So suggests report in the The National, published on Friday, which claims that findings show that over 30 percent of those identifying as LGB have come to Scotland from elsewhere.
The report draws on statistics from three major surveys – published earlier this week by the Scottish government that showed only 69 percent of people identifying as LGB being born in Scotland, in contrast with 81 per cent of heterosexual people, and more than half of those identifying as “lesbian, gay, bisexual or other” are under the age of 35.
These figures are certainly interesting, as well as somewhat surprising. However, it seems illogical to jump to the conclusion that they necessarily indicate that people are moving to Scotland because of societal attitudes towards LGBTI equality. Indeed, the complete absence of transgender and intersex people from the survey suggests that the wider issues of LGBTI rights have been overlooked, and itself points to an attitude that, it could be argued, is far less than “enlightened”.
Statistical fact or interpretation?
Tim Hopkins, director of the Equality Network, told KaleidoScot that while the statistics were significant he thought it was doubtful that many LGBTI people were heading to Scotland because of it’s “enlightened culture”.
He said: “Scotland has an increasing reputation as being a welcoming place. However, we would not claim that Scotland is the most LGBTI- friendly country in Europe, although we do have the most LGBTI-friendly laws.” He also pointed out that legislative improvements in Scotland have been very recent, and that countries such as Sweden and the Netherlands are widely perceived as being more socially inclusive.
Hopkins suggested other reasons for the statistics, including the fact that LGB people are more likely to leave their town or country of origin, that travelling people are more likely to be open about their sexual identity, and that LGB people are more likely to move around.
It is also possible that this is part due to the many non-Scottish students who attend Scotland’s four top universities, which could also have weighed into the statistics, and have nothing to do with the alleged “enlightened” culture.
Dr Jeff Meek of the University of Glasgow, who specialises in LGBTI history and research, also voiced his concerns to KaleidoScot: “The National’s article suggests that increasing numbers of young LGB people are moving to Scotland because of the country’s record of LGBTI equality, yet it is not explicit in stating that this was the prime motivation.
“What percentage of the respondents were students, or moved to take up employment? It is perhaps something of a leap to suggest that contemporary Scotland is a magnet for LGBTI citizens without undertaking more systematic analysis of the findings quoted.
“While Scotland has undoubtedly become a more inclusive nation over the past 35 years, bigotry and homophobia still exist, underlined by recent research undertaken by the Equality Network, Stonewall Scotland and LGBT Youth Scotland, which found that almost 9 in 10 LGBT Scots thought that homophobia was still a problem, and that 1 in 6 LGB young people had experienced a homophobic hate crime in the last 3 years.
“The focus upon lesbian, gay and bisexual people also omits a significant minority of Scots who are transgender and intersex, who are often exposed to persistent prejudice. While any evidence that points to Scotland leading the way in LGBTI rights and equality is to be welcomed it really needs to be situated within a much wider discussion about rights, and, personal experience.”
Progressive laws and cultural acceptance
The National’s reporter, nevertheless, points to ILGA-Europe’s Rainbow Index, which has Scotland sitting top of the European-wide league for LGBTI equality. However, the index refers purely to legal equality, and several of the nations listed highly on ILGA’s list, such as Malta and Croatia, remain very socially conservative in spite of legislative advances.
The ILGA’s Rainbow Index also rates countries on an “average” across legislation for gay/lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex issues; therefore, it may not be the case that Scotland’s legislation on – for example – transgender and intersex issues is the best in Europe. In fact, in England and Wales sex and relationship education (SRE) is obligatory, meanwhile in Scotland it is not, while moral (religious) education is.
But far more importantly, there is solid and substantial research evidence suggesting that, in spite of legal progress, Scottish society has still major problems and may be far more conservative than its relatively progressive and sometimes limited laws.
The Equality Network’s Scottish LGBT Equality Report 2015 reveals that despite recent advances in the law and social attitudes, such as the legalisation of same-sex marriage, 89% of LGBT people believe Scotland still has a problem with inequality, and 94% say that more needs to be done to tackle the day-to-day prejudice and discrimination that LGBT people continue to face.
According to the report 97% of LGBT people in Scotland have personally faced prejudice or discrimination, including 79% within the last year and 49% within the last month alone.
Incidents reported by LGBT people ranged from homophobic, biphobic and transphobic comments and attitudes (82%), to verbal abuse (68%), physical attack (16%) sexual assault (7%), crimes against property (12%), and discriminatory treatment when accessing services (25%) and in employment (24%).
The report finds that as a result, a majority of LGBT people in Scotland still ‘never’ or only ‘sometimes’ feel able to be open about their sexual orientation or gender identity with their own family (52%), at work (60%) or when accessing services (71%), for fear of the prejudice they might face.
In in direct contrast to the rosy picture painted by The National 43% of LGBT people in Scotland have moved, or considered moving, to live in a different area or out of the country altogether because of the discrimination that they have faced.
