Friday , 27 May 2022

Scott Cuthbertson on equality in action

Scott Cuthbertson
Scott Cuthbertson

Unsurprisingly, Scott is feeling the strain of the last few days, but he’s upbeat about the work being done. “The biggest thing for us was the conference,” he says, referring to last Friday’s gathering of activists at the University of Glasgow. “We agreed on a statement which was a call to action for activists around the world working together to put some pressure on governments to change anti-LGBT policies.”

Is all the Equality Network’s action focused on activists, I ask, or will they have direct contact with the representatives of different nations who are visiting Glasgow for the games?

“It is hoped that some of them will visit Pride House,” he says, creating opportunities for discussion, and there will certainly be delegates from friendly countries visiting. The process has to be about getting them to listen to the voices of people like Frank Mugisha and Monica Tabengwa – people from all over the Commonwealth – about the need to get rid of laws put in place by the British.

That’s something that a lot of people seem to miss, I note – that homophobic laws in many Commonwealth countries did not emerge from local traditions but are a legacy of Empire. Does he think people in Scotland realise that?

“I think there’s a kind of understanding that it’s occurred,” he says. “But there’s a fine balance to be struck. These countries don’t like us telling them what to do and it shouldn’t be about that anyway, it should be about amplifying voices from within.

“All the same, as Monica said at the conference, there’s only so long you can go on blaming your parents for your own faults. Eventually you have to do something about it. There are several countries teetering on the edge of decriminalisation now.”

Asked for examples, he raises the case of Jamaica. “We know the Prime Minister of Jamaica [Portia Simpson-Miller] has said she would like to decriminalise homosexuality – she said that a few years back. It’s not a priority for her government but we think good diplomatic noise and international support for decriminalisation would help to strengthen her position.

“There are several countries on the Pacific rim looking at decriminalisation and we think they could be a good example for the region. African voices talking to African countries and Caribbean voices talking to Caribbean countries ca make a difference. We need to showcase good examples from each region rather than presenting gay rights as a Western phenomenon.

“Some people wrongly see gay rights as a Western phenomenon but with trans rights it’s a lot more mixed. There’s been a lot of progress recently in countries like India and Australia so e don’t have that divide between the Global South and the West. I think it goes to show that we still have a lot to learn ourselves. We’re on our own journey and it’s a welcome journey but we still have quite a way to go.”

So how does he think the LGBTI work around the games is progressing so far?

“Well, there are always mixed opinions about how far you should go and what you should or shouldn’t be doing,” he shrugs. “Personally I was enthused to see the opening ceremony because it had a great many LGBT elements, with openly lesbian and gay athletes Karen Dunbar and Ian Thorpe carrying the flag, with John Barrowman presenting the show and with a number of same sex kisses going on during a marriage scene, and for this to go out to a global audience of one billion was amazing. For all those people to see that kiss – it’s the new Glasgow kiss!”

It must be a particularly big deal to isolated LGBTI  people in Commonwealth countries where they have no role models, I suggest.

“Yeah, absolutely. If you are in Uganda which has criminalised your existence, criminalised LGBT associations and criminalised people who could help you, maybe seeing that from Scotland will give you some kind of hope – but also, seeing the Ugandan team walking out as part of that ceremony is really important. There was the kiss and then there were the teams from Uganda, Nigeria and Brunei. And there are people all over the Commonwealth working hard for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights.”

About Jennie Kermode

Jennie Kermode is a professional journalist who also edits at Eye For Film and who has written for publications including The Independent, The New Statesman, The Press Gazette, Pink News and Mosaic. Chair of reform charity Trans Media Watch, Jennie is also a member of the Equality Network and the Scottish Transgender Alliance.

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