By Paul O’Kane, West Scotland MSP
Last May, I was preparing what would become my first ever speech in the Holyrood chamber.
I knew I would speak about many obvious things, such as what I intended to achieve in the next five years, but I was also keen to take the time to speak of the things that came before my life as an MSP and, most importantly, who I was.
I had become the first openly gay Scottish Labor MSP to be elected to the Scottish Parliament – a historic wrong that had finally been righted.
In addressing this, I remarked that, when I was growing up, I anticipated life would be hard, that I just accepted that I’d receive hurtful words and discrimination, but with supportive figures in my life, such as my parents and my high school teachers, I was encouraged to always be myself – my best self.
That mix of knowing what it is to struggle, yet also know what it is to feel supported in that struggle is, for me, what encapsulates LGBT+ History Month.
It is a celebration of being part of a diverse, proud and vocal LGBT+ community.
It is looking at the progress we have made in our society, from marriage and adoption rights to protection from hate crime in our workplaces and on our streets.
By looking back, however, we also see the difficulties, the suffering, the persecution and discrimination that LGBT+ people faced and, of course, still face today.
What see more we have to do to ensure that everyone is accepted and supported for who they are or who they love.
It was over 20 years ago that Section 28 – a law which prohibited the ‘promotion of homosexuality by local authorities’ – was repealed.
This was a policy that reinforced stigma and discrimination of gay people by trying to erase any trace of them or their lives in our schools.
The 20th anniversary of the law’s demise was something to celebrate, but 20 years wasn’t really that long ago, and so when we see homophobia today – both blatant and subtle – and wonder why it persists, we should remind ourselves of that.
Each LGBT+ History Month is an opportunity to promote the very opposite of what Section 28 was intended to do and so reverse the damage it inflicted on our culture.
Personally, I plan to speak on different media platforms this month about my own personal experiences.
Each week, I also intend to post and share as much as possible on social media about important historical moments on the road to equality for the LGBT+ community.
In my office, I have a framed quote by the late Harvey Milk – the first gay man elected to office in California in 1978, which I was given as a gift when I was first elected.
He said: “Hope Will Never Be Silent”.
As someone who was a child sitting in a classroom as Section 28 was an active policy, but who now sits in the Holyrood chamber as an elected member, I can look at Milk’s words and feel the progress that has been made.
To anyone and everyone in this LGBT+ History Month, I hope you embrace who you are without fear or judgment.
I pass on to you the encouragement that I received when I was younger– be yourself but, most importantly, strive to be your best self and know that there is always support and advice if you need it. You are never alone.