Such research sends a clear message about the huge scale of change still needed before LGBTI people are fully embraced by an “enlightened” culture in Scotland.
Indeed, it is encouraging that even Conservative politicians, such Ruth Davidson – and not just from the left in Scotland – can be open about their sexuality. Scottish Conservative MEP Ian Duncan, who also is the vice-chair of the EU intergroup on LGBTI Rights, told KaleidoScot: “Scotland has undoubtedly made great strides towards LGBTI equality in recent years but the fact remains that members of our community are discriminated against on a daily basis.
”It would be a mistake to fall into the trap of self-congratulation, as even one instance of abuse, is one too many. That is why our efforts must be renewed, as we seek genuine equality.”
Marriage equality: there is not a full stop, but a comma – cultural and policy gaps
On Friday, Stonewall Scotland hosted a conference in Edinburgh, which considered the reasons why over half of lesbian, gay and bisexual employees are uncomfortable being “out” to managers and colleagues. And that’s distinct from issues of transgender acceptance in the workplace.
There continues to be many areas where LGBTI people are persecuted and discriminated against, which impacts their life and development. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the classroom. A substantial body of research has found that over 50% of LGBTI youth have experienced homophobic bullying that has negatively impacted on their education.
This figure rises to as high as 88% for Trans young people, with over half leaving education as a result (Stonewall Scotland, 2012, LGBT Youth Scotland, 2012) whilst 26% have attempted suicide as a result of homophobic bullying (Stonewall Scotland 2012).
Almost all (99%) LGBTI youth reported hearing negative language towards sexuality and gender-identity, and 97% said they heard homophobic and transphobic remarks.
“They happen far too often and are rarely dealt with. Pupils are ignorant to the hurt they cause and are never made to understand what they are saying is offensive,” said Wayne, 16 year-old from a Scottish secondary school to Stonewall Scotland’s research team.
The cultural problems are also mirrored in research on educational policies – as in Stonewall Scotland’s Teachers’ Report, which found that nine in ten primary school staff (89 per cent) and more than four in five secondary school staff (83 per cent) have not received any specific training on now to tackle homophobic bullying and therefore fail to take adequate action to prevent it. Clearly this hints at the complex manner both cultural and legal practice has still a long way to go where they are less than adequately supporting and protecting LGBTI youth in Scotland.
Liam Stevenson, TIE Campaign Co-Founder and Prospective RISE Central Scotland Candidate, said: “There is a certain attitude amongst some, within Scotland, an attitude that likes to paint the false picture that LGBTI+ people are flocking to this country due to our inclusiveness. This is not the case in reality, LGBT-phobic attitudes and language are rife in Scotland: from our classrooms, to our workplaces and everywhere in between.
“That is why we adopted recently several policies in RISE which would not be needed if we truly were a progressive, inclusive society.
“We have political figures here who seem keen to accept awards from LGBT+ organisations, whilst not really pushing truly progressive policies, we need the latter to get to the true equality that is desired by the LGBTI+ community.”
Jordan Daly, TIE Campaign Co-Founder added: “Whilst campaigning, we have witnessed first hand that Scotland is not as progressive on LGBTI+ rights at many would like to proclaim it to be. We still have many pitfalls: primarily within the education sector. With 1/4 LGBTI+ youth attempting suicide as a result of homophobic bullying – we have a lot of work yet to do.
“The Scottish LGBTI+ community has come a long way, particularly in the last five years, but there are still significant steps yet to overcome. The transgender community face many barriers, gay and bisexual men still cannot donate blood unless they have abstained from sexual activity for 12 months – and LGBTI-phobic language and attitudes remain a pressing issue within our society.
“We believe that after marriage equality there is not a full stop, but a comma – and an inclusive LGBT+ education for all Scottish children must be the next step.”
The evidence is there for anyone to see, and it clearly points to the fact that the “enlightened”, progressive culture described by The National has not yet taken hold in Scottish Society.
A refuge for immigrants?
It would also be unwise to overestimate how welcoming Scotland is towards migrants. While a survey of Public Opinion on Immigration in Scotland conducted by the Migration Observatory last year found less opposition to migration in Scotland compared to the rest of the UK, it still observed that 58 percent of Scottish residents favoured immigration limits (as opposed to 75 percent in England and Wales) and that 31 percent believed immigration to be bad for Scotland.
Foreign migration to Scotland is also significantly lower than most other regions of the UK, which casts further doubt on The National’s assertions. Statistical analysis from Migration Observatory published last year showed Scotland to be ranked 9th out of the 12 UK regions, with only the North East, Wales and Northern Ireland having a lower percentage of foreign-born population.
The National’s headline is more than misleading. Scotland may have introduced some of the most progressive legislation from the perspective of LGBTI equality in recent years; indeed, we may be more accepting and welcoming of LGBTI people than some other parts of Europe, but we are not yet some queer haven over the rainbow. Scotland is not a “pink utopia”.
