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Challenging Prejudice: Changing Attitudes towards Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People in Scotland



The LGBT Hearts and Minds Agenda Group believe that the large majority of people in Scotland favour an equal society - one in which people are able to flourish without discrimination and prejudice. The goal of this report is to identify ways of reducing discriminatory attitudes and therefore prejudice about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender 1 ( LGBT) people.

The Scottish Government is committed to equality for all the people of Scotland, including for LGBT people. Changes in legislation over the past eight years have removed much of the historical discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity from the law of Scotland, but the experience of many LGBT people is that discrimination and prejudice continue.

LGBT people are estimated to make up around 5% of the population of Scotland, around 250,000 people across all parts of society. We are young and old, we are parents, we are single, in relationships, married or in civil partnerships, we are disabled people, we are school and college students, we are workers, we are religious and non-religious, we are of all ethnicities. Like everyone else, we contribute to Scotland's wealth, culture, society and future.

Attitudes towards LGBT people

This report focuses on attitudes: primarily attitudes of the general public towards LGBT people, but also attitudes of LGBT people towards ourselves. The Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2006 2 found that a significant minority of people in Scotland still hold discriminatory attitudes towards lesbian, gay and transsexual people (the survey did not examine attitudes towards bisexual or other transgender people.)

For example, the survey found that 33% would be unhappy if a close relative formed a long-term same-sex relationship, while 50% would be unhappy if a close relative formed a long-term relationship with a transsexual person. In comparison, 37% would be unhappy if a close relative formed a long-term relationship with an asylum seeker or with a Gypsy/Traveller, 16% if it was with someone with a learning disability and 11% if it was with a black or Asian person.

More generally, 65% said that Scotland should do all it can to get rid of all kinds of prejudice, while 29% said that sometimes there is good reason to be prejudiced.

Effects of discriminatory attitudes

The types of discriminatory attitudes highlighted above have a real effect on the day-to-day experiences of LGBT people:

  • in 2007, a survey by Press for Change 3 found that 29% of transgender people in Britain had been harassed at work because of their gender identity;
  • the NHS Inclusion Project found in 2003 4 that 25% of LGBT people in Scotland had experienced inappropriate health advice or treatment due to their sexual orientation or gender identity;
  • in 2002 Beyond Barriers' First Out survey 5 found that 23% of LGBT people in Scotland had been physically assaulted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity;
  • there are very few openly LGBT public figures in Scotland.

Issues like these compound the stigma and isolation which are felt to a varying extent by many LGBT people in Scotland. This can have a devastating effect on self esteem, leading to mental and physical ill-health. A health needs assessment of young LGB people in Glasgow 6 found rates of self harm of 29% among men and 65% among women; other research has found self harm rates of around 10% among the general population. 7

Is change possible?

That attitudes can change, and change quickly, is clear. The figures below 8 show how attitudes towards same-sex sexual relations have changed in Britain and in Scotland in recent years.

Figure 1: Attitudes to same-sex sexual relations, 1983-2006, Great Britain

Figure 1: Attitudes to same-sex sexual relations, 1983-2006, Great Britain

Figure 2: Trends in discriminatory attitudes towards gay men and lesbians, 2002-2006, Scotland

% saying 'always' or 'mostly' wrong:




Sex between two men




Sex between two women




Sample size



% disagree gay and lesbian couples should have right to marry




% say a gay man or lesbian unsuitable as primary school teacher




Sample size



The Scottish Social Attitudes Survey found that discriminatory attitudes towards lesbians and gay men were correlated with greater age, not having experienced further or higher education and with active religious belief. The survey also found that people who know lesbian or gay people are less likely to hold negative attitudes. People with discriminatory attitudes towards lesbians and gay men were more likely to be prejudiced towards other groups such as ethnic minorities as well.

A Stonewall study of prejudice across Britain 9 found that those who felt less positive towards lesbian and gay people identified the media, their parents, religious belief, and their friends as the top four influences on those feelings.

Some of these factors suggest possible ways of influencing attitudes in a positive direction.

