Why Equal Marriage matters to youth work

Hugh Torrance, Youth Work Director, LGBT Scotland LGBT Hugh Torrance

It matters because we’re not there yet.  For those who have been involved in the Equal Marriage Bill, it feels as though the debates and the discussion have gone on an eternity.  Next week, there is a final debate in the Scottish Parliament which for some will be a last minute opportunity to undermine equality, therefore it is crucial to ensure that we work until the final whistle to secure the best possible outcome.

It matters because it matters to young people.  Our young people and our National Youth Council have campaigned for Equal Marriage for a long time, and, unsurprisingly, they were ahead of the curve in their campaigning efforts. It’s been wonderful to be a part of a process where young people are seeing the fruits of their labour, and seeing in action that engaging in such processes really can make a difference and create lasting change.

LGBT bannerIt matters because it provides a great opportunity to raise the discussion of LGBT equality within your service or your youth group.  There will be LGBT young people already accessing your service.  You may know who some of them are, and there may be some who are not yet out and wondering whether they are in a safe enough place to be out.  There will also be some young people in your service with deep rooted attitudes which may never be addressed in other settings in their lives.  This is important when you consider the impact of not feeling safe to come out, or being bullied, such as over 40% of LGBT young people considering themselves to have mental health issues.[i]

It matters because Equal Marriage is not equality. It is important that we see Equal Marriage as an important leg of the journey and not as a destination point.  Clearly it is a hugely important step towards legislative reform for LGBT people, but it will take much more work to change the hearts and minds of many in Scottish society.  Whilst LGBT young people fully embrace Equal Marriage, time and again, their number one priority is safety at school, and barrier free access to education.  69% of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people and 77% of transgender young people experience homophobic, biphobic or transphobic bullying in Scottish schools[ii]  These figures are staggeringly high, and it would be naïve to think that the introduction of Equal Marriage means that LGBT young people will no longer be bullied on the basis of their sexual orientation or their gender identity.

It matters because this is an issue for everyone.  Many non LGBT young people experience homophobic and transphobic bullying based on perceptions of their sexual orientation and gender identity[iii].  We work in many schools across the country, and we have seen increasing numbers of non LGBT young people coming forward as peer educators in school, wanting to get involved to support their LGBT friends and peers, and asking us what kind of action they can take. LGBT march

It matters because youth work is best placed to use our unique approach of partnership with young people to be able to deliver social justice work with young people, and therefore this is an opportunity to make Scotland fairer, as well as to build a strong, just and equal youth work sector.  Whilst there are debates growing across the country about the kind of Scotland we want to live in, we must remember that part of that issue is about equality and human rights and indeed, health and wellbeing outcomes[iv] will not be fully realised unless young people have such opportunities to learn.  In this context, Equal Marriage presents a rich opportunity to raise those issues in an informal learning environment with young people.

It matters to our workforce.  I have to declare my own interest here as this is an issue which has set me apart from colleagues in the past.  I’ve sat with other partners around the table, knowing that I’m part of a minority group where my partnership is less valued than the relationships of my married colleagues.  Despite the often supportive individual views of partners and colleagues, our society still sees LGBT relationships as less valid and the importance of this to your colleagues should not be underestimated.

This is not just an issue which matters to equality focused youth work organisations such as LGBT Youth Scotland, or just to organisations campaigning for change such as Scottish Youth Parliament.  This is an issue and an opportunity for each and every youth group across the country.  We have a responsibility to get it right for every Scottish child and young person, so let’s take this opportunity to do so.

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