Like most other parties competing in the Scottish parliament elections, the Scottish Labour Party is keen to highlight its support for LGBTI equality. Its leader, Kezia Dugdale, recently came out and earlier this week told Pink News she is “quite clearly gay” (also reported in yesterday’s Herald). Labour’s manifesto has a specific section on LGBTI rights, rather than integrating them into the discussions on health, social care and education as other parties have.
The manifesto, entitled Invest in Scotland’s Future, attempts to claim credit for earlier reforms. In particular, the repeal of section 2A (also known as section 28 – the law that prevented the promotion of homosexual relations as the equivalent of heterosexual ones), increasing the sentences for homophobic hate crimes and the introduction of civil partnerships. On civil partnerships, it states it wants to extend them to heterosexual couples.
Most parties agree there is a need to reform gender recognition legislation and the need for greater protection for intersex people. The Labour Party’s manifesto wants to ensure “Scotland’s transgender communities gain new rights.” It commits to getting rid of the “psychiatric diagnosis requirement” so as to make it less difficult for people to register their gender. It also wants young people to be able to legally register the gender they live as once they have reached the age of 16. Furthermore, Labour pledges to “provide legal recognition for people who do not identify as men or women”, although it provides no further details.
The manifesto highlights its support for the TIE (Time for Inclusive Education) campaign saying it will “provide a strategy” to “underpin this”, and says it will update the Toolkit for Teachers. It condemns bullying, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia and commits the party to combating these by working with professionals and young people. It believes sex education programmes should include discussions of LGBTI relationships and sexual health strategies.
Like other parties, it condemns hate crimes, adopting a “zero tolerance” approach. Although it states it wants victims to “feel confident in coming forward and reporting incidents” it says nothing about how to achieve this. Equality Network workshops have shown that some LGBTI people are not sure what a hate crime is or how they should report incidents. The Scottish Labour manifesto makes no reference to these issues.
On health issues, there is a vague commitment to engaging with LGBTI communities and ensuring staff “are responsive to the health needs of LGBTI people.” However, it is more specific on PrEP (Pre Exposure Prophylaxis), believing there is “compelling evidence” that it is effective. It calls for a “review into prescribing PrEP as a priority.”
There are three notable absences from the Labour Party manifesto.
Firstly, nothing is said on ending the ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood, despite the shortage of blood and blood products.
Secondly, it has nothing to say about homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in sport, which recent incidents in football and cricket have shown are still issues. Not only do sports give great pleasure to many people, they are also a great way of staying fit. If people are wary of participating, their health and quality of life could be damaged.
Thirdly, there is nothing in the international section of the manifesto on LGBTI rights abroad. In Scotland, as in much of western Europe, we have made massive strides towards equality in recent years. However, there are still many parts of the world where some or all LGBTI activities are criminalised, where employers are allowed to discriminate against us, where service providers are allowed to refuse us service and where homophobic and transphobic violence remains common. Thirty nine Commonwealth countries still criminalise homosexuality, and one – Brunei – still retains the death penalty. Recently, several states in the USA have introduced discriminatory legislation, including North Carolina that bars transgender people from using toilets of the gender they identify as and Mississippi which allows service providers to use religious belief to discriminate against LGBTI people.
All these three absences represent missed opportunities.
Finally, no matter how good a party’s manifesto may be, its implementation depends on action by those elected. The Labour Party does have a good record on LGBTI issues, but if you are in doubt where your local Labour candidates stand on any of these issues, be sure to ask them.