The aim of this report is to identify practical ways in which LGBT organisations, the Scottish Government and others can act to encourage these changes to continue, so that we make further progress towards a Scotland in which true equality for all becomes a reality.

Promoting LGBT equality

Changing attitudes will help to eliminate the discrimination and prejudice that LGBT people continue to experience. But other action is needed to address that discrimination and prejudice directly.

The law still discriminates directly against LGBT people in a number of areas, including sexual offences law, the law on fostering of children, and the law governing fertility treatment (which is reserved to Westminster). In addition, while civil partnership provides same-sex couples a virtually identical legal framework to marriage, it is not marriage, and many LGBT people feel that that difference is itself explicitly discriminatory. 10

Many LGBT people are still affected directly by discrimination or harassment at work, or in the provision of goods and services, including public services. Such discrimination is now unlawful but it has not yet been eliminated. More needs to be done to publicise the law and the remedies available and to promote good practice.

Homophobic and transphobic hate crime remain too common. The introduction of a statutory aggravation, 11 to address these incidents in the same way as racist and sectarian crime, is a priority for many LGBT people.

Young LGBT people can have a particularly difficult time. Action is critical to address bullying, to provide an LGBT inclusive education and to ensure that appropriate information, support services and sexual health services are available to LGBT young people.

The recommendations in this report are intended to complement direct action to challenge these inequalities, and to ensure that changes in legislation and policy have real effect on the ground and in the long term.

Government objectives

In November 2007 the Scottish Government announced that it had a single, overarching purpose: "To focus Government and public services on creating a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish, through increasing sustainable economic growth." 12

The Scottish Government's five strategic objectives are to make Scotland wealthier and fairer, smarter, healthier, safer and stronger, and greener.

The Government has recognised that: "Unlocking the social, educational and economic potential of every person in Scotland will lift society as a whole, making Scotland smarter, safer and stronger, healthier and, ultimately, wealthier and fairer."

Hearts and minds need to change towards LGBT people if this vision is to be achieved. For a confident Scotland at ease with its diversity and attractive as a place to visit, live and work, the experience and contribution of LGBT people must be recognised and celebrated.

Wealthier and fairer

The Employers' Forum on Age says that age discrimination costs the UK £31 billion per year. 13 Research is needed to find out how much inequality and discrimination towards LGBT people cost the nation - but there can be no doubt that they cost Scotland money by undermining ambition, productivity, enterprise and health.

In 2005, 52% of members responding to a UNISON survey had experienced harassment or other discrimination because of their sexual orientation. 14 This included: not being appointed to jobs; verbal and physical abuse and threats from co-workers, managers or service users; unfair work allocation or over-supervision; prejudiced and discriminatory attitudes about their suitability to work with children and other vulnerable groups; false allegations; not being considered for training or promotion; non-recognition of families and denial of benefits available to other workers.

UNISON said, "Nearly one in ten of the members experiencing this discrimination decided that the only way to stop it was to leave their job. Persistent harassment commonly leads to poor work performance and attendance, which in turn may lead to dismissal, with the root cause - homophobia - never being acknowledged."

US writer Richard Florida notes, "Talented people seek an environment open to differences. For many highly creative people, regardless of ethnic background or sexual orientation ... when they are sizing up a new company and community, acceptance of diversity and of gays in particular is a sign that reads 'non-standard people welcome here'". 15

Barriers must be dismantled if LGBT people are to make their full contribution. Key issues which must be addressed include homophobia in the workplace and discrimination in further and higher education.


Education is a key tool to help influence attitudes towards LGBT people. Not all education takes place in a formal setting but as well as being a focus for learning, schools, colleges and universities are places in which many young people come out for the first time.

LGBT Youth Scotland's online forums allow LGBT young people from across Scotland to discuss the issues that are important to them. The following forum comment demonstrates well the difficulties LGBT young people may experience at school:

"I still have one year left of school, but homosexuality has been mentioned. In S3, in RMPS (Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies), everyone had to give a talk, and a couple of people spoke on homosexuality. The talks were fairly common sense and politically correct. One person asked the speaker, 'How would you feel if (your best friend) was gay?' and he replied, 'Fine, so long as he didn't come on to me.'

