Scotland: the leading light for LGBT voices in politics

“The gayest parliament in the world” is how Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale once put it, two days after coming out as gay in a touching column last April. Dugdale is part of a quartet of the six Scottish party leaders that identify themselves with the LGBT community, along with Scots Tory leader Ruth Davidson, UKIP’s David Coburn MEP and Patrick Harvie of the Greens.

Ruth Davidson, Scottish Conservative leader, lesbian and political rival to Dugdale, put her differing politics aside to congratulate Dugdale on: “being open about [her] sexuality in the public eye”, adding it: “can be daunting [coming out], but worth it.”

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the LGBT community in Scotland, who have undertaken many legal battles in the past. The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980 was passed in Westminster, decriminalising homosexual acts between two adults in Scotland over the ages of 21, eventually becoming on par with the national age of consent at 16 in 2000.

It wasn’t until the turn of the millennium that LGBT rights in Scotland were greatly improved. Along with the equalisation of the age of consent, same-sex identifiers were also allowed serve in the military. The Gender Recognition Act 2004 was passed which gave transgender people the right to change their gender legally. The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014 passed through Holyrood, giving the same-sex couples of Scotland the right to marry.

Very little commotion or uproar was heard after Dugdale’s coming out column in the Daily Record, mainly down to the fact that it simply isn’t a big deal north of the border but rather “business as usual” from the media and the public. Quite a contrast from when she first joined Labour: “When I joined the Labour Party in 2003, gay people couldn’t get married or enter into any sort of civil union,” she says. “That’s probably the most significant change, although a lot of other great progress has been made on school education, tackling hate crime and stigma and creating opportunities for gay couples to foster and adopt.”

While she has been very positive regarding LGBT rights in Scotland, the Scottish Labour leader identifies certain issues that need to be addressed: “We need to strive for a truly inclusive education system and the TIE campaign in Scotland are currently doing tremendous cross party work to make this happen.”

She added, “We also need to guard against any complacency. Being young and LGBT in our inner cities might be safe or even celebrated but I’m not convinced you are guaranteed the same experience in every community across Scotland. So doubling down on the root causes of intolerance and promoting a respective, inclusive and diverse country has to be the goal.”

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Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale.

Since April, the Scottish Parliament has increased LGBT awareness further, as in October of last year, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson proposed a move to pardon men who were convicted of same-sex ‘offences’ before the 1980 Act came into effect. Speaking in Holyrood in October, Matheson added, “Such laws clearly have no place in a modern and inclusive Scotland. However, there are people with criminal convictions for same-sex sexual activity that is now lawful and we must right this wrong.”

It has dubbed it the ‘Turing Law’, after British World War II codebreaker Alan Turing who was convicted of ‘gross indecency’ in 1952, resulting in chemical castration. He was posthumously pardoned in 2013. Hopefully, a lot more wrongly convicted men pre-1980 will receive a pardon from the government as a result of this Turing Law.

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