Scotland is a beacon to LGBTI people everywhere and we need to shout that more

I was at Glasgow Pride last Saturday, marching with a load of lovely folks from Out For Independence, the LGBTI group within the SNP, as well as a load of straight allies. It was a dreich old day, but nonetheless a life-affirming celebration with good chat, cheerfulness and nice people. Every Pride I go to I’m always struck by just how happy everybody is. Pride matters, because it is important to remember how far we have come, but also important to keep the pressure on. Scotland has come a long way, and is now ranked the best country in Europe for Equalities by ILGA-Europe, and while that is great, we’re not quite there yet.

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First published in The National, 23 August 2016

The depute leadership contest is a chance for the party members to make a choice, and where none of my competitors need any lessons on equality, I’ll take the equalities agenda on because it is who I am and it is close to my heart.

Scotland is a beacon to the LGBTI community across Europe and the world, we actually need to shout that a bit more. I meet regularly with equalities organisations from places like Romania, Lithuania and elsewhere, and we have a lot of experience to share. We also see the ongoing dreadful situation in Russia, where things are going from bad to worse. 

I think you can judge a society by how it treats its minorities, Russia needs all the help we can give, and Scotland in the world can be that voice for progress. When I was in Kuwait meeting the government there to discuss EU relations I also raised LGBTI issues, the only member of the delegation to do so. While it might be a while till government policy changes, the point certainly landed, Europe expects progress.

But we need to fix a few things at home too, we’re not there yet. On Saturday we were marching alongside TIE, the Time for Inclusive Education campaign, and I’m happy to support it. 

The campaign grew out of the independence campaign in 2014 when the founders, Liam and Jordan met, and decided to continue their activism on a different way. The campaign calls for teaching of LGBTI issues across Scotland’s schools.

I’m a trustee of LGBTYouth Scotland, as my own small way of giving something back. The charity works nationwide to tackle homophobia and does amazing work. 

I need to think pretty hard to remember my schooldays but one of the reasons I didn’t come out until I was 31 was because growing up in Glasgow in the 1980s there were no role models you wanted to emulate. Schools are a key part of the experience young people have, and I entirely agree that we do need to bring LGBTI issues into the classroom.

I would have thought that the establishment of teacher training to enable teachers to provide education which is inclusive of the broad spectrum of sexual orientations and identities is surely not a controversial point. But it is. 

There are, sadly, still people subjected to the ideology that says certain sexual orientations or gender identities are inherent moral defects.

This just needs to stop, and while freedom of religion is important, if any organisation is providing a publicly funded service then that freedom is surpassed by a duty to equality and the law. We have curriculum for excellence, we’re more than capable of setting what our schools need to do, we need to set the bar a bit higher on LGBTI issues. In all schools, no exceptions.

Our party leader Nicola Sturgeon has said: “I don’t want to live in a country, yet alone be First Minister of a country, where any young person has to feel that, somehow, because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, they are subject to judgment or made to feel in any way less than any other individual in our society. I have given a commitment to working with the campaign for inclusive education.

“The Scottish Government will continue to work to ensure that, whether it’s in a school or any other part of our society, the environment for any young people growing up – regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity – is one in which they feel comfortable.”

Scotland has made great strides in equalities, being gay in politics is now barely even interesting. But it is still tough at school, and the Scottish government can do something about that. Everyone is on board, the parties can work together. Lets do it.