The Need For LGBT Voices In The Independence Debate

Saturday saw the inaugural meeting of ‘Out for Independence’ – the LGBT wing of the SNP. I went along, not as an SNP member, but as a community member interested to engage with others about the debate for an independent Scotland and how members of the LGBT community could make that case.

I’ll admit that being a conference hack, I didn’t have high hopes prior to the event. Most conferences lend themselves to a group of top table speakers talking at you for the majority of the day. However, kudos to the organisers and the speakers because the group of attendees talked more than any of the speakers. A welcome change, in what will hopefully become the norm at these types of conferences.

After the formal business of electing office bearers to lead the group, interesting discussion followed with some crowd sourcing of ideas on how an LGBT group within Yes Scotland can engage with the community and put across the vision that an independent Scotland would be better for LGBT people. During this discussion, some members of the group made remarks that I’ve been pondering over for some time. One contributor suggested that Yes Scotland in it’s nature would attract the LGBT community because it’s about campaigning for a progressive, equal Scotland – another suggested that there was no difference between the LGBT community and others who campaigned for a Yes vote, so we shouldn’t single them out by having a group.

I have a lot to disagree with both sentiments, although I can understand why those people share such views. The LGBT community is as diverse as our country. There are many different political views, or none. There are many different philosophies, ages and careers. Each member of our community is different, it’s what makes being part of such a community so great. We shouldn’t pigeonhole people by the nature of our community however.

I think it is right that campaigns reach out to the LGBT community – whether it’s through Yes LGBT who were out in force at both Pride Scotia and Pride Glasgow in 2012, the newly re-established Out for Independence or a more radical political group such as Radical Queer Independence who join the Radical Independence movement. LGBT people want a platform to join alongside their peers, people who understand what it’s like to be a gay man, a lesbian, bisexual or trans. It’s important to be able to have an open and sometimes frank discussion with your peers. These three movements are key to engaging with a community that is so diverse of views, because no single group will ever be able to represent the views of them all.

It may pain some people to realise, but there are members of the LGBT community that support the Conservatives. Despite the fact I don’t agree with them, I respect their views. Not every member of the LGBT community will believe that an independent Scotland will be the progressive, equal nation that I have a vision for. A vision, however, is what needs to be portrayed to the community to engage them in a political debate that will change their lives. There is no doubting that an independent Scotland will have the chance to be a more equal nation – Britain will never see a written constitution that enshrines such a right into being. It is such a vision that everyone involved in our vast movements, campaigning to make our vision a reality, needs to portray with dignity and respect. We have a responsibility to our community to make no assumptions. Just because someone is a gay man, doesn’t mean that they should only vote Yes or they let down their community. Being a lesbian doesn’t make it a foregone conclusion that they’ll sign the declaration. Trans people will not automatically join the Radical Queer movement.

National Collective was represented by Michael Gray who gave an extremely welcome view into the failures of the media who reported the #GUIndyRef with as little detail as how much money was spent and who spent it, as opposed to recognising the important debates and high quality of speakers who took part in the series of organised events throughout the process.

Tom French, of the Equality Network, then gave an interesting insight into the recent consultation on the priorities of the LGBT community which led well into the policy making session led by Dr Duncan Ross, former National Secretary of the SNP, who discussed getting resolutions passed by the SNP National Conferences and Councils. It gave me fond memories of watching Stewart McDonald, now Out for Independence Convenor, taking forward motions to National Conference to end the blood donation ban for gay and bisexual men.

Nicola Sturgeon gave a keynote address to close the conference. She noted that there would not only be 100 extra consulates across the world that would actually be promoting LGBT rights with an independent Scotland – but that a Scotland, with the principle of social equality, would be able to tackle the inequalities in our society head on – with a Government that represents the people of Scotland.

The Out for Independence Conference was a welcome addition to the campaign for independence. It was inspiring to be in a room of like-minded LGBT people who wanted to make Scotland a better place to live. LGBT people that support independence don’t just want a Scotland to be better for them, however. They want an independent Scotland to be better for the nation and all the people of our nation.

There is a need for LGBT voices in the debate – not one voice – but many. It is for that fact that I am excited to see many different groups representing the LGBT community, campaigning for an independent Scotland. I look forward to the varying priorities that will come from those groups and I look forward to putting forward my vision for a progressive, equal society in an independent country that treats LGBT people will dignity, respect and equality.

Nathan Sparling
National Collective

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About Nathan Sparling

Nathan Sparling is the former National Union of Students (NUS) Scotland LGBT Officer. He was involved in leading the initial Equal Marriage campaign alongside the Equality Network and the Scottish Youth Parliament, as well as leading the fight against the cuts to Sexual Health provision in the Grampian region. He has also been an elected representative of Disabled Students across the UK as a member of the NUS UK Disabled Students Committee. Nathan addressed the opening of the Radical Independence Conference in 2012 where he discussed LGBT equality.

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