Members of Scotland’s LGBTQ+ community have voiced feelings of disappointment, anger and despair in response to comments from SNP leadership candidate Kate Forbes which have once again put their basic rights at the centre of the country’s political discourse. Forbes’ remarks followed statements from her and fellow leadership candidate Ash Regan to the effect that they would not seek to defend the result of Holyrood’s cross-party vote on gender recognition reform from being blocked by a section 35 order from Westminster.
Several MSPs withdraw support from Kate Forbes
Forbes stated that had she been an MSP at the time when Holyrood voted on same-sex marriage, she would have opposed it. She added that she would have defended the democratic decision which was made regardless, but she was seemingly unprepared for the public’s response. Several MSPs, including Drew Hendry, Claire Haughey, Richard Lochhead, David Torrance, Tom Arthur, Elena Whitham and Gillian Mackay, have now withdrawn their endorsements for her candidacy and questioned her ability to lead the SNPSpeaking to press agency PA, Forbes characterised this as “quite an illiberal discourse,” and created further controversy by asserting that she had been attacked because of her faith. Prominent MP Ian Blackford is also a member of the Free Kirk and the other candidate to declare thus far, Humza Yousaf, is Muslim, but both have consistently backed LGBTQ+ rights despite pressure from their religious communities. Yousaf has pledged to continue to do so and is the only current contender to have signed the 2021 Scottish LGBTI Equality Pledge.
“Our humanity has been called into question” – Out For Independence
“We are incredibly disappointed with the way this leadership campaign has been conducted and the tone and language that have been adopted toward the LGBTQ+ community,” said campaigning organisation Out For Independence in a statement. “Over the course of this campaign, our hard-won, long-established basic rights – and, frankly, our very humanity – have been called into question. We are already seeing candidates use the kind of language that can stoke violence. We would ask that candidates reflect on their tone, language, and treatment of the LGBTQ+ community.”
Others were unimpressed by Forbes’ claim that she was being unfairly treated.
“Despite the rhetoric being used, Kate’s stated views don’t bar her from the top job – it just makes it unlikely people will vote for her,” said former SNP Equalities Convenor Fiona Robertson. “LGBTQ+ people are targets of the global rise of the far right, as are reproductive rights, worker’s rights and more. We need to know that, when it comes to it, the leader of our country will fight for us and the progress we’ve made.
Concerns that basic rights could be rolled back
“Too many people believe rights, once won, won’t be taken away, but that’s exactly what’s happening across the world and in the UK itself. If she is unwilling to defend the Scottish Parliament’s right to make more humane laws than Westminster, she isn’t going to be able to lead us to independence.”
Artist William G Saraband concurred. “If Kate Forbes had her way, I would have been denied the joy of marrying the love of my life, on one of our happiest ever days, in our home city of Edinburgh. ’It’s not all about you!’ seems to be the most common defence of Kate Forbes and her homophobic views, from people telling me that defending my rights and dignities is very selfish. You can tell these are people who’ve never had their rights publicly debated. But they’re right about one thing: it’s not all about me and my marriage. It’s also the fact that such extreme homophobes will also come for women’s reproductive rights, the safety of trans people, etc – because bigotry and hatred are omnivorous and they are very hungry.”
Forbes has still promised to work with North-East MSP Gillian Mackay to establish buffer zones around abortion clinics, but her commitment to abortion rights has nevertheless come into question. She has been described as an extremist after going on to say that she does not believe it’s right to have children outside wedlock – 50.9% of children born in Scotland in 2016 had unmarried parents.
“Kate Forbes is capably illustrating that transphobia, homophobia and misogyny go hand in hand. If you don’t think being anti-abortion is misogyny, have a word with yourself,” said Suzanne, a bisexual/pansexual woman. “Also, trans women are women, and any assertion otherwise is misogyny and anti-feminist. I’d suggest that after almost 13 years of abusive Tory Westminster rule, anyone seeking to be First Minister would understand the implications of instilling fear in marginalised communities. I don’t think that’s a big ask.”
Suzanne was particularly concerned by the notion that people might see LGBTQ+ rights as disposable in the context of other political battles. “It’s genuinely terrifying seeing some of the tweets from cishet [cisgender and heterosexual] people who don’t have a red line for things like opposition to equal marriage, trans rights and abortion. I wasn’t expecting quite this level of indifference.”
Saraband was amongst several SNP members who said that their support for the party depended on how this issue was handled. “The bottom line is that my membership is dependant on the continued position of the SNP as a left-of-centre party, with progressive values and a commitment to all LGBT+ rights, including fighting back against the UK Government’s attack on the GRR Bill. If a new leader is chosen that abandons all of this, I will resign my membership and take my vote to the Greens.”
Caitlin, a 32-year-old gay woman, said: “I was just nine years old when the Scottish Parliament first met. Thanks to the tireless campaigning of those who came before me I’ve seen win after win on LGBTQ equality passed by MSPs and celebrated by those in government.
“I always had a very positive outlook on being LGBTQ in Scotland, but the past few years have made it obvious that progress isn’t always linear. Even so, it came as a shock in 2023 to hear a credible candidate for First Minister say it would be against her ‘conscience’ to vote to allow same-sex couples like my partner and I to get married. Nothing is a given when it comes to equality. It’s for all of us – LGBTQ people and allies – to make clear that we won’t accept seeing the clock turn backwards.”