Scotland & LGBT – One Size Does Not Fit All

Rhys Harper

Rhys is a nineteen year-old Glaswegian journalist currently on his soul-searching gap year, minus the actual soul searching. He has written for a number of publications and regards himself as quite the political activist, though more in theory than in practice.

The competency of tax-funded public service providers is being called in to question following Monday’s publication of a report from Stonewall Scotland which paints a picture of rampant institutionalised homophobia, biphobia and transphobia across Scotland. The report, available to read in full online, confirms what many of us already knew (through our eyes, ears and wifi); that one size does not fit all when it comes to public services, certainly not size hetero anyway.

Particular focus is drawn in the report towards policing, family life, and health, with more than two in five LGBT people surveyed stating that they “lack confidence” in the newly-merged Police Scotland to adequately deal with homophobic or transphobic hate crime. In fact, more than one third felt that they would not be confident in reporting a hate crime directly to police while as many as 36% of the people surveyed would not feel comfortable disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity to the police for fear of discrimination.

One twenty-six year old gay man from Lothians said: “When seeking help from the police about an incident, I was referred to as ‘your type of people’ followed by comments which included ‘make me sick’.” Our shiny new policing system, ladies and gentlemen.

Stonewall Scotland also found that 67% of LGBT people believed their children would be discriminated against at primary school due to the sexual orientation of their parents. Whilst almost half (48%) of the people surveyed “think they would face discrimination from fostering and adoption agencies when applying to become parents”.

Of course, what individuals “think” is not necessarily reflective of the legal reality. Scottish law requires homosexual prospective parents to be treated equally thanks to both The Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act of 2007 and the  Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations of 2009, widely seen as more progressive legislation than their counterparts down south, which (sorry, homophobic Protestants and Muslims, etc) obscurely excludes Catholic adoption agencies from having to comply with the law (because the Catholic church has such a strong record in looking after children, naturally). Things, it would seem, are steadily improving for LGBT parents:

“We had a very difficult time at our first attempt to adopt four years ago, but the experience this time round has been so much better,” says Sasha, a lesbian woman from Glasgow. “I think there’s been a significant improvement, though there is still work to be done.”

In response to the growing need for foster carers and adoptive parents (the former is expected to rise again this year with a further 850 families needed in Scotland to cope with the amount of children in care), some local executives have embraced – though a sceptic might say ‘utilised’ – the increasing acceptance of LGBT parents to meet this high demand. Glasgow City Council ran a high-profile and highly-welcome advertising campaign last year specifically aimed at attracting same-sex, as well as unmarried heterosexual, couples to foster care.

But it’s a kick in the teeth to a country which distinguishes itself as being more liberal, both fiscally and socially, than the rest of the United Kingdom, to find that 23% of its young LGBT citizens feel they cannot be open about their sexual orientation at college or university. Our same sex marriage legislation was lauded as arguably the best in the world, with the removal of the spousal veto a most notable contrast to the English and Welsh bill, and yet public perception of LGBT acceptance lags behind.

There is no UKIP here. There is just one Tory MP. We don’t even have tuition fees. And yet our public services are stuck back in the 1980s with a scary new disease mowing down gay men, and the Prime Minister banning any education in schools on the subject of what she called “a pretend family relationship”. There is no legitimate justification for the situation put upon Alex, a bisexual man from Fife interviewed for the study told Stonewall Scotland:

“I came out to a doctor and got a sexual health lecture without even a pause for breath, with the unspoken assumption that if I was bisexual of course I was sleeping with loads of people. My husband was sitting right there next to me!”

Or why twenty-nine year-old Jamie was, upon mentioning his sexuality to his doctor, thoughtlessly measured up against the standard of the moustached leather-clad stereotypes that seem to exist only in the minds of heterosexuals:

“I was at my rheumatologist getting results for a test and my then partner was there. When he realised I was gay he began asking me about my sexual health testing. This was completely inappropriate because I imagine if straight people bring their partners to a doctor’s appointment they’re not asked about STI testing.”

Only time will tell how quickly things improve: regardless, it is imperative that they do. We’re in the awkward stage now where it is not legislation that is needed so much as public service training as well as guidelines to educate those who do not automatically understand how they are treading on anyone’s feet. Those who do so intentionally must be held accountable. Harsh as it may sound, pro-LGBT laws matter, but pro-LGBT people matter more.

Importantly, we as LGBT people must learn how to assert ourselves against discrimination, particularly when it’s being fired at us by people we are paying for. It’s easy to blame others, but perhaps backing down from confrontations is a form of compliance in itself, and is something we must be vigilant about.

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