This week marks the start of LGBT History Month. The annual celebration across Scotland recognises the contribution lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have made to our society, and raises awareness of the history of the LGBT rights movement.
We’ve come a long way in recent years. After decades of campaigning and hard-won progress, Scotland has gone from being a country that once criminalised LGBT people, to one that is now recognised as among the best in the world for LGBT equality.
I’m particularly proud of the progress made under the SNP Government over the past decade, from our historic equal marriage law to the introduction of hate crime protections – these changes have made a real difference to people’s lives.
But we know there is still further to go, and there is one area above all where dramatic progress is needed – equality for transgender people.
Even in Scotland, trans people face an almost unparalleled level of prejudice and discrimination – and that is some-thing that should shame us all.
Equality Network’s 2017 Hate Crime report found that 80 per cent of trans people have been the victim of a hate crime, including verbal abuse, physical attacks and sexual assaults.
For many, receiving abuse is a regular day-to-day occurrence.
It can’t be right that, in the 21st century, many trans people can’t walk down the street, get through their working day or go out with their friends without facing some form of prejudice.
It’s time for all of us to recognise that our society has a serious problem with transphobia and commit to doing something about it.
In November, the SNP published a consultation on proposals to reform the Gender Recognition Act in Scotland, to make it simpler and less intrusive for trans people to get legal recognition of their gender.
That’s the process by which a trans person can get their birth certificate changed to reflect the gender they live as.
These proposals are important for many trans people, making it easier for them to get on with living their lives, knowing they have legal recognition of who they are.
The reforms won’t eliminate the prejudice trans people face but they are a vital piece of the puzzle, alongside wider efforts to tackle hate crime, reduce discrimination and change attitudes.
Unsurprisingly, right-wing newspapers have responded with the same sort of hysteria, discriminatory attitudes and ludicrous claims that they previously targeted at gay people in the 80s, 90s and, more recently, during the debate over same-sex marriage.
These publications need to take a long hard look at themselves – they are part of the problem.
Trans people must be able to live their lives freely, without facing unnecessary barriers and
discrimination. It’s not easy being trans in our society but these reforms will help, just as they have in other countries such as Ireland, Norway, Denmark and Malta.
This LGBT History Month, I hope you’ll join me in making a personal commitment to speak up for trans equality, challenge transphobia and support the Equal Recognition campaign for trans rights at www.equalrecognition.scot