Notes and reflections from our first consultation event

Francesca Stella

Since the beginning of the project, we have engaged with a range of Scottish voluntary and public sector organisations and service providers working on LGBTQI, migration, race and ethnicity, equality and diversity issues. We held the project’s first consultation event on 26th April to share our preliminary findings and to continue our conversation with them. The event was an opportunity to present and discuss the initial insights from our research and to prompt broader discussion, and possibly future collaborations around issues raised by our research. We wanted to receive feedback on how to share our research findings in ways and formats that would be beneficial to practitioners, organisations and the general public. We wanted to explore which issues raised in our research would be useful to explore in further data analysis, so as not to miss out themes that are of importance to third and public sector organisations. Finally, we wanted to explore any emerging ideas for future collaborations, be it research, or more ‘hands-on’, practical work, aimed, for example, at developing services or educational resources.

We had been planning the event for a couple of months and were waiting for it with a mix of anticipation, excitement and trepidation. In the run-up to the event, we were still immersed in fieldwork, due to finish at the end of May, and busy analysing interviews and trying to make sense of them. The event was meant to be fairly small scale (20-25 participants), and to involve organisations and practitioners from the voluntary and public sector based in Scotland, as well as the members of our Project Advisory Group. The interest and positive response we received when contacting organisations (most of them already known to us) made us look forward to the event. 24 people signed up for the event, and 20 were able to join us on the day, travelling from all across Scotland and beyond, and from locations as different as Kirkcaldy, Arbroath, Perth, Stirling, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Manchester. Participants represented organisations as different as Glasgow, Edinburgh and Angus Councils; the Convention for Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA); West of Scotland Regional Equality Council; BEMIS; Fife Migrant Forum; Minority Ethnic Access Development Project; LGBT Youth Scotland; LGBT Wellbeing Centre; the LGBT Language Café; Glasgow Women’s Library; Glasgow Clyde College; Arbroath Academy; Feniks; Manchester Metropolitan University; and Stirling University.

In presenting our preliminary findings, we focussed on LGBT migrants’ sense of material and emotional security in Scotland. Many of our participants associate Scotland with material security (i.e. a stable job, a good salary, being able to afford the basics), often in contrast to the economic conditions experienced in their country of origin. Economic stability was closely linked to an emotional sense of security (articulated as ‘a good life’, or a ‘better life’). At the same time, migration sometimes also brought deskilling and downward social mobility, which were traded by migrants for other kinds of material and emotional security.

There was also a strong sense among participants that they could be more open about their sexuality in Scotland compared to their country of origin, and this contributed to their sense of emotional security. Indeed, while sexuality was not always mentioned as a key reason for migrating, it often emerged as an important factor when participants talked about their reasons for remaining in Scotland or the UK, and for not returning to their country of origin. However, it is also important to point out that acceptance and recognition were not universally experienced in Scotland, where in some spaces and contexts being visible as an LGBT person did not feel safe.

Participants often commented on the role of LGBT affirmative legislation and policy in ‘normalising’ LGBT people, and making attitudes towards them more relaxed. It is important to point out that participants’ countries of origin generally offer a lesser degree of legal protection and recognition of LGBT citizens than Scotland/the UK. For example, 10 participants had entered a civil partnership or same-sex marriage since moving to Scotland, something which they would not be able to do in their country of origin. There was also a widespread perception that LGBT affirmative legislation trickles down to policies and practices in institutional settings (for example: studying in a Further Education college whose policy officially supports LGBT students; having a supporting manager at work who would challenge  inappropriate remarks about an employee’s sexuality). Going forward, we are planning to explore ways in which LGBT migrants feel included or excluded in Scotland beyond sexual orientation and gender identity.

The wider discussion that followed the presentation was very wide-ranging and thoughtful. Those in attendance wondered about similarities and differences between British LGBT people’s and LGBT migrants’ experiences, as recent research shows that homo-, bi- and transphobia are still part of people’s everyday experience in Scotland and the UK. We were asked if we had specific data on where our participants lived (e.g. postcode), whether they experienced the area where they lived as safe, and how this may correlate with statistics which show vastly different incidences of hate crime in different parts of Scotland. They stressed the importance of exploring the presence of xenophobia and racism in Scotland, and suggested future research should look at the intersection of sexuality with ‘visible’ difference concerning non-white populations in Scotland (for example, with Scots of Pakistani and Indian descent). They commented on divisions within migrant communities, and wondered if LGBT people feel comfortable about being out to co-nationals or people from a similar ethnic background. Some expressed surprise about the importance our research participants attached to law and policy, and asked if a certain degree of education and cultural capital is needed to know these policies are in place. They asked why our participants seem to place so much importance on living ‘a normal life’ rather than on celebrating diversity, when LGBT people typically experience lots of negative pressures to confirm to social norms regarding gender and sexuality. Our preliminary findings show that the importance of ‘a normal life’ is linked to a desire for stability and belonging, and that it is not necessarily at odds with the desire to celebrate diversity. Indeed, some of our research participants are, or have been been involved in LGBT community initiatives and activism in Scotland or in their country of origin. Moreover, many participants felt that greater legal protection and acceptance in Scotland did not only concern sexuality or gender identity, but also other axes of difference (for example race, ethnicity and religion); this broader recognition and respect of difference was mentioned by many as contributing to their sense of emotional wellbeing. The importance placed on living an ordinary life as an LGBT person may not be unique to migrants, as recent research on LGBTQI youth conducted in Scotland and the UK shows.

Subsequent focussed group discussions followed, where participants spoke about aspects of the study they found interesting and are relevant to their work. Some offered very insightful and creative suggestions about how our findings may be shared with different audiences: while reports may be useful for organisations and policy-makers, teaching materials (possibly in different languages), based on oral histories and images, may be more suited to other audiences, and these resources may be developed in consultation with stakeholders, e.g. for educational purposes. We had interesting discussions on how to involve our research participants in the dissemination of research findings, and about the potential for future longitudinal research to explore in more detail issues such as hate crimesSome expressed an interest in having briefing sessions about specific areas/themes which have emerged from the project delivered to staff or clients within their organisations, something which we will be doing in the autumn.

We would like to thank you everyone who took part in the event, and contributed to the very interesting discussions we had on the day. Based on the lively conversation on the day, on the feedback received and on follow-up discussions we have had with participants since, we feel that the event has been successful as an invitation to dialogue and collaboration around issues raised by the project.  Lots of ideas about future research and applied work emerged, and we are in the process of exploring them. We are also planning a second event for December 2016: this second consultation event will see the launch of our final findings report, and involve a larger number of participants. We believe some of the project’s insights are potentially applicable to the UK and to other European countries, and are looking into the possibility of involving organisations from outside of Scotland. We hope both events will prompt future collaborations to take forward emerging ideas, some with our involvement, and some led by practitioners and organisations contributing to the consultation events. We very much welcome the ongoing input of and collaboration with our partners that the research has encouraged.