Wow, having a brief to write about my time at LGBT Youth Scotland since starting in 2000 is quite a task. How to put into words the changes as an organisation, the political landscape, the impact for young people, the development of skills and learning for professionals in less than 600 words!
So here goes. In 1994 I moved from the Scottish Highlands to Edinburgh, this was the start of my looking to develop a career and do something meaningful. I completed my Open University degree and joined the Edinburgh Lesbian and Gay switchboard. I loved this work so much I trained as a counsellor. I realised then I could use my experiences to support others and really wanted to make a difference for LGBTQ+ young people.
In 2000, I started as a volunteer at what was formally known as Stonewall Youth Project, becoming LGBT Youth Scotland in 2003. I shared my knowledge from Switchboard and coached 10 young people to become the voice on the LGBT youth line. This was the start of my rewarding journey, and I became employed, initially as a sessional worker in 2001, supporting youth groups and providing 1:1 support. After many roles, 22 years later, I am now the Youth Work Manager (East) for the charity, leading practice across Edinburgh, Lothian and the Scottish Borders.
Since then the organisation has moved with the times, the recent pandemic pushed us to do much of this quicker than expected. We now offer digital support and groups to young people throughout Scotland as well as in-person opportunities across many Local Authorities.
I have always respected that young people are at the forefront of what we do. Their voices and experiences matter, and we have been able to amplify these and help to influence policy change in Scotland. Here are just a few of the changes that have had a positive impact on our lives as LGBTQ+ people:
In 2000 the campaign to repeal Section 28 began and those who wished to ‘Keep the Clause’ had considerable funds, significant negative media coverage and awful billboards which meant that LGBTQ+ people were under renewed scrutiny and faced backlash in many areas of their lives. Thankfully the new Scottish Parliament listened, and stood up to this negative barrage and it was repealed with resounding success, 99 to 17 in favour. This enabled teachers to embed inclusive practice without fear of reprisal, which in turn created a positive learning environment for pupils and staff.
In 2001 we saw momentum for equality growing. The new Scottish Executive included LGBT Equality in their first Equality Strategy and on 8 January, the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act finally came into force, reducing the age of consent for gay and bisexual men to 16, bringing it in line with their heterosexual counterparts. This meant we were able to provide appropriate information to help young people better understand consent and how to practice safer sex.
In 2003 we became a national organisation, recognising that the delivery of support and groups provided in Edinburgh could be rolled out to other young people across the country.
In 2004 we worked with the Equality Network in the campaign for a Gender Recognition Act which passed at Westminster. This was significant for the trans and non-binary young people we worked with.
2006 - Present
From 2006 we saw more changes for LGBTQ+ people of all ages including:
- The Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006 which equalised same sex and mixed sex cohabitation rights.
- Civil Partnerships Act which allowed for same sex couples to be legally recognised.
- Adoption and Children (Scotland) Bill 2006 enabled same sex couples to adopt
- Scotland Hate Crime Law 2009 incorporated homophobic and transphobic hate crime
- The Equality Act (2010) came into law. This brought together significant pieces of legislation into one document and allows for much easier understanding of LGBTQ+ equality and rights.
- December 2022 the Scottish Parliament voted to reform the Gender Recognition Act (2004) with a significant majority of 86 to 39 votes. For trans people, the LGBTQ+ community, and allies this is a hard-won victory.
Whilst some of my experiences at LGBT Youth Scotland have been challenging, I still look forward to each day at work, hoping that my practice can help to make a difference in a young person’s life. Whether this is by supporting the amazing youth workers to provide safe, fun and inclusive spaces, or by working in partnership with other organisations to upskill their staff or provide creative opportunities for learning and development.
Recently our groups in Edinburgh worked closely with The University of Edinburgh, Lothian Health Services Archive to engage with the History of the Lothian Gay and Lesbian Switchboard Archive (as I mentioned earlier a service I loved and volunteered for). Participants from LGBT Health and Wellbeing’s LGBT Age Project (aged over 50) and LGBT Youth Scotland (ages 13-25) were brought together and guided through a series of writing and zine making workshops. I am delighted to share their exhibition of work here.
A quote from a young person sums up the impact of our work:
There is still much to do, we continue to face discrimination and anger from people and our role is to be able to stay grounded and support young people to flourish and thrive and have their voices heard. The support from allies enables us to continue to fight for equality and equity and knowing we are not alone helps a lot.