"Anyway, flash forward a couple of years. In S4 or 5 PSE, the guidance teacher is going over sex ed for the last time, plus the usual talks. Contraception and stuff. Back to the issue at hand, however, he brought up homosexuality. His advice was brief. If you are gay, don't come out at school.

"In some ways I can see where he was coming from - at that point in time I agreed with him, but since then I've wanted to come out more, with a much more 'screw you' attitude at any potentially homophobic staff."

LGBT pupils need to feel safe to make the most of their education. A 1999 study revealed that 29% of lesbian and gay survey respondents said that their levels of education were negatively affected by their own feelings, or the attitudes of others, towards their sexual orientation. 16


Stonewall's report, Towards a Healthier LGBT Scotland, 17 found that: "Low self-esteem, anxiety and depression are common experiences for many LGBT people. These in turn can be linked to other health concerns including higher than average rates of suicide and self-harm, and homelessness, often associated with prostitution, and academic underachievement is also linked."

The report finds that "problems associated with homophobia and transphobia in early life, such as bullying and low self-esteem, can continue into adulthood and have serious, long-term negative health and social consequences for individuals affected".

The report highlighted work undertaken in Canada 18 on the cost of homophobia, which indicated the human and health costs as: suicide = $695 million to $823 million; smoking = $281 million to $623 million; alcohol abuse = $0.29 billion to $4.1 billion; illicit drug use = $119 million to $221 million; depression = $0.54 billion to $2.3 billion.

There is no doubt that LGBT people are more likely than the general population to experience mental health problems as a result of discrimination. They are also at greater risk from poorer sexual health as they fear 'coming out' and lack appropriate and inclusive education. It is also well documented that LGBT people are more likely to drink, smoke and use illegal substances than the general population.

The NHS and its partners have a vital role to play in addressing the public health needs of the general population, and improving the treatment of LGBT patients and staff.

Safer and stronger

The LGBT population is subjected to bullying, harassment and violence, which is often motivated by discriminatory and prejudiced attitudes.

Beyond Barriers carried out a national survey of LGBT people. Over 920 responded, and in 2003 the findings were published in a report, First Out. 19 The survey found that:

  • 68% of survey respondents had been verbally abused or threatened at some time in their lives by someone who had assumed they were LGBT. 35% had experienced this in the past year, mainly in the street;
  • 23% of respondents had experienced a physical assault because someone had assumed they were LGBT; 5% had experienced an assault in the past 12 months;
  • very few respondents (17%) had reported the attack to the police. Of those who had, 43% felt that the complaint had been handled well; 56% did not;
  • the places where LGBT people felt least safe were: on the street (61%), in or near a non-gay pub or venue (47%) or on public transport (45%);
  • one in ten respondents were involved in a community safety initiative of some sort.

LGBT people want to live in a Scotland where it is safe to be openly LGBT in their community, no matter whether it is rural or urban, prosperous or disadvantaged. Community Planning Partnerships and the Police can play a vital part in ensuring that LGBT people are visible and involved in their communities while still being safe.


For many LGBT people, leaving the home often seems the only way in which they can be themselves, make friends with other LGBT people and others who accept and welcome them, access appropriate and inclusive services and be active citizens.

Discussions which the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) held with a variety of LGBT organisations in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness, at the end of 2001, found that: "Fundamentally, the experience of LGBT people outside of the central belt (essentially Glasgow and Edinburgh) was felt to be qualitatively different and significantly more difficult. It was argued that greater invisibility (especially in the Highlands and Islands), greater perceived homophobia within rural communities and the power of the church in rural areas made life more problematic for LGBT people, and made it difficult for any sort of community development or capacity building to occur." 20

Impacting positively on the hearts and minds of people in Scotland and their attitudes towards LGBT people will prevent the unnecessary migration of young and/or skilled LGBT people out of rural areas and out of Scotland altogether.

For LGBT people to be a part of "a vibrant rural economy and vibrant rural communities" 21 services must be welcoming and inclusive to LGBT people, and meet their needs appropriately. Only the mainstreaming of LGBT equality in rural areas will ensure that.