Furious Scottish protesters take to streets over Tory gender bill block: ‘It’s divide and conquer’

One of the protesters, a white woman with red hair holding a Pride flag, in front of a crowd of others

Nearly 400 people gathered in front of the UK government hub in Edinburgh protest against the Tories blocking Scotland’s gender recognition reform.

The Rally for Trans Equality in Edinburgh was organised by the LGBTQ+ wings of four political parties: the Scottish Greens, Scottish National Party, Scottish Liberal Democrats and Scottish Labour Party.

All four parties supported the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) bill, which would have made it easier for trans people to update their birth certificates. The bill passed in Holyrood in December, but was vetoed by the UK government using Section 35 of the Scotland Act in an unprecedented move this week.

Beth Douglas, 29, a co-convener of the Rainbow Greens and co-organiser of the protest, said the move left many Scots feeling desolate. But protests in London inspired hope.

“It’s almost a feeling of hopelessness because these decisions are being made more than 400 miles away from us,” Douglas told PinkNews.

“It was hugely heartwarming to have so many people protesting down south … even though the fact that it can just be vetoed 400 miles away makes you feel powerless,” she said. “We don’t want people to feel that way – we want people to feel like they can make a change.”

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A photo shows trans activists standing in edinburgh for a trans rights rally. Some are holding signs
Large crowds gathered on Thursday (19 January) to protest against Westminster’s blocking of Scotland’s gender bill. (PinkNews)

Douglas and other organisers hoped for a rally in the hundreds, packed with community members, activists, allies, and, importantly, MSPs.

“We hope for anyone who believes in devolution and democracy to come to this demo,” Douglas said, adding that the fight for trans rights in the context of the reform bill is intersectional and “bigger than us”.

“If Section 35 becomes the new normal, it’s not just bad for us,” she said. “It’s bad for every other marginalised group that depends on devolution.”

Trans liberation an intersectional, intergenerational effort

One 62-year-old woman, who preferred to remain anonymous, told PinkNews she has been in the fight for mutual liberation for a long time.

“I’ve been protesting 40 years ago as a second-wave feminist for Reclaim the Night, I was protesting against Section 28 in the ’80s, and I really thought I wouldn’t have to be doing this again,” she said. “On Monday, I was so enraged, I was shaking.”

protesters hold signs
Protesters cheer on those speaking at the open mic. (PinkNews)

She thinks the block is being used to “test the waters” on devolution, calling it a distraction from bigger issues.

Others echoed her sentiment, including Oskar Hansen, 27, a drag artist in Edinburgh who runs an LGBTQ+ cafe called Kafe Kweer.

“It’s divide and conquer, it’s the oldest rule in the political playbook. They try to get us to fight against each other so that we are distracted from the climate crisis, from the corruption of the Tories, etcetera,” they told PinkNews. “But we’re literally in the exact same fight.”

oskar hansen
Oskar Hansen joined in the protest on Thursday. (PinkNews)

To Westminster, Hansen says: “Count your days.”

To the queer community, he says: “We’ve done this before. We’ve made it this far. I think it reaching this critical point is what could tip us into actual reform and actual change.”

Where is the fight headed?

Edinburgh’s rally saw a range of speakers, who could freely sign up for a slot at the open mic. Among them was Kit Scott, 18, a trans activist living in Edinburgh.

“We are who we are, and we need acceptance at every level,” he told PinkNews. “We need to be allowed to live our lives safely and in comfort and with dignity.”

kit scott
Kit Scott says “we need acceptance”. (PinkNews)

“Trying to use trans people to interfere in the Scottish democratic process, harming trans people and Scottish people, is complete overreach. I’m here because they shouldn’t be allowed to do that,” he added.

“To sound a bit childish: It’s just not fair.”

The crowd lifted messages as strong and intersectional as those in attendance. ‘Down with 35’, ‘We are valid’, and ‘Queers and dykes support the strikes’, accompanied cheers and thrusting of signs.

As for Douglas, she says she and other organisers are keeping an eye on how things develop.

“We said, ‘Alright, let’s just adapt and react, and react and react,'” she said.

A protest in Glasgow has been organised for Saturday (21 January) at Buchanan Galleries Steps. Douglas said, based on how the situation evolves, more protest and action is expected.

“Scotland is a place of tolerance,” she said. “And we will fight to keep each other safe.”