Sturgeon makes full and unequivocal apology to gay men for historic convictions

First Minister of Scotland, made a full and unequivocal statement to the Scottish Parliament yesterday, November 7, apologising to all gay men convicted for same-sex sexual activity that is now legal.

Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon, said: “I am grateful for the opportunity to address Parliament. Today marks an important milestone in achieving true equality for Scotland’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community.

“This morning, the Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) (Scotland) Bill was published. Scotland has travelled so far in recent years in relation to LGBTI equality that it still shocks us to recall that as recently as 1980—well within my lifetime—consensual sexual activity between men was still classed as a criminal activity in this country. Furthermore, the age of consent was lowered to 16 only in 2001, two years after this Parliament came into being. Before then, hundreds of people in Scotland were liable to be convicted as criminals simply for loving another adult.

“The words that are inscribed on the Parliament’s mace set out the values that we seek to uphold and promote: integrity, wisdom, justice and compassion. Yet, even within the lifetime of this Parliament, this nation’s laws have created suffering and perpetrated injustice. The bill that we have published today addresses that injustice: it provides an automatic pardon to men who have been convicted of same-sex sexual activity that would now be legal. In addition, the bill will establish a new procedure whereby people can apply to the police for their offence to be disregarded from criminal records, which means that it will not, in the future, appear on a disclosure certificate.

“The legislation therefore has both symbolic value and practical value. The pardon sends an unequivocal message to anybody who was convicted of an offence for an activity that is now legal: the law should not have treated you as criminals and you should not now be considered as such. Instead, this Parliament recognises that a wrong was done to you.

“The disregard will have an important practical consequence: it will allow people to ensure that their past criminal records will no longer have an impact on their day-to-day lives. That will change people’s lives. At present, as the Equality Network and others have highlighted to us, some people who were convicted merely of showing love and affection to their partners still have to explain their criminal record every time they move job or apply for an internal promotion. That is quite simply unacceptable, and we are determined that it will end.

“The bill that we have introduced will right an historic wrong. However, I want to go further today, and to do something that legislation on its own cannot do. A pardon is, of course, the correct legal remedy to apply for the convictions that we are talking about, but the term “pardon” might still, to some people, imply that Parliament sees those people as having done something wrong. That is, after all, a common context in which a pardon might be granted.

“However, as all of us know, that is not the case here. For people who were convicted of same-sex sexual activity that is now legal, the wrong has been committed by the state, not by the individuals—the wrong has been done to them. Those individuals therefore deserve an unqualified apology, as well as a pardon. That apology, of course, can come only from the Government and from Parliament. It cannot come from the justice system; after all, the courts, prosecutors and police were enforcing the law of the land, at the time.

“The simple fact is that, over many decades, parliamentarians in Scotland supported, or at the very least accepted, laws that we now recognise were completely unjust. Those laws criminalised the act of loving another adult; they deterred people from being honest about their identities to family, friends, neighbours and colleagues; and, by sending a message from Parliament that homosexuality was wrong, they encouraged rather than deterred homophobia and hate.

“Therefore, today, as First Minister, I categorically, unequivocally and whole-heartedly apologise for those laws and for the hurt and the harm that they have caused to so many people. Nothing that Parliament does can erase those injustices, but I hope that this apology, alongside our new legislation, will provide some comfort to the people who have endured them. I hope that it provides evidence of this Parliament’s determination to address the harm that was done, as far as we can do so.

“The final point that I want to make is that although the bill marks an important milestone in Scotland’s progress towards LGBTI equality, our journey is not yet complete. Given how recently the laws that I have just outlined were in force, it is remarkable and inspiring that Scotland is now considered to be one of the most progressive countries in Europe when it comes to LGBTI equality. Indeed, one of the proudest moments of my 18 years as a member of the Scottish Parliament—I know that it was one of the proudest moments of many MSPs across the chamber— was in February 2014, when people from all parties came together to support equal marriage.

“However, as all of us know, until we live in a country—in fact, until we live in a world—in which no young person suffers hate or fear or discrimination or prejudice simply because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity, we still have work to do. That is why we have promised to improve our gender recognition legislation. We know that we need to ensure that it reflects the experiences and needs of transgender and intersex people.

“It is also why I attach such importance to the Scottish Government’s work with the time for inclusive education—TIE—campaign, to ensure that our young people do not have to fear bullying in school. It is why we are reviewing hate crime legislation, to ensure that our laws provide the right protections against bigotry and hatred, and it is why I hope that today’s apology, in addition to its specific significance for gay men, sends out a wider signal to the LGBTI community: the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament are utterly committed to delivering true equality for LGBTI people in Scotland, and wherever there are societal, cultural, legislative or regulatory barriers to achieving that, we will seek to remove them. We will never again accept laws or behaviours that discriminate against you and hurt you.

“Although today is a day for looking back and, rightly, for apologising for past wrongs, it is also a day that points, I hope, to a better future. It is a day when Parliament promotes and can be proud to live up to our shared values: integrity, wisdom, compassion and—above all, today—justice.”

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