Endings and new beginnings: Reflections on the IM project and new educational resources on LGBT and migrant equalities

by Francesca Stella

The last year and a half has been a very busy time. The IM project formally ended at the end of March 2017, and in the last few months of the project we organised an event to share and discuss our findings with stakeholders from the third and public sector, and a photo exhibition open to the general public.

Ideas for future work that emerged in consultation with practitioners were developed in the new project ‘Engaging with LGBT and migrant equality’ (May 2017-March 2018), produced two educational resources to be used in ESOL and youth groups/community settings.

In chronological order, here is an account of what we have been up to.

Final consultation event

In December 2016, we published the final project report, which outlines the key findings of the project. The report was launched at an event held in Edinburgh on 8 December 2016. The event was an opportunity to share key research findings with practitioners and policymakers from the third and public sector, and to engage them in a discussion about strategies for more inclusive practice and areas that would benefit from further research or development of practice or policy-related initiatives.

The event was introduced by Trevor Owen, Policy Officer from the Scottish Government ‘s Equality and Diversity Unit, and attended by participants from a wide range of organisations, including Police Scotland, LGBT Youth Scotland, LGBT Health and Wellbeing, Stonewall Scotland, Glasgow Women’s Library, Respekt – Safer Families, West of Scotland Regional Equality Council, Fife Centre for Equalities, Waverley Care, S-X, Feniks, and Stirling City Council. We also invited the LGBT migrants who took part in the project to come to the event and contribute to the discussion, and three of them attended.

We had a very engaged and productive discussion on the day, focused on what is already being done in practitioners’ sphere of work; what could be improved, changed or introduced; and what recommendations they would make to improve practice and policy beyond their own area of work. The discussion fed into a series of recommendations for future work, published as an appendix to the final project report. An additional section of the report about aspects of LGBT migrants’ life priot to migration, is also available as an appendix here.

Photo exhibition

To mark the end of the project and to celebrate LGBT History Month, we organized a photo exhibition at Hillhead Library from 14 to 27 February 2017.8

This exhibition was entitled ‘Home is where the heart is: LGBT migrants in Scotland’ and displayed photographs loosely inspired by the theme of home and reflections on what makes a place ‘home’. It was based on material collected for the IM project, during which our research participants were invited to keep a photo diary and were subsequently interviewed on the meanings they associated to the pictures. With the consent of our participants, the material was adapted for the exhibition. To protect their anonymity and the privacy of their families and friends, some of the pictures were turned into drawings by Jenny Speirs, who did a fantastic job working as an illustrator on the project.10

We had a launch event which was open to the public and to which all our research participants were invited on 16 February. The event was introduced by Jamie Valentine, chair of OurStory Scotland. Five of our participants, whose photographs were exhibited, contributed to the event by reading out passages from their interviews in which they spoke about home in their own languages. We had contributions in Belorussian, Bulgarian, Polish and Russian which were translated into English for the audience. The event was attended by over 50 people; it was a great way to catch up with people who had been involved in the project and to launch the exhibition.

New project ‘Engaging with LGBT and migrant equalities’

Some of the ideas and recommendations arising from engagement with non-academic stakeholders were developed in a new project, funded by the ESRC Impact Acceleration Account. The project builds on long-term collaborations with former members of the IM Project Advisory Group and involves collaborating with an ESOL/TESOL practitioner, Jennifer MacDougall, and the equality organisation West of Scotland Regional Equality Council; the project is additionally supported by Education Scotland and by LGBT Youth Scotland.

Consultation events highlighted the need for training material focussed on personal experiences of prejudice and discrimination, and promoting a critical engagement with issues of LGBT and migrant equalities (and with equality and diversity in general) in a variety of educational settings. The project has produced two educational resources, one designed for the ESOL classroom and one intended for youth and community groups. The toolkits are partly based on research material collected for the IM project and aim to provide material and ideas to facilitate an exploration of LGBT and migrant equalities in different educational contexts.

