Tuesday, 4 February 2014

It's time

I look in the mirror and am surprised at the grey-haired, tired face looking back at me. Especially on days like this. Inside I'm the 19-year-old taking on the world, over-achieving to compensate for my internalised homophobia, meeting "We can't" with "Well do you mind getting out of the way while we do?". My mindset was formed years ago, and it says government stands in the way and each day is an opportunity to fight, to bring people together against the common enemy of inequality, and to try to take away these hard barriers for the generations to come.

When I was born, gay sex was still criminalised in Scotland. When I grew up, the discriminatory age of consent was 21, and discussion of same-sex relationships was banned in schools. Over the span of no more than 35 years, the statutory barriers to LGB equality have, one by one, been broken down, and in more recent years, many but not all legal blocks on transgender equality have also been defeated.

Today, in the Scottish Parliament, our MSPs have the opportunity to take the final step for LGB equality, and remove the ban on same sex couples being allowed to marry. It is, I freely confess, not a moment I thought I would see in my lifetime. And my inner 19-year-old is struggling. Thanks to the efforts of so many people, the last barrier is about to fall. And a political outlook defined by our relationship to those barriers now has no way-markings. We have fought institutionalised homophobia, but we have always been at risk of being institutionalised ourselves by that fight.

Of course there are still barriers to rail against - religious discrimination, social prejudice - the fight for equality is far from over. So perhaps we will just all shift our focus to those enemies and find our place again. But the reality is that shifting attitudes needs a very different approach to changing laws. It is still about persuasion, and winning hearts and minds, but it is also about accepting difference, and offering hope and leadership.

It is, in short, about winning the peace after winning the war. And perhaps it is a role more suited to those who I hope I don't patronise by calling the fortunate generation: those who, by and large, have grown up in a culture which says same sex couples are just another normal part of life; who may still suffer from internalised, peer and familial homophobia but know at least the law is on their side, and can see positive role models all around them.

We stand on the shoulders of giants today. The Campaign for Homosexual Equality, the Minorities Research Group, the Gay Liberation Front, the Scottish Minorities Group (later Outright Scotland), Stonewall, LGBT Youth Scotland, the Equality Network and many, many other individuals and groups in the LGBT community have fought, and lost, and fought again, and won. And just as importantly, allies outwith the LGBT community, especially including trades unions but also religious, political and social groups, and elected representatives, have fought alongside and made the difference on many occasions.

Today I'm very proud of all of them. I thank them from the bottom of my heart, because together we have made lives better, and there is no better thing to look back on than that. This evening I think a tear may be shed. Because, you see, it's time.

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