The Missing T and I in the National’s article
Not only, as we said above, statistic show that trans and intersex people struggle with abuse and prejudice far more than their LGB community members, but they almost were entirely missing from the article. Intersex children still undergo castration and intrusive operation which has the potential yo damage them for life, and there is no law to stop this from happening; neither is there always even empathy nor sympathy from the Scottish medical establishment.
Trans people suffer daily abuse, attacks, even in the streets of “enlightened” Edinburgh. Speaking with KaleidoScot, trans activist and writer Johanna-Alice Cooke, said: “Trans-abuse happens. It’s a rare day that goes by without my hearing about a friend being exposed to it, a stranger being traumatised by it, or even encountering it myself.
“For me the worst part of it is the surprise when it happens. There you are, quietly getting on with your day, and from out of nowhere some idiot intrudes upon it with their bigotry. It doesn’t really matter whether it is a drunken-thug who you later see convicted of sexual-assault, or the two kids who started pointing and shouting abuse whilst I was at the bus-stop a few days ago. Your day is immediately ruined, your thoughts turn to fear and anger and resentment.
“You have to face this issue happening in your present and you have no idea if this time is just casual-abuse or whether it will escalate into something far more serious. I suppose I’m lucky in that I can protect myself, that I know my legal rights and that I can seek justice and/or closure after the event. That doesn’t make any difference when you face this on the street, right in the centre of Edinburgh, where you are alone and scared. Being subjected to transphobia is a profoundly damaging and scary experience.”
We’re getting there, but we need to be honest and open about where we are.
Speaking with KaleidoScot, Gerrie and Susan Douglas-Scott, who were married at one of the first same-sex marriages in Scotland – attended by Nicola Sturgeon and Patrick Harvie – said that
the media portrayal can confuse and even mislead people about the realities of life for LGBTI Scots. Gerrie, who like her wife Susan, is a humanist celebrant, said: “I recently had a request by a gay couple in Australia to come especially to Scotland for their marriage because they believed the culture to be accepting after reading reports in the media about marriage equality.
“I explained that although we’ve really made huge strides there are still major problems even for LGBTI people who are getting married. We recently had a couple ask us to marry them, but begged us to keep it in secret and were visibly shocked when they understood that Susan and I are married. And they were from a well educated and affluent part of Scotland. Or we’ve seen occasions where families conduct funerals and ban the grieving partner from attending because they don’t want anyone to know that the deceased was LGBTI.
“We are getting there, but we need to be honest about where we are; until the day when a same-sex partner can grieve openly for the loss of their loved one – we can say, we’ve seen tremendous advancements both socially and legally, but there is still lots to do.”
Indeed, Scotland has come along way, and we should be thankful and celebrate the fact but we should, as Gerrie suggests, not live in denial or pink-wishful thinking.
From wedding venues who turn away same-sex couples to physical attacks on members of the LGBTI community and online abuse directed towards LGBTI people (the trolling of Ruth Davidson being but one example), intolerance in the form of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia is all around us. It is seldom far away, and remains a very real aspect of life for many of us in Scotland. Is anyone genuinely surprised when yet another homophobic hate crime, such as the brutal assault on Alexander Lees only a few weeks ago, takes place?
In fact, we don’t even have to look as far as the frequent examples of active discrimination and bullying to get a glimpse of how far mainstream attitudes fall short of being “enlightened” on LGBTI issues. When a newspaper like The Herald – only last week – used an image of a lipstick-wearing man painting his face to accompany an academic consideration of LGBTI history, it is promoting an outdated, inaccurate and far from progressive stereoptype. Sadly, this is not unusual.
Conclusion – not yet over the rainbow.
Is Scotland so progressive and enlightened that it’s become the refuge or immigration country of choice for lesbian, gay and bisexual people? Not only is that an unreasonable conclusion to arrive at, it also is an irresponsible line to take.
Maggie Chapman, co-convener of the Scottish Green Party told KaleidoScot: “Anyone who understands the issues facing the LGBTIQ community in Scotland will understand that we have a long way to go to reach equality. Not in legislative terms but in our culture. While there are still some legal changes needed the really important thing is to stamp homophobia, transphobia and all other prejudice out. ”
The National has an agenda, as indeed it is entitled to. However, it would be dangerous to make too much of these statistics and there is a real danger that headlines such as this create a false perception of the realities LGBTI people are experiencing, which in turn breeds complacency and even a culture of denial. In fact, they also have the potential to act as a brake on further progress, as the case for change inevitably becomes seen as redundant if mistaken assumptions are made about how much has actually already been achieved.
There are fights to be fought, and hearts and minds to be won. Let no-one suggest that Scotland is some kind of paradise for LGBTI equality – not even The National.