The resources are free to download and can be found at the links below:



We are currently organising an event to share ideas and experiences of how to use the resource. The event will be held in Glasgow on 30 April and will be of interest to ESOL practitioners and those involved in ESOL provision; frontline services working with youth groups and in community or informal education settings; and practitioners working on staff training within both frontline and second tier organisations. Attendance is free but registration is essential, you can register here

Please feel free to share the links with anyone who may be interested in the resources.


Join us at photo-exhibition!

We are proud to announce the photo exhibition ‘Home is where the heart is: LGBT Migrants in Scotland’. The exhibition will be open from 14 to 27 February 2017; it will take place at Hillhead Library, 348 Byres Road, Glasgow G12 8AP. It is free and will be open to the general public during the library’s normal opening hours (Mon-Thu: 10am-8pm; Fri and Sat: 10am-5pm; Sun: 12noon-5pm).

The exhibition is tightly linked to the Intimate Migrations project. As part of the project, some participants were invited to produce a photo diary about what home means to them. We hope we will do justice to the fantastic pictures that were submitted. The exhibition is also part of the 2017 LGBT History Month (see also here).

Don’t miss the launch event for the exhibition on 16 February, 6.00-7.30pm. The event will be introduced by OurStory Scotland and feature stories of LGBT people coming to Scotland talking about what ‘home’ is to them; drinks and nibbles will be provided.

The event is free but ticketed; please let us know if you want to register.


Next consultation event coming soon

We are happy to inform that our next and final consultation event will take place on Thursday, 8 December 2016, 10am-4pm at COSLA Conference Centre, in Haymarket, Edinburgh.

The aim of the event is to launch our project report and to discuss key research findings with practitioners and policymakers from the public and voluntary sector. The event will involve a presentation of key findings, combined with opportunities for networking, small group discussion and feedback from participants. Discussion with input from participants will focus around questions including:

  • How can we translate insights from the project into recommendations and strategies for more inclusive practice?
  • What areas would benefit from further, focussed research and/or the development of practice/policy related initiatives?
  • What impact may Brexit have on the lives of LGBT migrants in Scotland (and more broadly on migrant, BME and LGBT communities)?

If you would like to find out more or are interested in taking part, please get in touch.

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.

Looking back: reflections upon completing fieldwork

Anna Gawlewicz

We are happy to report that the project fieldwork is now over! We wish to thank all research participants for sharing their remarkable stories and for their lasting engagement. This study would not exist without you. We are also very grateful to those who helped us reach out to LGBT and migrant populations all over Scotland. We have received incredible support and many people contributed one way or the other – thank you all!

The fieldwork lasted for 13 months, between April 2015 and May 2016. In total, we interviewed 50 LGBT migrants from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and the Former Soviet Union (FSU). 18 of them prepared photo-diaries and were then re-interviewed. We also spoke to a number of representatives of the voluntary sector organisations working with LGBT and migrant populations, and took part in related events. As a result, we collected a very rich material and are now analysing it in order to prepare a full length report and further outputs.

ADictaphones part of the fieldwork we travelled across Scotland to meet research participants in person. Although majority of them lived in the Central Belt (35 in total), we were also able to reach out to migrants in Aberdeen (3), Inverness (2), Perth (2), Dundee and Angus (2) and small-town Fife (6). We met with our respondents at their homes, community centres, cafés and in university offices. The interviews usually had a relaxed format and often involved a friendly chat over tea, coffee or lunch. Many participants were very generous with their time (again, thank you all); interviews lasted between 1 and 4 hours.

The participants of our study are quite diverse in terms of their countries of origin. Over a half of them are Polish, which is perhaps unsurprising as Polish migrants are the most numerous national group among ‘Eastern European’ migrants in Scotland and the UK.  However, we also spoke to migrants from Belarus, Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Russia and Ukraine. As we got to know LGBT migrants’ stories, we realised that the category of nationality may be a tricky one. For example, two participants were born in Ukraine, but then migrated to Poland and were granted Polish citizenship. In their later life they migrated to Scotland.

