There’s no doubt 2012 has been a momentous and emotional year for LGBT Scots, as well as an incredibly busy one.
It started off with some sad news for LGBT campaigners not just in Scotland, but across Europe. The death of the former Labour Member of the European Parliament Janey Buchan was a huge loss. Although I never had the chance to meet Janey, her reputation was well known in Scotland as someone who believed strongly in equality for LGBT people the world over.
I am in no doubt that we in Scotland enjoy the more liberal society we can sometimes take for granted because of the work of people like Buchan, who supported equal rights for LGBT people at a time when it was unpopular – even dangerous – to do so.
Later in January we saw the Equal Marriage Campaign stamp its presence on the Scottish psyche. Back then I don’t even think the coordinators realized this would be the most organized, dynamic, youthful and progressive campaign Scotland has seen for quite some time. It soon became a modern national movement.
My life for the first five months of the year was dominated by the local government elections in which I was a candidate for the Scottish National Party in Glasgow. I can remember during the election my horror at seeing anti-gay ‘Scotland for Marriage’ leaflets being posted through letterboxes.
My campaign team and I were appalled at the extremely undignified way ‘Scotland for Marriage’ was attempting to hijack an election that was supposed to be about local services, by encouraging people to only vote for candidates who were against equal marriage.
I’m no sensitive soul, but it was the first time that I felt my sexuality was being used against me and my right to take part in the democratic process. Of course those opposed to equal marriage have a right to organize their campaign but this was a pretty poor way of doing so. Only a handful of people raised it with me as a candidate and most of those doing so were in support of marriage equality.
After a very successful Equality Network reception in the Scottish Parliament (the largest ever, with over 400 attendees) we would see a huge march on Holyrood for Valentine’s Day, with people from all parts of Scottish Society demanding that LGBT Scots have the right to marry their loved ones.
It was the first major display to the Scottish public that this campaign crossed age barriers, racial and ethnic lines, age divides and even transcended political and religious differences – and the message was clear: they wanted a more equal Scotland. The Pride marches in both Edinburgh and Glasgow this year were the biggest either city had seen for many years. It was clear that the equal marriage issue was the motivation for many to take part in Pride for the first time – or for the first time in a long time – to get out on the street and make their voices heard.
Later in the year Nicola Sturgeon, as the government minister responsible, announced the Scottish Government would bring forward a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, I was delighted. They had refused to bow to the pressure on them by the anti-equal marriage lobby and had instead firmly placed the Scottish Government on the side of equality, fairness and progressive social politics. For me and many other Scots, this is what a Scottish Parliament was for: a parliament that responds to the progressive aspirations of its people.
Although all party leaders publicly supported equal marriage, I want to pay particular tribute to the Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. Nicola was the first SNP politician that I campaigned for when I joined the party, and I always knew that she was a politician who was a solid friend of LGBT Scots. Some of the abuse that was being hurled at her in public forums online and elsewhere was vile and often misogynistic. However she stuck to her principals knowing that this was the right thing to do.
It’s easy having principals when you don’t really have much to lose, but this simply isn’t the case for Nicola. It should not be forgotten that the Deputy First Minister represents a hugely diverse constituency in the Southside of Glasgow, with a large Muslim population many of whom are hostile to the idea of same-sex couples being able to marry.
I have no doubt that she had many tough confrontations with people in her constituency and across the country on this issue – but she never wavered and summed up perfectly where she was coming from on this issue when said: ‘In a country that aspires to be an equal and tolerant society, this is the right thing to do.’ Finely put, Nicola.
We should rightly recognize the work of the various groups who campaigned so hard for this outcome, such as the Equality Network, LGBT Youth Scotland, and the Scottish Youth Parliament – whose highly effective Love Equally campaign was perhaps particularly significant because it did not come from a specifically LGBT organization.
When I asked my friend Tom French, the Equality Network’s policy coordinator during the summer if he was going on holiday anywhere, he replied: ‘I will when your government introduces equal marriage’. Although we laughed about the comment at the time, it gave an indication as to how much energy and commitment Tom and the other people who were the public faces of the campaign put into it, often with a personal cost involved.
What struck me about the anti-equal marriage campaign was the way they actually drove people to our cause. When Cardinal Keith O’Brien called gay marriage ‘grotesque’ it would rally many Scottish Catholics to the cause of equality. When Bishop Tartaglia, now Archbishop of Glasgow, made inaccurate and vulgar comments about the late MP David Cairns’ death, it caused more people of faith to disassociate themselves with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Scotland.
The comments by Tartaglia were particularly repulsive, suggesting that Cairns’ sad and premature death were linked to his sexuality. I was heartened to see so many people condemn the Bishop in the strongest terms – particularly Tom Harris who represents Glasgow in the UK parliament and who was a close friend.
And 2012 has also been a special year for progress across the globe. We have the introduction of equal marriage legislation in Scotland and the UK government has followed suit. United States citizens voted in favor of same-sex couples having the right to marry in several states and voted for America’s first ever publically pro-equal marriage president.
French President François Hollande has committed his administration to marriage equality and Spain’s constitutional court upheld the legality of equal marriage.
In Scotland, the Equality Network has ended the year by launching the largest ever community consultation amongst LGBT Scots, the results of which will inform their work and the Scottish Government’s LGBT Action Plan over the coming years.
However there is still much to do both at home and abroad. Most worrying of all is Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill that would jail or execute people just for being gay. We in Scotland cannot sit by and enjoy the freedoms that have been fought and won over the years for us, whilst our friends in other parts of the world live with constant fear and oppression.
So as 2013 approaches, challenge yourself to make a difference for the LGBT community – a community that knows no borders and for whom there are still many battles to be fought and won.
Stewart McDonald is an active political campaigner on LGBT issues in Scotland. Follow him on Twitter here.