Dugdale: Every child should have access to LGBTI education

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This is the full text of the speech that Kezia Dugdale will give to LGBT Youth Scotland tonight. 

Thank you Fergus for that introduction.

It’s great to be here tonight, to celebrate LGBT History Month with you.

And I want to begin by thanking Fergus and all the staff at LGBT Youth Scotland for bringing us together this evening, and Clydesdale Bank for its sponsorship.

This is actually the first LGBT history month since I came out publicly last year, so for me this month is even more significant.

My experience of coming out less than a year ago attracted some attention, but what was amazing was just how matter of fact it was.

No scandal, no condemnation.

Just the facts.

It’s evidence of how much things have changed, and should be a comfort to anyone who still has doubt about whether they’ll be accepted.

Having spent the majority of my time in politics not out, I’ve tried to make a difference over the past year.

I’ve quite frankly been embarrassed by some of the recognition I’ve received as an LGBT politician, because I feel I’ve not made a fraction of the contribution that many before me did.

I’ve always believed that those of us in politics and public life have to use our voices to make a difference.

It’s not just good enough to turn up to work every day.

And for those of us in public life who are LGBT, it’s essential that we use our voices to speak up for other people in our community.

I don’t intend to be a leader who gets to the top and then pulls up the ladder behind me.

I am very aware that one of my roles is to make sure that young people have the same opportunities I did – and more.

And to make sure that those of you who aren’t LGBT, but are in positions of power and influence, hear what I have to say.

Which is why when, as tonight, I’m asked the question ‘Equality for LGBTI young people in Scotland: are we there yet?’

The very short answer is no.

We’ve come a long way, but we definitely have much further to travel.

But let’s not forget the progress we have made.

The theme of this year’s LGBT History Month is ‘heritage’, and it asks us to remember some of the major political and social milestones for the LGBT community here in Scotland.

For some people in this room tonight, the campaign for equal marriage will have been the first campaign for LGBT equality that they’ll remember.

And that campaign achieved success without the same struggle that previous fights for equality had to go through.

It was easier, in large part, because those battles of the past had changed public attitudes.

The determined campaigning and advocacy of LGBT pioneers in Scotland, and across the UK, were successful in showing people that there was nothing to fear from social change.

While progress may have been fast in the past decade, it took many years of persistence and perseverance to get us to where we are today.

It took a little over ten years for us to move from civil partnerships to full marriage, but it took 23 years from the Wolfenden Report recommending decriminalisation of homosexuality, to it becoming a reality here in Scotland.

In those twenty three years, campaigning and visibility were the things that made a difference.

Harvey Milk – who led the campaign for gay equality in San Francisco – knew the value of visibility.

That’s why he said that “coming out is the most political thing you can do”.

He knew – like so many of us in this room – that people are less likely to be hostile towards us if they’re able to put a face and a name to the people who might otherwise be a target of their prejudice.

If they know and understand LGBTI people, they’re less likely to discriminate.

The last time the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey asked people how they felt about same sex relationships, they found that the percentage of those who thought they were “not wrong at all” had increased by nearly ten per cent.

And the number of people saying they were wrong had declined.

In the same period, people saying that they knew a gay or lesbian person – whether a family member, friend or co-worker – had increased significantly.

So, the importance of those people who were able to come out in the 1960s and 1970s here in Scotland cannot be underestimated.

Without a doubt, their visibility hastened the progress towards the equal rights we all benefit from today.

And that’s why the work that LGBT Youth Scotland, and many others do today, is so important.

And it’s why the young people here tonight, who have been able to come out, are the most important advocates for our cause.

Their example will be an injunction against bigotry, hate and prejudice for the next generation of Scots.

And that’s needed, because we still have a job to do.

The fight for full legal equality in the UK may now be largely won, but that doesn’t mean we can be complacent.

We know that recognition in law can’t be the end of the road – winning over hearts and minds, and changing society’s attitudes is just as important.

Our job won’t be done until every LGBTI person – young or older – can live a life free from discrimination, without the fear that they won’t be accepted. Our job won’t be done until every LGBTI person has an expectation of inclusion – that’s what equality means to me.

And the truth is that LGBTI young people still face prejudice every day.

