If political representation at Holyrood and Westminster serve as a barometer for the advances of lesbian, gay and bisexual people, the situation in Scotland looks quite good. Both the Scottish and UK parliaments include a diverse spectrum of sexual orientations among their parliamentarians and often work to advance issues that benefit the lives of LGB people.
However, this alone is not enough (as well as the absence of the T among MSPs and MPs – as of 2019, no representative in either parliament has identified as trans).
As demonstrated in two recent reports, further work is required to address the inequality experienced by LGBT people in Scotland and advance inclusion. In July 2018, Survation conducted a survey for Humanist Society Scotland which found that 12.5% of women and 28.4% of men in Scotland believed it is wrong for people of the same sex to have sexual relationships (findings based on a weighted sample of 1002 respondents).
Let that sink in – more than one quarter of men surveyed believed same-sex sexual relationships were wrong.
The report also presented data by age, geographical location, political party voted for in 2017, socioeconomic group and whether they voted Yes or No in the 2014 independence referendum (interestingly, 22.3% of No voters believed same-sex sexual relations were wrong, compared to 18.8% of Yes voters).
Digesting this data was difficult. LGB work in Scotland rightly promotes success stories, champions representation and a narrative that things are getting better. This is meaningful and effective work but it can make it easy to forget that everyone might not necessarily share my views on sexual orientation.
A gap continues to exist between tolerance and value – tolerating someone is different from valuing someone.
These worrying statistics are reflected in Stonewall Scotland’s recent study, LGBT in Scotland – Health Report. The research found that 49% of LGBT respondents had experienced depression in the past year. Among trans people, this figure rose to 72%.
It is easy to see how findings from these two pieces of work mirror each other: when a sizable proportion of the population believe your identity is wrong, it is no surprise that this has a negative impact on a person’s mental wellbeing.
Although much progress has undoubtedly been achieved, LGBT people in Scotland continue to live in a society that remains heteronormative. Outside the narrow contexts of perhaps gay clubs and gender studies classes, heterosexuality is always the default setting. Society’s heteronormativity can emerge in peculiar places (adults who ask young boys about future girlfriends, people on telephone bookings who assume your spouse is the opposite-sex etc). Fundamentally, a gap continues to exist between tolerance and value – tolerating someone is different from valuing someone.
Part of this problem comes from a lack of data about the existence of LGB people. In Scotland, proposals to introduce a voluntary question on sexual orientation in the 2021 census might help present a clearer idea of how the nation defines itself and make it easier to exclaim ‘We exist!’
Likewise, forthcoming publications, such as the edited collection Queer Words: We Were Always Here, will help disrupt an understanding of queer presence in Scotland as something recent.
When you consider that homosexuality among men was illegal until 1980, advances in LGB equality are comparatively recent and the social and psychological legacies of the past continue to permeate. The recent research from Humanist Society Scotland and Stonewall Scotland are helpful reminders that, although things have improved, much work is still required to advance LGB equality in Scotland.
Dr Kevin Guyan is an equality and diversity researcher based in Edinburgh. He is writing in a personal capacity.