Scottish LGBT communities still face prejudice and discrimination despite recent steps towards equality, research has revealed.
The Equality Network, the organisation behind the report, has called for more to be done to tackle discrimination and prejudice. 94% of the 1,052-person representative sample agreed that the government, both at national and local level, and public services has a leading role to play in reducing inequality in Scotland.
Figures indicate that nearly all (97%) LGBT people in Scotland have faced some form of discrimination at one point in their lives, with 79% of people stating that such an incident had taken place in the last 12 months. Whilst the majority of these took the form of verbal abuse, 16% involved physical abuse and 7% were recorded as sexual abuse.
As well as direct discrimination, respondents to the survey also felt they were disadvantaged elsewhere in their lives. Transgender people reported the highest level of inequality at 84%. Lesbian, gay and bisexual people also face such isses, with 60%, 59% and 57% feel disadvantaged, respectively, in some way.
In particular, it was felt that employers and service-providers often did not meet the specific needs of LGBT people. This comes in addition to 25% having experienced discrimination whilst accessing a service, and 24% feeling they had been treated unfairly at work.
Paul Bradley, a gay man who works at Shelter Scotland, said he was particularly effected by the revelation that prejudice at work was so high. He felt that working in the third sector often protected him from such abuse.
He said: “Working for an organisation like Shelter Scotland gives you the confidence to be yourself, but where I’ve worked previously I’ve hidden the fact I am gay and in some cases pretended that I was straight.
“This was not because people discriminated against me, but it was because there wasn’t the support structures in place for people from the LGBT community – especially those entering the workplace for the first time and worried that disclosing this information could work against them.”
Paul is keen to encourage more people to be openly gay at work, as he believes this will work as a catalyst for establishing appropriate support networks. This led him to reveal his sexuality on LinkedIn in an attempt to open up discussion on the issue.
He added: “It made me realise how fortunate I am working in the third sector… This convinced me to post about my sexuality on LinkedIn – the first time that I’ve told people in my professional network outside of Shelter Scotland that I am gay. It’s received an amazing response and I’d like to share this with as many people as possible to show that we can all do small things that, together, make a real difference.”
However, 60% of people felt that they could never or only sometimes be open about their sexual orientation or gender identity at work. Further, more than half (52%) felt uncomfortable about being open with their own family. A fear of negative reactions, different treatment or being shunned were listed as the biggest concerns about living openly.
Stewart Cowan, a recent graduate, told The Scots Perspective that whilst he didn’t feel discriminated against by friends and family, he would be uncomfortable opening up about his bisexuality to people he didn’t know. He said: “I feel I would fear discrimination if it was revealed I was bi to a cross-section of Scottish people, but because I choose to surround myself with people who I know won’t care about gender or sexuality I don’t feel discriminated against in day to day life.”
However, Stewart added that on occasion people had refused to accept his sexuality due to his current relationship status. He explained: “The main thing I can say in my experience from a bi perspective is having people tell me that I can’t be bi because I’m in a long-term relationship with a woman. [There is an] assumption that if I am bi, then I must be chasing men and women at the same time.”
The fear that many in the LGBT community feel about coming out or being open was considered to one of the biggest consequences of inequality. The Equality Network report detailed how some people felt excluded from services including health, education and policing as they were concerned about a ‘need’ to come out. This could have significant impacts on the welfare and quality of life of LGBT people.
Rose Marshall, a transgender women who has recently reported abuse to the police, detailed how difficult the experience can be. She said: “Having to go over what happened again and again adds to the feelings of shame and hurt, and besides nothing much seems to happen as a result. I still have to see the same groups of people [responsible for the abuse] when I leave the home and on the way back from work, and I feel anxious because it could happen again at any time.”
Issues with public services were found the be exacerbated in rural areas, where a higher proportion of people surveyed felt isolated, that their needs weren’t being met, or that they had to travel outside local areas to access LGBT services. Four of every ten LGBT people from rural areas either said they had moved or considered moving for these reasons.
One lesbian women, whose identity has been kept anonymous, spoke of her own experience coming from a rural town. She said: “I left my home town on the west coast in the late 80s because I knew I couldn’t live an open and happy life there – it did feel like I was the only gay in the village.”
Same-sex marriage became legal in Scotland in December last year, with the first wedding ceremonies taking place on Hogmanay. However, the Equality Network has said their report indicates far more needs to be done to tackle inequality and hate crime.
Sarah Anderson, a bisexual women from Glasgow, says that whilst equal marriage was a big step forward, it is far from the last hurdle for the LGBT community. She said: “There can be no doubt that equality has improved tremendously in Scotland; however we still have a long way to go. Perhaps as a young woman who is bi and appears fairly feminine, I miss a lot of the prejudice – but I’ve still experienced enough.
“From being told ‘but you don’t look gay’, to having people tell me I’m greedy, to being questioned going into scene clubs. I’ve not been beaten myself, but I’ve been beside a friend who was. I’ve not felt in danger of losing my job, but I’ve friends who won’t come out for fear of just that.
“Yes, equal marriage exists but not every service provider wants to cater for us. Things have definitely improved, but bias, prejudice and phobia still exists. It’s great laws exist, but we must work hard to change perception and beliefs also.”
The Equality Network’s biggest project at present is advocating the introduction of recognition laws for transgender people, who reported the highest levels of inequality.
Engagement with and recognition of intersex and non-binary people is also being called for. However, no data from this group is provided within the report due to research beginning before the Equality Network added intersex people to its charitable aims.
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