Equality: is that all there is?

All sexual acts between men are still referred to in Scots law as 'gross indecency'

Feature by Sarah Gamble | 11 May 2007
In an age of civil partnership and greater LGBT rights, it's already difficult to remember what it was like before same-sex weddings were springing up like rainbow mushrooms. Changes to adoption law ensure that Johnny and Seamus' kids are recognised as legally theirs; Goods, Facilities and Services Regulations mean that they can register for his & his towels at John Lewis or wherever else they fancy, and that the B&B where they honeymoon can't refuse them entry or prevent them from sleeping in the same bed. We are in a new age of LGBT equality, where social attitudes are shifting and, finally, laws are responding.

Because of this, when I tell those who ask that my job is working for LGBT equality in Scotland, a frequent response these days is 'what's left to do?' It seems like the most glaring inequalities have been addressed, as indeed they have. But what's left may be surprising to those who think of LGBT folks as 'equal now'.

For example, did you know that:
· Scotland is the only place in the UK where crimes motivated by homophobia or hatred for disabled people are not legally considered 'hate crimes'?
· Anal rape (whether of a man or woman) cannot be charged as 'rape'?
· All sexual acts between men are still referred to in Scots law as 'gross indecency'?
· Experiencing high rates of bullying and isolation, LGBT young people are also several times more likely to self-harm than other young people in Scotland?
· Civil partnership is only available to same-sex couples, and marriage only to mixed-sex couples?

Despite significant, positive gains since 1980, when sexual acts between consenting men were finally decriminalised in Scotland, LGBT people still face frequent harassment and discrimination at home, in the workplace, and socially. Homophobia may be on the wane, but it's far from gone: in 2002, for example, 26% of respondents told the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey that in their opinion a lesbian or gay man would be 'unsuitable' as a primary school teacher.

The world is changing for the better, but legislation does not always keep pace with it – and legislation isn't always enough when it comes to combating homophobia. We need leadership from politicians, but we also need champions for LGBT equality in our everyday lives: in the classroom where the young trans woman is bullied; in the doctor's surgery where the lesbian woman is asked about birth control; in the workplace where the bisexual man in a straight relationship feels uncomfortable coming out to colleagues. Creating a climate in which homophobia is challenged rather than excused is everyone's responsibility, all the time. And with the May elections we each have a chance to use our vote to encourage leadership rather than laziness on LGBT issues. Let's hope we make the most of it.
Sarah Gamble is a community involvement worker for the Equality Network. http://www.equality-network.org