2015 will shortly be at an end…and what a year it was!
It was a year that started with hope and optimism – in no small way due to the coming into force of same-sex marriage legislation on 31st December 2014. Several couples took advantage of the new law to tie the knot shortly after midnight on New Year’s Eve – with over 500 same-sex couples getting married by the end of January.
However, it was not all good news for the LGBTI community as the New Year was being celebrated – shortly after midnight a man was seriously assaulted at a gay pub in Edinburgh. That said, it was same-sex marriage making all the headlines, and the first same-sex pagan wedding in the UK was held in Edinburgh. LGBTI issues were firmly on the political agenda, as evidenced by the SNP’s “Out for Independence” group organising the largest conference on LGBTI issues ever held in the UK and by Scotland’s refusal to fly the flag half-mast following the death of Saudi Arabian King Abdullah.
In early February, the Law Society of Scotland announced that it would now allow solicitors to register using a gender neutral title. Same-sex marriages continued to create media interest, especially among the local media outlets, who reported on a number of historic firsts – KaleidoScot reported on the dream wedding of a couple who were the first to tie the knot in Ayr. The month also saw the UK’s first same-sex wedding to take place inside prison. While the European Parliament considered imposing sanctions against member states discriminating against LGBTI people, closer to home Stonewall announced that it was (finally) extending the scope of its campaigning to include transgender equality issues.
More negatively, Pope Francis appeared to compare transgender people to nuclear weapons while a gay couple were refused service at a popular wedding venue, being told that “we can’t allow people like you here”.
In March, the UK government rejected a proposal to create an LGBTI rights envoy – something initially advocated by the Labour Party and also supported by the SNP. In the lead-up to the General Election, Labour pledged to introduce “Turing’s Law” to posthumously pardon all gay men convicted under historical indecency laws. Queer film festival GLITCH was held in Glasgow while a director of Rangers FC was making headlines for all the wrong reasons after making allegedly homophobic tweets.
In European news, the European Parliament considered ways of improving LGBTI rights in the Balkan nations, while the European Court of Human Rights ruled that sterilisation for gender reassignment violated privacy laws. A controversial pro-equality bishop made a visit to Scotland and Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson was subjected to online homophobic abuse.
With the General Election only weeks away, political stories dominated at the beginning of the month. Following a TV debate, in which UKIP leader Nigel Farage claimed people with HIV were an example of “health tourism”, many were quick to criticise Mr Farage’s “scaremongering”, including Nicola Sturgeon and representatives of HIV charities. As Labour pledged to prioritise suicide prevention among LGBTI people, the SNP pledged devolved equality and an LGBTI rights envoy. The Scottish Green Party, which made no mention of LGBTI issues within its own manifesto, endorsed the English Greens’ statement of commitment to LGBTI rights while Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg responded to Coalition for Marriage claims that he had forced same-sex marriage on the nation by saying he was proud to have been able to give people a choice.
New research suggested discrimination against gay and lesbian people was commonplace across the UK, while there were hopes that a breakthrough had been discovered in relation to a possible HIV vaccine. Meanwhile, the Court of Justice of the European Union determined that a lifelong ban on blood donations from gay men “may be justified”.
With the election only days away Nigel Farage continued to create controversy, this time by suggesting people of faith have a right to “disapprove of the gay lifestyle”. Unfortunately for Mr Farage’s party, few seem to agree with him and not only do UKIP fail to make any gains, they lose one of their two MPs in an election that sees the Conservatives win an overall majority for the first time since 1992. The Tories appoint a new equalities minister who had previously voted against the introduction of same-sex marriage.
ILGA-Europe named Scotland as the best country in Europe for LGBTI rights, as a trade union conference in Glasgow debated how to tackle homophobia and other forms of discrimination. Following the introduction of same-sex marriage the Scottish government launched a consultation on the future of civil partnerships, just as the Church of Scotland decided to allow its congregations to appoint gay clergy in civil partnerhips. However, while the Church also agreed in principle to extending this to clergy in same-sex marriages, it referred the issue to a vote of its Presbyteries.
A new report from LGBT Youth Scotland pointed to many young people still experiencing homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in work and education while pollsters YouGov came to similar conclusions – finding that many young Scots believed it acceptable to use the words “that’s gay” as a term of abuse.
On 23rd May, the Republic of Ireland voted Yes to same-sex marriage in a historic referendum – something welcomed by activists everywhere. The Scottish government emphasised its opposition to Conservative proposals to repeal the Human Rights Act, and author JK Rowling was involved in an amusing exchange of tweets with the Westboro Baptist Church.
Charles Kennedy, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats – who had been a consistent supporter of LGBTI equality – died. Statistics showed that over 800 Scottish couples had entered into same-sex marriages as the Scottish Episcopal Church voted to begin a process to potentially “bring same-sex marriage into [Church] life”. Pride Edinburgh proved to be a huge success, while a new campaign – Time for Inclusive Education – was launched for LGBTI education in all Scottish schools. At the end of the month another church – the United Reformed Church – also made moves towards hosting same-sex marriages.
The Vice President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, called for marriage equality to be legalised across Europe. Equality Network director Tim Hopkins was awarded an honorary doctorate in recognition of his campaigning over several decades. Meanwhile, a new magazine – Undividing Lines – was founded, specifically for LGBTI people living in the Highlands and Islands.
