Scotland’s leading national charity for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex equality and human rights marked 50 years of rainbow activism in Scotland last night in the Scottish Parliament.

The Equality Network were hosts to hundreds of invited guests where politicians and activists gave powerful speeches on the achievements of LGBT people over the last 5 decades in Scotland, and outlined the work still to do.

The night was sponsored by Kezia Dugdale, former Scottish Labour leader, in her final event before she steps down as an MSP next month.

She spoke movingly of the moments at The Stonewall Inn back in 1969, where marginalised LGBT people fought back after successive raids on the bar by police. It was a moment in history which sparked riots in New York and spawned a worldwide fight for equality.

She also talked of the need to continue our fight here in Scotland and to stand up for equality:

“So much progress has been made, but if I’m honest, I worry that many of our hard-won rights are very fragile, and that’s why I marched in Edinburgh on Saturday for Pride” she said.

“I marched for those two women on the London bus who were violently assaulted; I marched for the men kicked in the back for the crime of holding hands in this very city on a Saturday night; I marched for the children in Birmingham who will no longer be taught about the full range of loving relationships. And I marched for young people, turning up at the door of the Rock Trust homeless because they’ve had a horrible experience coming out to their parents.”

“But on Saturday, and with a much better understanding than before, I also marched as a trans ally and for trans rights. I do so as a staunch feminist who sees no conflict between my rights as a woman and the rights of trans communities.”

Alex Cole Hamilton, for the LibDems, and Annie Wells for the Scottish Conservatives, both congratulated Kezia on her support for LGBT rights during her time as an MSP and spoke about the need for us all to continue to educate and inform MSPs and wider society about the issues faced by our community.

Patrick Harvie for the Greens also delivered a very moving speech in which he talked about the divisions in society which were overcome in the fight against Section 28 and the abusive rhetoric faced by LGBT people in the media and how we, as a community, fought back.

“What mattered was that we stuck together, because that’s how we make progress. One day not very long from now some of the youngest people who marched up the Royal Mile wearing rainbow colours the other day, will be standing here where I am, making speeches like the one I’m making.”

“And I cant wait to be confused about how they reinvent themselves, because that confusion doesnt matter. I still hope they’ll stand with me and I hope my generation will continue to stand with them, because thats the way we’ll make sure their world is a better one.”

A number of speakers also addressed the recent Scottish Government statement on the future of the Gender Recognition Act.

Kezia Dugdale said to those at the event:

“I know there will be people in this room who will be disappointed with the statement given to parliament last week and I understand why. You are hungry and impatient for change. You’ve done the hard work on the consultation and many of you need to live the happy and peaceful life that you deserve. But I’m sorry to tell you that if we had a vote tomorrow on the principles of Gender Recognition, I think we’d lose.”

“I want a Bill, ofcourse I do, but more importantly I want a law and it’s our job to win the argument with the same patience and passion that we always have. There is no doubt in my mind, as I leave this building, that we will, before 2021, pass a law with self-ID principles at its heart, that recognises non-binary people and improves services for young people. I will stand with you until that work is done. Let’s finish the job started 50 years ago.”

Equality Network’s Director, Tim Hopkins, said there was a “big moveable middle” of the population who understand the truth behind gender recognition reform and urged everyone to engage in a conversation about the facts.

Cabinet Secretary of Social Security, Older People and Equalities, Shirley-Anne Somerville, who delivered the GRA statement to parliament earlier last week, said:

“I know there was a great deal of frustration and indeed anger at the statement I delivered to parliament last week on Gender Recognition. You want to see that reform going forward now, not waiting until later on in this parliamentary term. We are determined to move forward with a bill in the lifetime of this parliament but to do that we need to tackle and put to rest some of the misunderstandings that are around about our plans.”

“We have that misunderstanding [about GRA reform] based on what people have read on social media and I want to allay those concerns but never roll back on the destination that I am determined to get to, which is trans equality and trans rights being recognised in law within this parliament.”

“So I want to reassure you that I will be determined to move forward with a bill – I want to be the Cabinet Secretary that passes an Act on trans rights and that’s why we need to ensure we have wider support in here and with the general public. There is no rolling back from what we’ve had in the past, this is to ensure we are improving and enhancing and embedding trans equality.”

“I am absolutely willing to work on a cross-party basis in this parliament and then we can move to a point where this parliament can pass an act that you can all truly be proud of.”

The Equality Network have launched an appeal to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to keep her promise on trans equality, which you can support here.

Image credits – Equality Network & Watty Gaffney, Unison Scotland.

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