Remembering the past is often an opportunity to celebrate the present. Being aware of the path that brought us where we stand now is a chance to appreciate our today.
February is LGBT History Month and Glasgow set out to recall the long way we’ve come with events all over the city.
This month of celebrating LGBT achievements and remembering past fights was firstly initiated in the USA in October 1994. In the UK a LGBT History Month was promoted by Schools OUT in February 2005.
So how has Scotland changed and why?
I set out to answer those questions through the many events offered in Glasgow.
Jaime Valentine, Chair of OurStory Scotland, offers the first insight after a screening at the National Library which told the lives of LGBT people in the early ‘80s.
“I think the biggest move towards change came with the founding of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.
“That meant you could get separate legislation here and [Holyrood] could have quite advanced legislation, they could have more progressive legislation than in England.”
In Scotland homosexuality was decriminalised in 1980, 13 years later than in England and Wales. It took some time, but recently Scotland can claim to be ahead of England in the fight for equality.
“From 1999 you got legislation take place in Scotland that was more progressive than in England,” Jaime continues.
“So if you look at the legislation, first of all to overturn Section 2A – which banned the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ – it took place in Scotland first, a few years before it happened in England.
“The legislation to bring in civil partnerships in Scotland occurred in 2005 and by a bureaucratic slip up Scotland somehow was able to get its civil partnerships one day before England.”
Turning to look at his partner he chuckles and tells me how, by chance and for a small mistake, they were able to marry on the 20th of December 2005, just ahead of folks in England.
Jaime believes that “In many ways what has happened now in Scotland is that the old rivalry of Scotland and England is being played off along the lines of who is more progressive.
“That’s a wonderful competition to have. So it’s very nice to be north of the border, in Scotland, when you have that game being played.”
It was not as nice prior to 1980, though. Jaime recalls how it felt coming to Scotland to work when homosexuality was still a crime.
“I moved from England to Scotland in 1974 to take up my job here. I was moving from a place where I was legal to a place where I was illegal.”
Now as Jaime sits in front of me at the coffee table, his partner takes the seat at my side and none of us needs to hide. But I’m here to remember that while this was always the norm for me, it wasn’t for everyone.
“If you think back 20 years we probably would be having this conversation in a LGBT centre,” Jaime tells me.
“Now in Glasgow there is no LGBT centre, which is a shame, but on the other hand we’re here, in a comfortable environment, we can talk in public and I don’t have to lower my voice.”
I can’t imagine having to hide from everyone, but Jaime brings in another perspective.
“I was giving an interview somewhere else recently and I suddenly thought, if you take into consideration also Social Media where can you hide now?
“In my day I could hide. I could hide from my parents and I did for years and I had a wonderful life because I was hiding from them.
“But where do you hide now? You can’t hide from your schoolmates because if you’ve got a Facebook page, they’re all there as well, they’ll see what you’re linking to, they’ll see what you like. So what do you do? Do you avoid liking things which might be suspicious, or are you out and open, but then you might get bullied?
Some people can feel forced to participate in today’s ‘openness’, and that’s why associations like LGBT Health and Wellbeing offer safe spaces for queer people to gather and feel comfortable.
Lynda, a volunteer for the association, says that for people to feel safe they must be comfortable not answering a question, as well as talking about themselves.
A sensitive environment is a key factor, she explains. Awareness and understanding are also important.
Lynda sat on a panel during the Sextival event at the Centre for Contemporary Arts and talked about her experiences as a LGBT person in a less accepting past.
As the discussion steered towards the big issues faced by LGBT people to this day, the audience seemed to agree that medical care and the portrayal of the media are still two big obstacles.
Curiously enough, Jaime would instead list the media as an ally in the stride towards equality.
He even talked to MSP Kezia Dugdale about it and during our relaxed chat he tells me:
“She thought the media is very very important, there’d been a change in media representation.
“And even though she’s only in her 30s, when she was young she couldn’t conceive herself as being gay, as she now sees herself, because there were no images, no people she could identify with. The portrayals were all stereotyped and she didn’t fit that particular stereotype so therefore she wasn’t able to recognise herself at all.”
Jaime has heard many stories like that and thinks the change in media representation is fairly recent, but still very important in the fight for equality.
Yet publications in the 20th Century were not kind to the LGBT community.
Dropping by a short mini-event at the Mitchell Library last weekend I found a page from the Daily Record dated 4th September 1957 with views of the people on the Wolfenden Committee recommendations to make “homosexual acts between consenting adults” legal.
The comment of a taxi driver was: “This is a most dangerous idea. We must protect our youngsters against evil minds. I have very strong feelings about this affair and am shocked at the committee’s decision on homosexuality.”
Another man said: “These homosexuals are a danger to society and the public must be protected.”
The most “civil” opinion was that of a bus conductress who told the Daily Record she saw no harm in making it legal as “Everyone would know who the homosexuals were and where they lived. It would help to safeguard others. Only people like themselves would visit them.”
The article was part of a small exhibition of the library’s LGBT collection.
One of the books that was on display on a table in front of the café started like this:
“I am a homosexual, a so-called ‘queer’ or ‘pansy’. I admit it without shame, although I must hide behind a false name because of fear of the law, vindictiveness and ignorance.”
The book is called “Queer people” by Douglas Plummer and reports the reality of LGBT people in the past century.
38 years ago LGBT people started to become legal in Scotland, but truly it wasn’t until recent years that homosexuality was completely decriminalised and LGBT people saw their human rights recognised by the law.
Nowadays though Scottish people can be proud to have the “gayest Parliament in the world”, as described by Kezia Dugdale. It seems, after all, Scotland has indeed come a long way.