Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale has publicly stated that she is in a relationship with another woman.
Ms Dugdale, who has led her party since Jim Murphy stepped down in 2015, made the statement in a Fabian Society interview, which was also published in the New Statesman.
She is now the fourth “out” leader of a Scottish political party, joining UKIP’s David Coburn, the Greens’ Patrick Harvie and the Conservatives’ Ruth Davidson. Not only does this mean Scotland becomes the only country in the world to have a majority of LGBTI political leaders, Kezia becomes only the first “out” Labour MSP since devolution.
In her interview for Fabian Review, Ms Dugdale said: “I have a female partner. I don’t talk about it very much because I don’t feel I need to. And there’s something too about how meteoric my career has been. I am generally calm, almost serene. I don’t get easily stressed or battered. But I need a bit of stability to do that, and that means my private life is my private life. That’s the thing I just have to have that nobody gets to touch, and that gives me the strength to be calm elsewhere.”
Parliamentarians from across the political spectrum congratulated Kezia on her announcement. The SNP’s Angus Robertson tweeted: “Congrats to @kezdugdale. Proud Scotland is the first country to have majority of leaders who are LGBT”. Ruth Davidson took to twitter to say “Genuinely pleased Kez feels comfortable enough to come out. Being open about your sexuality in the public eye can be daunting, but worth it.” Labour’s LGBT group tweeted: “We’re very proud of our great leader @kezdugdale – great to have our first openly LGBT leader.”
The fact that Ms Dugdale’s disclosure of her relationship – and orientation – made few headlines is welcome, and perhaps Patrick Strudwick is right when he notes that “no-one batted an eyelid” and that this arguably shows the degree to which being LGBT has become normalised. That said, within her interview Ms Dugdale did make the suggestion that – in the event of Brexit – she might campaign for Scotland to become independent in order to rejoin the EU, something that did make headlines. She said: “It’s complicated…[but] I see tremendous benefits from the EU to Scotland, so I would do whatever I could to preserve and promote that.”
So perhaps Scotland’s media is now genuinely unconcerned with the orientation of out politicians – but it may simply be the fact that they’re more obsessed with the ongoing independence question than they are with who our leaders choose to share their lives with. Either way, it represents significant progress.
The media – even Patrick Strudwick – have used the umbrella term LGBT to describe the four “out” leaders we have in Scotland, but they are referring to people who are LGB. Would the media be so blazé and indifferent towards a politician coming out as transgender, or even intersex?
Ms Dugdale’s announcement is, as Ruth Davidson suggested, a very personal one – but it is one that helps to normalise same-sex relationships and help strip away the stigma. When orientation-based hate crime remains a significant problem, such news can enable young LGBT+ people to be more comfortable and confident in their own identities, in addition to helping society to become more accepting.