The Liberal Democrats elected Tim Farron as their leader to replace Nick Clegg, and almost immediately he created controversy when he refused to directly answer a question on whether he considered gay sex to be sinful. A war of words also broke out between Pride Glasgow and the alternative Free Pride, which believed that drag entertainers could be seen as diminshing the experiences of transgender and non-binary people. Tim Farron was again in the news later in the month, but for better reasons – this time hitting out at the blood ban on gay and bisexual man, which he described as “stupid”.
Sadly, transgender activist Danielle Robins was found dead in her Dundee home at the end of the month, and is still missed by her many friends and fellow campaigners.
Glasgow City Council’s openly gay leader, Gordon Matheson, stepped down from his position following talks of “mutiny” from fellow councillors. History was made when a same-sex marriage was blessed in Dundee Cathedral. Glasgow hosted a regional transgender beauty pageant, which saw four Scottish transwomen qualify for the final. A disturbing report suggested many health professionals believed in a “gay cure”, while YouGov found that more than half of young people define themselves as “not 100 per cent heterosexual”.
Pride Glasgow was staged – for the first time – over the full weekend and proved incredibly successful. Glasgow railway stations were decked with rainbow flags and banners to welcome visitors to the city. In a real feel-good story, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon helped Highland couple Ian Johnstone and Pawel Najda become engaged during a public meeting in Oban.
The World Hepatitis Summit was held in Glasgow while, in political news, SNP candidate Andy Doig was suspended after allegedly making homophobic comments. At the Equality Network’s inaugural LGBTI Awards in Glasgow a number of activists and campaigners were recognised, but the real winner was Indian-born equality campaigner Mridul Wadhwa. Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership election while thousands across Scotland took part in vigils to demonstrate solidarity with Syrian refugees.
In another heartwarming story, a young piper silenced a hate preacher in his own original and inimitable way, becoming an online sensation in the process. Controversially, an anti-LGBTI Saudi Arabian ambassador was appointed as chair of a key human rights panel, prompting criticism from Scottish politicians calling for him to be removed.
A new football league was founded in Glasgow with the express purpose of challenging homophobia. A Scottish transwoman, Jai Latto, was crowned Miss Transgender UK in a competition not entirely free of controversy, while Pope Francis came under fire for suggesting that refusing marriage licences to same-sex couples was a “human right”.
The Scottish Government, which was mid-way through consulting on the future of civil partnerships, made clear its preference not to extend civil partnerships to opposite sex-couples – an intervention that proved controversial and provoked reaction from opposition politicians. The European Parliament demanded new measures to facilitate transgender equality in the workplace, and a new campaign to tackle hate crime was launched. The glitzy Icon Awards ceremony was held in Glasgow, attracting a great deal of positive media attention, while Glasgow University launched a new campaign targeting casual discrimination.
An Aberdeen man was brutally assaulted in a homophobic attack. Germaine Greer angered many by suggesting that transgender women “are not women” – as the case of Tara Hudson, a transgender women sent to serve a sentence at a male prison, was heard by MPs.
The month ended with the news that Irish President Michael Higgins had signed the Marriage Act into law.
Rather bizarrely, for a couple of days the national media became interested in an old tree in a Perthshire cemetery. Parts of the tree had apparently changed gender, confusing scientists.
November also saw probably the best ever headline featured on KaleidoScot: Glasgow charitable bake sale sabotaged by hidden dildo
Same-sex couples could be married in Ireland from 16th November, while a Caithness Church of Scotland minister criticised some of the discriminatory language being used during the church’s internal discussion on appointing clergy in same-sex marriages. The Scottish government launched a new human rights awareness campaign and a Commonwealth summit in Malta urged leaders to take action to improve LGBTI rights.
World AIDS Day was marked in various ways: the Clydesdale Bank was one of a number of organisations involved in “light up Scotland” while parliamentarians from across the political spectrum united to send out a message of solidarity to people living with HIV.
Transgender activist Justine Smithies found her voice – delivering a powerful and emotive speech at Stonewall’s workplace conference. The recognition she received was deserved and she has become something of a star since – a remarkable person with a remarkable story.
Stonewall Scotland issued a new report in which it claimed less than half of gay, lesbian and bisexual people are comfortable being “out” at work while other reasearch found that LGBT people were disproportionately targeted by alcohol companies. A new left-wing political party, RISE, backed radical positions on LGBTI equality at its first annual conference. Guernsey voted to introduce same-sex marriage, while Caitlyn Jenner apologised after saying “if you look like a man in a dress, it makes people uncomfortable”.
It’s been quite a year for some of our journalists. For one of them, Stuart Russell, 2015 was the year in which he found his voice: “After going through so much growing up, I never ever thought I would write or talk about LGBTI issues. I didn’t dream for that platform or audience, it wasn’t planned. Being gay was an aspect of my sexual preference – that is all! By opening that up to the world, accepting myself, talking to people fleeing countries in order to be openly gay… I felt so stupid for not speaking up before, but also vulnerable. I was so concerned that being gay would become the only interesting aspect of my character.
“Now I know that LGBTI is so much more than personal identity and sexuality. It is equality worth fighting for. Being open with my sexuality, identity, creativity and opinions got me on the BBC and allowed me to finally seek closure from the bullying and abuse I suffered in high school. It led me to connect with individuals changing the world. It also nearly catapulted me into space! It wasn’t a lack of pride but a lack of confidence I suffered and after years of being openly gay and silent, I finally got loud and even more proud.”
And that was 2015. Here’s wishing all our readers an even better 2016!