from equality laws to the queer zine scene, being gay in scotland is awesome
As a new human rights report finds that Scotland has the best legal protections for LGBT people in Europe, Artificial Womb zine editor Ana Hine looks into the gains made in her lifetime.
Coralie Bouguerra for Artificial Womb
Life for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people living in Scotland has never been better. Only ten years ago, when I first snuck into a gay bar, we had very few legal protections - whereas now we have a whole host of legislation protecting our jobs, families, children, bodies and gender identities. A report, compiled by international human rights association ILGA-Europe, has determined that Scotland meets nearly all of their 48 criteria for 100% equality. Although the United Kingdom as a whole tops their Rainbow Map of 49 countries, it is Scotland that has the best record overall, meeting 92% of the criteria compared to the whole UK's 86%.
This is not surprising for those of us who have grown up in Scotland and witnessed social progress accelerate under the SNP. One year after the Scottish Parliament was born they alienated one of their most high profile donors, Stagecoach owner Brian Souter, by not enthusiastically supporting his Keep the Clause campaign of 2000. Despite personally ploughing £1 million into efforts to retain Section 28, the law that banned the "promotion" of homosexuality in state schools, Souter failed and my friends and I benefited from a more inclusive sex education curriculum throughout the noughties. It therefore surprised us to learn that Section 28 wasn't repealed in England and Wales until November 2003.
It wasn't as if the religious conservatives disappeared though. My mother, a fundamentalist Baptist, spent the better part of the decade writing letters to local counsellors, education boards, MSPs and MPs, in an attempt to stall initiatives such as same-sex adoption, the equalising of the age of consent and access to hormone therapy on the NHS. Yet, for the most part, it felt as if our United Kingdom was getting better together - especially when the first civil partnerships took place within days of each other in Northern Ireland, England and Scotland at the end of 2005.
At school homophobia was still a problem. Bisexual and gay kids would pair up in nominally heterosexual relationships in an attempt to avoid harassment and I remember having "beaver muncher" and "dyke" chanted at me as I walked to the local shops at lunchtime. The teachers let us form a gay-straight alliance in one of the maths classrooms, but we found the most comfort logging onto Queer Youth Network to chat on the forums once we got home. It was there that I first talked to LGBT-youth who lived outside Scotland. They were worried about "fascists" and seemed sceptical of the police's ability to protect them. The police protected us just fine. I remember feeling relieved to see them standing between the general public and my friends and I as we marched through Glasgow at my first Pride in 2007.
I was also becoming more aware of trans issues. Then, as now, Scotland had better protective measures in place and was quicker to respond to the needs of those living with gender dysphoria. The gay marriage debates further highlighted how things elsewhere in the UK were... slightly less fair. Parental consent for marriage was required for 16 and 17-year-olds in England and Wales, but not in Scotland. The process of changing a civil partnership to a marriage, or vice versa, in cases whether one member of the couple was transitioning was much simpler in Scotland. It just seemed like the majority SNP government wanted to make life easier for LGBT people, and were empowered to do so in a way that the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition in Westminster wasn't.
There's still work to be done in terms of bisexual and trans equality, with the campaign for mixed-sex civil partnerships, and pressure to be applied to ensure the 12 month ban on gay and bisexual men giving blood is re-written in terms of risky behaviours rather than risk groups. That's where I come in. This summer I'm relaunching my queer feminist zine Artificial Womb, which considers and campaigns on issues of sex, sexuality, gender and feminism. It's a continuation of the Deviance section in the independent cultural arts magazine The Skinny, which I edited for three years. LGBT media is a great way for us to work together and help hold politicians and lawmakers to account, making sure that social progress continues to be made. The young activists I met on the Queer Youth Network have grown up to work for women's libraries, sexual health organisations and, like I have, community news publications. And we strive to remember just how far we've come in our lifetimes.
This is just the beginning. And, with more than 50 SNP MPs in Westminster, our First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has made it clear she hopes to influence David Cameron's Conservative Party and create an LGBT envoy to promote our rights internationally. If she succeeds maybe she can help raise the UK's overall score for next year. In the meantime, I hope to continue doing my part to live as openly and honestly as possible as an LGBT Scot.
Images courtesy of Artificial Womb