Hey everyone It is with a mixture of pride and regret that I read Tasmina Ahmed-Skeikh’s column in today’s (Wednesday’s) edition of The National. As an SNP member who is also a transwoman, I am naturally proud that it was my party who hosted Scotland’s first LGBTI conference on Saturday. I do however regret, that to due personal reasons I was able to attend the Out For Independence conference at Glasgow Caledonian University as it like I missed what sounds like a fantastic event.
At the start of her column Tasmina states that ‘If ever anyone doubted the equality was popular in Scotland this conference which was the largest of its kind organised by any UK political party certainly dispelled that notion’.
This positive and progressive thinker who my party are lucky to have as a member correctly states that with speeches by party leader Nicola Sturgeon and depute leader Stewart Hosie this was no talking shop. With Scottish Local Government Marco Biagi also speaking on LGBTI issues, this was a powerful statement of intent by the governing party of Scotland of their or should I say our commitment to a fairer, more equal Scotland for all our citizens.
Ms Ahmed-Sheikh reports that it was in her words ‘an informative and uplifting day with lots of interesting ideas and passion from people of all ages’. Knowing the community as I do this is not too surprising as there are many activists and campaigns within it who have campaigning for more years than they can remember for recognition for the rainbow. Indeed many of these campaigners originally came from a Labour or Liberal tradition and started out in the Labour Party or Liberal Democrats before switching to SNP because we have a better record on equality on LGBTI issues.
As Ms Ahmed-Sheikh points out The LGBTI community have good reason to be optimistic. After all we have in power in Scotland a government which delivered not only civil partnerships in 2008 but full equal marriage in December 2014. This after Labour and their Liberal Democrat coalition omitted to include LGBTI or Disabled People when passing their version of the Equalities Act in 2004. You see Labour and their unionist friends delivered equality in only 4 of 6 Equality strands in Scotland whilst all 6 strands in England and Wales. It really does seem that when it comes to the Labour Party there approach to equality is summed up by George Orwell’s famous quote from Animal Farm that ‘some are more equal than others’ and as an SNP who is a former Disability Equality trainer I’m speaking from personal knowledge here. Yes comrades make no mistake about the fact that while Labour may be the party that preach on equality, it has taken an SNP government to actually deliver it and deliver it in full.
We must however be cautious when talking of our achievements. We know there is much still to do and we must always be as Ms Ahmed-Sheikh says vigilant in the fight against the dark forces of prejudice. There is however no doubt that the LGBTI Community have a forceful ally in Nicola Sturgeon. Indeed the First Minister attended one of the first equal marriage ceremonies which her government had made possible and said the occasion marked a profound sense of new beginnings. On Saturday as Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh reports our First Minister went even further when in her keynote speech to this history making conference she committed the party to supporting the creation of a diplomatic special envoy within the UK Foreign Office in order to promote LGBTI rights on a global scale. Whilst this may not be a completely new idea, the USA working towards a similar post, it would be groundbreaking on this side of the pond. Another benefit of creating such a post would be the fact that it has the potential to attract all party support and this unless your name is Willie Bain is never a bad idea.
As Tasmina states in her powerful, passionate, and thought provoking article, making this move would be a strong and practical move to let many countries know that is not acceptable to erode the rights of citizens due to gender identity or sexual orientation. By making this principled stand and taking positive action against this kind of intolerant behaviour we are letting less enlightened nations know that LGBTI citizens cannot and will not be wished or washed away. This is an important message not just for Scotland or even the UK but for the greater good of humanity. Indeed last year when Scotland invited the world to celebrate the festival of sport that was the Commonwealth Games many of the participating nations were depriving their own LGBTI communities of their rights and freedoms. This often results not only in imprisonment but can in extreme cases lead to torture or even death.
It is I think time to be very clear on this issue. We in Scotland and the UK are very lucky in the rights we enjoy and may even take for granted. Yet as a transwoman I know that Scotland has not always been the safe and inclusive country it is today. I remember the kicking meted out to a gay man by four teenagers in 1994, and the death of Michael Doran was a crime which horrified Scotland. This obscene act of brutality made me afraid even in my early 30’s to face up to my gender identity issues. The fact that just over a decade and half later, I had made the decision to live in my acquired gender and could walk the streets in what I would call fairly reasonable safety shows how much our country had changed in the intervening years. Now six and a bit years later I am able to blend in to the landscape of my area that I am barely noticed in my local community or in my many communities of interest.
I would however like to add a note of caution. I believe it is important to stress that though the vast majority of our population are liberal minded enough to believe in the ethos of live and let live there are some even in our nation who would like nothing better than to take our rights away from us. We must be on our guard against these reactionary forces to stop them gaining any kind of foothold in this country.
However the Scots are nothing if not optimists and we do tend to look to the future with confidence and the conviction that we can have a better world. Indeed one of the most positive things about being Scottish is that as Ms Ahmed-Sheikh says that ‘our centuries old tradition of equality and egalitarianism has
forged an indelible sense of social justice and oneness’. Maybe this tradition helps to give us our sense of optimism.
We have as Tasmina says always been a nation of immigrants, emigrants and differences’. Personally I believe those differences add to rather than subtract from our cultural tapestry and this is something I think should be cherished and celebrated but this powerful and intelligent women correctly states we constantly refresh, renew, and adapt our thinking to build a stronger and better country.
At the moment the focus is on both the LGBTI community and also on women. Both groups have made progress in recent years but there is much still to be done to create the climate of fairness where we see more political involvement from these groups. That is why groups like Out For Independence and Women For Independence are so important to give those previously marginalised from the white, male and middle class political mainstream a voice and believe me these are voices which need to be heard in the fight for a fairer Scotland.
As Tasmina says at the end of a very enjoyable and thought provoking article ‘Each of us are in our own way a minority. I not only agree with this statement I go further and take this argument to the next level. I do this by saying that if we look at all minorities we are part of and combine enough friends and contacts from all of them we can then form alliances with whom we can fight to achieve common goals. It is by taking this leap of faith that we can create a better more equal Scotland and that’s why when I came out to live my life as the woman I was born to be, I did it not for glamour or glory but the right to be myself. Surely if the fight for equality is about anything it is about that and nothing else.
Love And Best Wishes