can be pardoned. Becoming known as the Turing pardons, by introducing legislation, we will not require anyone to apply for a pardon as the UK Government system does.
It is also important we listen to and support our young Scots. That is why we have also committed to a programme of teacher training on equality for all new, guidance and promoted teachers, providing funding where necessary and have published new guidance on relationships, sexual health and parenthood (RSHP) education.
And finally, we will continue to ensure as an organisation we are leading the way – this year saw the Scottish Government well within Stonewall’s top 100 LGBTI employers. We are fully committed to being an organisation that is representative of the communities it serves.
Continuing to address the barriers that exist for LGBTI people in Scotland, and ensuring that everyone has the same chances to participate in every aspect of life, is the most effective way of making sure that each and everyone one of us benefits from the diversity this fantastic country and its people has to offer.
We ourselves can be innovators – we can create the positive heritage for future generations to look back on and celebrate.
As the great Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California, said, “It takes no compromise to give people their rights”. And there will be no compromise in Scotland as we continue on our path to a fairer future for everyone.