It was a sunny Monday 5 September when more than 200 people gathered outside Edinburgh City Chambers to march for trans equality. An eclectic mix of members of the LGBT+ community and their supporters, including local councillors and Members of the Scottish Parliament, were in high spirits.
The purpose of the march and rally was to show support for trans rights, providing a platform to positively and progressively represent trans people. Organisers included the LGBT+ groups affiliated with Scottish Labour, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Scottish Greens, and the Scottish National Party, as well as the non-partisan Equality Network and Scottish Trans Alliance.
History of trans rights in Scotland
Although Scotland traditionally lagged behind the rest of the UK in terms of LGBT+ rights, this has changed drastically in the past decade. In 2014, same-sex marriage was legalised when the Scottish Parliament passed the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act, which lead to Scotland being named the best country in Europe for LGBT+ legal equality,. In 2018, Scotland became the first country in the world to officially launch LGBT+ inclusive education in schools.
LGBT+ people have also been incredibly visible in public life in Scotland, especially in politics. In 2016, then leader of Scottish Labour, Kezia Dugdale, revealed that she was in a relationship with a woman. This was a historic moment, not because of the public’s reaction but because the majority of party leaders in Scotland were, for the first time, openly LGBT+ (the others being Ruth Davidson of the Scottish Conservatives, Patrick Harvie of the Scottish Greens, and David Coburn MEP of the UK Independence Party).
But progress has not come without setbacks and hurdles. Earlier this year, the Scottish Government introduced the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, which aims to simplify how trans people apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate. The current process, passed in 2005, is seen as putting an undue burden on candidates. In 2020, it was reported as one of the worst policies in Europe by the European Commission because of its ”intrusive medical requirements” and the fact that it does not meet current international human rights standards.
However, this Bill has not been uncontroversial. The notion that trans people should not be included in the LGBT+ community, a movement sometimes referred to as separating the T from the LGB, and which was identified in 2017 by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch as a Christian right anti-LGBT propaganda tactic, began a campaign of vocal opposition to GRR. While the “Gender Critical” (GC) movement seems to have lost a bit of momentum in Scotland – the four parties participating in the march each pledged to pass GRR in their 2021 Scottish Parliament election manifestos – opponents to GRR and making life easier for trans people are still a vocal and powerful force in the media.
The route and post-march speeches
At City Chambers, event participants gathered round to hear from the pre-march speakers: Gwen Wall of LGBT+ Labour Scotland, Patrick Harvie, co-leader of the Scottish Greens, Alex Cole Hamilton, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, and Ellie Gomersall, the first openly trans president of the National Union of Students (NUS). Each speaker stressed the importance of passing the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, recognised the progress that has been made and acknowledged that there is still much more to do in the fight for equality, specifically improving funding and lowering wait times for trans healthcare, and recognising non-binary gender identity as legally valid.
After the speeches at city chambers, Beth Douglas of the Rainbow Greens then led the group down the Royal Mile towards Scottish Parliament. Marchers, from all parties and none, were in high spirits as they chatted and chanted, some holding signs and banners. A drummer marched with the group, which kept spirits high and the pace even. Chants included HRT not GIC, meaning hormone replacement therapy, not gender identity clinics, the multiverse When trans/intersex/queer people are under attack, what do we do? STAND UP! FIGHT BACK! and a chant shared with abortion rights activists Whose bodies? OUR BODIES! Whose rights? OUR RIGHTS!
Most onlookers were supportive or curious, with one notable exception of a man holding a religious sign near Canongate Kirk. However, once the march neared the end in front of Scottish Parliament, there was a group of five people holding Scottish Family Party signs, though it didn’t darken the mood of the marchers.
The gathering at the Parliament featured speakers including Cllr Elaine Gallagher, Glasgow Council’s first openly trans councillor, Vic Valentine of the Scottish Trans Alliance, and Erin Lux, co-convener of Out For Independence (the SNP’s LGBT+ affiliate organisation). Maggie Chapman, who is the Scottish Greens Spokesperson for Equalities, Human Rights and Social Justice, ended the rally by saying, “I stand in solidarity with you all – not only as a friend and ally – but as someone who can make the GRR bill a reality.” Maggie is the vice convener of the committee that is currently scrutinising the bill at Holyrood.
Trans rights and women’s rights are the same fight
While the movement for trans equality is all too often portrayed in the media as the work of “trans rights activists” and opposed to feminism and women’s equality, the march for trans equality told a different story. Trade union activists, racial justice advocates, feminists, and cis-het allies marched alongside LGBT+ groups and individuals. Many feminists – myself included – see feminism and other social justice movements as inextricably linked. As Erin Lux stated in her speech: “I’m a cis woman in my 30s and a lifelong feminist. There is no conflict between trans rights and women’s rights – indeed, they are the same fight. Feminists have long fought for biology to not define anyone’s destiny.”
I couldn’t put it better myself.