Ninety per cent of LGBTI people have experienced homophobia, biphobia or transphobia at school.

Twenty seven per cent of LGBTI people have attempted suicide once as a result of bullying and 15 per cent have tried more than once.

And while more than 99 per cent of LGBTI people have heard homophobic language at school, according to Stonewall Scotland, only 16 per cent of teachers have received any training on how to tackle bullying against LGBTI people.

This isn’t just a mark on Scottish society, it’s holding these young people back, and can damage opportunities for LGBTI young people in the future.

Because bullying at school means that more people decide to skip lessons to avoid the bullies or, at worst, re-consider whether they want to stay at school at all.

No young person should have their opportunities curtailed by discrimination.

That’s why there’s a responsibility for LGBTI people, like me, to make my voice heard, and for the young people here to provide support to those who need it.

But it’s also not just the responsibility of the LGBTI community.

In this room tonight, we have representatives from local authorities, from schools, from the NHS and from business.

It is also your responsibility to keep asking what support your organisations are giving to LGBTI people who use your services, attend your schools, and work for your businesses.

And for those of us in politics – we need to be pushing the Scottish Government to do more.

Scotland has to do more than just be smug about having three party leaders who are LGBTI or boasting about its equality record.

We need to keep pushing for more.

That is why campaigns like Time for Inclusive Education are so important and why the Scottish Labour Party fully supports it.

It’s why, after last year’s election, I helped establish the Cross Party Group on LGBTI issues.

Why I re-established the Cross Party Group on Blood Borne Viruses with Patrick Harvie.

And why I’ve led the debate on ensuring access to PrEp in Scotland.

There are now three things that the Scottish Government should be doing as a matter of urgency.

First, we need a strategy for dealing with homophobic, transphobic and biphobic bullying in our schools, to make sure that all schools are being proactive in dealing with bullying.

This has to include clear guidance for school teachers about what they can teach in our schools.

It means acting on the demands of the Tie Campaign.

We don’t need any more reviews, working groups or inquiries from the Scottish Government.

We need action.

The need is pressing.

It’s shocking that more than a third of secondary school teachers are still unclear about what they can teach about LGBTI issues.

The legacy of Section 2A still looms over some of our schools and we need to deal with it once and for all.

And for every year that persists, it means more young people facing inequality at school.

Second, all young people, regardless of location, should have access to consistent sex education which considers LGBTI relationships and sexual health.

There should not be two tiers of sex and relationship education in our schools.

And finally, as trans young people become more and more visible in our society, they shouldn’t have to wait until they are 18 to be recognised as the gender they live.

They should be able to do that at 16, at the same time as they are able to leave school, work, pay taxes and vote.

That is the right thing to do and we will continue to push for this if it is discussed in the Scottish Parliament.

Friends, my message this evening is this.

While we still have a long way to go, do not underestimate how far we have come.

And do not forget the heroes of the LGBTI movement whose successes make our lives all the more easy to live.

The gains they made mean that we can live and love as we want and who we want.

They mean that we can do the things that everyone else took for granted, but for too long were opportunities missed for LGBTI couples.

Holding hands in the street.

Getting married.

Having kids.

As a society we should always remember that together, we’re stronger.

And we can only achieve our full potential if everyone – gay and straight – is able to live their life to the full.

At the weekend, I said goodbye to one of my closest friends, Gordon Aikman.

Gordon committed the last few years of his life to making a difference to people living with Motor Neurone Disease.

He raised hundreds of thousands of pounds, and because of him, MND patients are better supported than ever before and we are closer to finding a cure.

Gordon was also a proud gay man and a loving husband.

Last summer at Pride in Edinburgh, he was in his wheelchair, barrelling down the Royal Mile and then over the cobble stoned streets right to the end of the march.

Gordon was an inspiration to me, and he knew the need to be visible, persistent and determined in campaigning.

I think future generations of LGBTI young people can take inspiration from Gordon, no matter what campaigns and causes you decide to champion.

His words from a speech at Edinburgh University bear repeating tonight:

“Take nothing for granted.

Cherish those you care about most.

Be true to yourself and live your own life.

And – if you can – fight to make things that little better for those who follow.”

Thank you.

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