DOES GREATER VISIBILITY MEAN MORE HATRED FOR LGBT PEOPLE?

On Saturday, the streets of a former industrial town in the heart of Fife was awash with rainbow colours and music as Fife Pride held their hugely successful annual event in Kirkcaldy.

An estimated 5,000 people came out, marched in solidarity and stood proudly as we celebrated our rights and the progress over 50 troubled years since the Stonewall riots.

Despite the festival atmosphere, the enthusiastic speeches from politicians and the huge turnout, it made me think ‘are we just talking amongst ourselves or is real change happening in our communities?’

I ask that question as Fife has had its successes, yes, and we’ve been privileged to play a significant part in bringing greater visibility to LGBT+ people in the Kingdom since the launch of Pink Saltire with an office in Kirkcaldy, in 2015.

However, the region has also had its share of negative headlines of late and unfortunately Pride weekend highlighted that bigoted and homophobic views still exist, and are infact thriving.

A few weeks before Fife Pride, rainbow flags were town down in the local Olympia Shopping Arcade by 2 men.  It was captured on CCTV, shared on social media and reported nationally as an example of intolerance during Pride month.  One man was later arrested by Police Scotland.

Earlier that same month, hate crime statistics released for the whole of Scotland, revealed that Fife had seen a dramatic increase in homophobic incidents over the past 2 years, up by 43% between the year 2016-17 and 2018-19.

Then at the weekend, while thousands were marching and cheering and laughing and holding hands and feeling proud, two separate incidents that make me wonder how much work we still have to do in our area.

The first incident happened as two young men organised transport to attend Pride in Kirkcaldy, ordering a taxi from a local firm.  When they called to order the cab, they were allegedly asked if they were going to “the poof’s party” by the operator.  Even when the taxi arrived, despite being a little shocked and embarrassed by this ignorant statement, the satnav in the taxi allegedly had “poofs party” as the destination.  Appalling in 2019 in any part of Scotland.

After their experience was shared on social media, the men received a message from the taxi company, who issued a full and frank apology saying they were “devastated” by the actions of one or two individuals.

Then, later the same day, on a road closure sign on the Pride march route in Kirkcaldy, the words “bums to the wall lads” scrawled across the sign in black marker pen, as if it was some school playground slur from the 1980’s.

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Photo credit: Leyton Fowle

Is this really the place we call home in 2019? Is this really the place where 3 hugely successful Pride events have taken place since 2017, bringing thousands of people to the town and offering LGBT+ people a chance to celebrate who they are openly in a modern Scotland?

If we are more visible as a community, do we have to expect more hatred too? Or have those with homophobic views become so emboldened by the toxic nature of online debate that they’ve let their new-found enthusiam give them the confidence to do these things in the open?

Some organisations say the increase in hate crime in Scotland, now standing at it highest ever level since the legislation was introduced in 2010, is partly down to better reporting and LGBT people being more confident in the Police taking their complaints seriously. That is undoubtedly likely.

Here in Fife, the hate crimes against LGBT people stood at 38 for the year before we introduced Pride.  For the year to March 2019 it was 73.

Like most areas of Scotland, Fife has no coordinated action plan against LGBT hate crime. It has no long-term investment in tackling LGBT discrimination or anti-LGBT views.

Having our Council and Police support Fife Pride, with cash, logistics and even staff support is hugely beneficial and the organisers could not put on the event without that help, but Fife Pride is one day per year. What happens in our communities the rest of the year to tackle these bigoted behaviours?

Ofcourse, Fife is not alone or special in this need for action at the grassroots in towns and villages – more work is needed urgently in every corner of Scotland if we are to stamp out discriminatory views and behaviour.  The hate crime statistics show increases in anti-LGBT hate in areas like Edinburgh, Alloa, Dundee, Elgin, Hamilton, Lanark, Selkirk and Tain.

We need to build on the important community work of the 19 amazing Pride events all year-round, taking the message against discrimination into ALL of our schools, our communities and our businesses. We need strategic partners to work with us, to engage and to invest.

The LGBT community and all of Scottish society deserves more than we are getting from our Government, our Police and our local authorities – we can fight this scourge of hate crime together and Pink Saltire will continue to be a voice for direct action in communities around Scotland for the change we all want.

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Fife Pride 2019

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