Party leader consensus at LGBTI hustings

LGBTI hustings Image copyright Stonewall Scotland
Image caption All five Scottish party leaders attended the hustings, which was chaired by BBC presenter Louise White

For the first time, Holyrood's party leaders were together in the same room specifically to discuss issues of concern to the LGBTI community- that is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex.

It was a far cry from last week's leaders' debate.

The five party leaders standing in front of the 250 people gathered for the sell-out event at the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh displayed a remarkable degree of consensus and the atmosphere among them was far more amicable than the usual knockabout politics.

The Scottish leaders of the SNP, Labour, Conservatives, Lib Dems and Greens all agreed that despite "remarkable progress" over the years of the Scottish Parliament there was much more to be done for LGBTI issues.

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale told the hustings: "We should never lose sight of how hard fought the progress for LGBT equality has been."

Scottish Greens co-convener Patrick Harvie echoed those sentiments by speaking of a LGBT event he had attended in 2003.

Mr Harvie said: "At the hustings, we were debating civil partnerships. The next day - it was front page of the Daily Mail.

"'Militant Gay Activist Turned MSP!' it said.

"Not elected - turned."

Despite the changes over the past decade - including the Equal Marriage Act in 2014- there was unanimous agreement among the five party leaders and the audience alike that more still had to be done.

Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said "all of the parties have a shared commitment to act on LGBTI issues", while Lib Dem Willie Rennie described the community as a "joyous, colourful movement".

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon described passing the Equal Marriage Act was a "hugely emotional moment" and huge step forward for lesbian, gay and bisexual couples.

Throughout the course of the evening, openly bisexual Patrick Harvie's comments seemed to strike a particular chord with the audience.

To applause, he said: "I am personally getting very tired of regarding our rights as a matter of conscience."

Image copyright PA
Image caption The LGBTI hustings set a different tone to STV's leaders' debate involving Willie Rennie, Nicola Sturgeon, Kezia Dugdale, Ruth Davidson and Patrick Harvie

Ruth Davidson also shared a story of how her sexuality had once defined her, having become the first openly gay Scottish Conservative to be elected into parliament.

She said: "When I ran for election, there were four candidates, each of whom were described by the media in a different way from me.

"They were described by their jobs.

"Then there was 'lesbian kick-boxer' Ruth Davidson.

"It's taken a long time to stop being lesbian kick-boxer Ruth Davidson, and start being Tory leader Ruth Davidson. It's been quite a journey.

"Now I think we have the gayest group of candidates we've ever had."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Ruth Davidson was elected as leader of the Scottish Conservatives in 2011

According to Stonewall Scotland, who arranged the hustings, only 16% of teachers in Scotland's schools have received training to tackle homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying.

It said three-quarters of primary school teachers said they were not allowed, or were not sure if they were allowed to teach about LGBTI issues in their classrooms.

Nicola Sturgeon said that having an education system that was genuinely inclusive was much more than just combating bullying. It was about teaching tolerance.

Kezia Dugdale said: "Teachers aren't given enough time outside of the classroom to train on these issues

"We've got to give them the confidence to teach LGBT issues."

It was suggested that texts taught in English language classes should be inclusive of same-sex relationships.

An audience member - also a teacher - spoke of how he broke down in tears after reading a children's story about gay penguins in his classroom for the first time.

The second audience question was interrupted by someone shouting loudly and repeatedly outside. It was unclear if this was a protest, but a tension arose in the room.

Audience member Tiberius Fox, who identifies as a non-binary trans masculine person, said: "When events like this happen, I go into it expecting something negative to happen.

"Occasionally it's someone protesting outside, or it could be someone asking questions in a way that they shouldn't be, but there's always going to be a negative response until we have it ingrained in our community that it's not acceptable and we should nice to everyone."

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The first gay weddings in Scotland took place on 31 December 2014

Probably the most pressing issue of the evening was the implementation of non-binary gender recognition in law.

That is the acceptance that gender is more of a spectrum than just male and female.

Campaigners said this meant that people would be able to choose how to identify themselves on official documentation, without the need to consult a doctor or psychiatrist.

Members of the audience also called for gender-neutral passports, which have already been put into practice in Australia, New Zealand and Nepal.

All five members of the panel shared agreement in their hope that a law could be passed within the next session of parliament.

Willie Rennie said: "For those who find this difficult - if no-one is restricting your freedom, why should you restrict anyone else's freedom?"

"We should be getting gender recognition right."

When asked what an ideal world looked like, Tiberius Fox said: "Non binary recognition in all areas, as a law.

"You should be able to identify who you want to be and not have that questioned by people who don't know you.

"I want everyone to have the same opportunities as every other human in existence; to be able to access services in the same way, to not be questioned or judged by your identity or who you are, and to be able to live as you want to live happily."

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