Scottish trans people face ‘bleak future’ without Nicola Sturgeon, LGBTQ+ groups warn

Nicola Sturgeon

Trans and LGBTQ+ groups have celebrated Nicola Sturgeon for her “compassion and understanding” and “unwavering” support of gender reforms, following the news she is to stand down as Scotland’s first minister. 

Sturgeon announced on Wednesday (15 February) that she will step down once a new SNP leader and first minister has been chosen.

She suggested this will happen before the party’s special conference on independence on 19 March.

Gendered Intelligence has told PinkNews it hopes her successor will continue her “equality and compassion” when taking up the role.

Stonewall has called for reflection on the human lives at stake when politicians use “marginalised groups as political footballs” as the first minister prepares to stand down, following the UK government blocking Scotland’s plans to introduce reforms that would make obtaining a gender recognition certificate easier for trans people.

As soon as the news broke, speculation began that Sturgeon’s decision was down to backlash she’s faced over her stance on gender recognition and trans rights. 

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Giving everything ‘the only way to do it’

In recent months, Scotland has become the epicentre of debates around trans issues after the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill was vetoed by the UK government and rapist Isla Bryson was temporarily housed – away from other inmates – in a women’s prison after being convicted.  

However, speaking in Edinburgh, Sturgeon said, she was not resigning over “short-term pressures”.

The Glasgow Southside MSP explained that her decision came from a “deeper and longer-term assessment”, and that after eight years, the time is right for her to step aside.

“Giving absolutely everything of yourself to this job is the only way to do it,” she said. “The country deserves nothing less. But, in truth, that can only be done by someone for so long.”

Members of the public use their smartphones to watch Nicola Sturgeon announce her resignation. (ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Trans organisations across the UK were quick to praise the first minister for her commitment to the LGBTQ+ community and – particularly – the rights of trans people.  

Many groups labelled her an “ally” and an example to leaders around the world. 

Colin Macfarlane, the director of nations at Stonewall said, in a statement shared with PinkNews: “As Nicola Sturgeon announces she is to resign as Scotland’s first woman and longest-serving first minister, Stonewall would like to thank her for her unwavering commitment to advancing the rights of all marginalised people in Scotland, including women, those with disabilities and LGBTQ+ communities.”

He went on to outline many of Sturgeon’s triumphs during her political career, including helping to steer equal-marriage legislation, being the first serving first minister to lead a Pride march and embedding LGBTQ+ inclusion education in schools. 

Addressing the media’s coverage of Scotland’s gender-law reforms, Macfarlane commended Sturgeon for her commitment to the trans community in spite of fierce opposition.  

“Throughout this process,” he continued, “Ms Sturgeon has approached [the] subject in the way we hope all leaders would: with compassion and understanding, and with judgments that are grounded in facts and evidence.

“In her speech, Ms Sturgeon identifies a need to depolarise public debate, and to ‘reset the tone and tenor of our discourse’. 

“We agree wholeheartedly. It is important for us all to reflect that when politicians attempt to use marginalised groups as political footballs, there are human lives in the middle [which] are at stake.”

Other organisations paid their tributes to Sturgeon and her work on social media.

A spokesperson for Gendered Intelligence told PinkNews that the out-going first minister’s tenure was “characterised by a consistent commitment to LGBT+ rights”. 

They described her as “unwavering” in her support of gender reforms.

“We are sad to lose such a stalwart ally in what is often an uphill struggle for the queer community – and for trans people in particular – in UK politics,” they continued. “Although her resignation is in response to numerous factors beyond the scope of trans issues, we have no doubt that anti-trans groups and media outlets will waste no time in capitalising on her departure as a victory over trans people. 

“We hope that whoever takes up the role of first minister continues Nicola Sturgeon’s commitment to equality and compassion, and to the will of the people of Scotland.”

Michelle Snow, reporter for What The Trans?, told PinkNews that Sturgeon’s “resignation is going to be portrayed as an inevitable consequence of standing up for trans people”. 

Snow went on: “This will send a message to politicians to, at the very least, not attempt to make trans lives better. Sturgeon has been the victim of a witch-hunt. The GRR bill, the absurd media debate over trans prisoners and her support for trans people have been used as sticks to beat her with and whoever comes next will probably not want to risk the same happening to them.

“It is hard to imagine any politician standing [up] for trans people in this climate when the cost is clearly so very high. The future looks bleak for Scottish trans people and trans people in the wider UK.”

A spokesperson for trans children’s charity Mermaids also reflected on Sturgeon’s support for marginalised groups.

“We are grateful to Nicola Sturgeon for her leadership in improving the lives of trans people during her eight years as Scotland’s first minister,” they said. “She has been a vocal supporter of marginalised people and her government’s achievements include embedding LGBT+-inclusive education in the curriculum and pushing forward with the reform of gender recognition.

“We urge her successor to pick up the baton on equality and continue her work towards making Scotland a better place to grow up trans.”

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