The issue of language also emerged as an interesting one. Our research team speaks Polish and Russian, so we could interview Polish and Russian speakers in their own languages; we offered to interview speakers of other languages in English or through an interpreter. Although we had secured the help of interpreters speaking a number of other CEE languages, none of the people who approached us requested to be interviewed through an interpreter (and indeed, doing interviews in English did not seem to be a barrier as our participants were very fluent in English). Some participants came from countries with complex histories of language use, which meant we could not be sure about what their ‘native’ language is. In former Soviet countries like Latvia or Ukraine, large sections of the population are Russian-speaking, or come from a mixed ethno-cultural background. For example, our two Latvian respondents were interviewed in Russian and English respectively; one of them grew up in a Russian household speaking both Latvian and Russian; the other is a Latvian speaker with some understanding of Russian, and wished to be interviewed in English.

With regards to gender, 24 of our respondents are women, 22 are men, one identifies as transgender and one does not identify as either male or female. In terms of sexual orientation, 18 migrants identify as lesbians, 18 as gay men, 11 as bisexual and one as gynosexual (non-binary person sexually attracted to women). While some participants felt strongly about their sexual orientation, other said that they struggled with ‘labels’ such as gay, lesbian or bisexual.

Research participants are also at different life stages: they are aged between 19 and 47, and are in different family/relationship arrangements (some being single, some being in long-term relationships and a few having children).

Despite our best efforts to recruit people from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds, we have a high number of participants with higher education and only 12 (out of 50) have secondary or vocational education. The vast majority are in paid work; those who did not work were mostly students. While we were successful in speaking to people in a range of occupations, a large number of participants are employed in low-pay jobs in the service and hospitality sector, and work below their qualifications, reflecting wider tendencies amongst the CEE migrant population in Scotland/the UK.

Out and about: desperately seeking LGB migrants from ‘Eastern Europe’

Francesca Stella and Anna Gawlewicz

We started collecting interviews for the Intimate Migrations project in late April 2015; it is hard to believe we are already 6 months into our fieldwork. Time has flown by, we have been busy and are pleased with what we have achieved so far: we have advertised the project widely and conducted around 35 interviews. The next few months will possibly be even more hectic, as we are planning to collect another 45-odd interviews by the end of May 2016.

One of the most challenging aspects of the project has been finding potential participants. Before the project even started, some of the voluntary sector organisations we contacted for advice were supportive of the project, yet seemed mildly sceptical we may find enough participants. Lesbian, gay and bisexual migrants (from any region) seemed to fly under the radar of a range of LGBT, migrant, equality and Minority Ethnic organisations we contacted across Scotland. Some pointed out that it was difficult and potentially awkward to approach individuals about the project, as their clients would not necessarily be ‘out’ to them about their sexuality; others had some contact with LGBT asylum seekers, but not with migrants from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union; a few had clients or volunteers that fitted our profile, but were not always able to put us in contact with them, or feel this was appropriate given the sensitivities involved. Despite the generous support we received, and the emergence of a few initiatives specifically targeting LGBT migrants, such as the Language Café in Edinburgh, our engagement with stakeholders seems to indicate that LGBT migrants can easily fall through the cracks.

We have been using a range of strategies to advertise the project and reach out to potential participants. One of the most successful has proved to be snowballing: this involved ‘chain’ referral by people who had been interviewed for the pilot study, and asking new participants if they could put us in touch with friends and acquaintances who fitted the profile. Voluntary sector organisations and ESOL colleges have also been helpful in advertising the project; this has often involved patiently weaving a network of contacts across Scotland, by attending events and contacting a range of people in the hope they could put us on the right track, target people known to them, or just spread the word. We will be attending ESOL classes and student association meetings to advertise the projects in colleges across Glasgow, Perth and Ayrshire in the next few weeks.

We have advertised our project online: with the help of a few voluntary sector organisations, we have published ads on their newsletter and social media (eg. facebook). We have also posted ads on the facebook pages reaching out to various East European national and language communities in Scotland, and have recently started advertising the project through Gaydar, a popular dating site for gay men.

We have also been distributing leaflets and posters in spaces such as ‘ethnic’ shops, restaurants, pubs and community spaces (e.g. Polish/Russian/Baltic delis and corner shops); LGBT and LGBT-friendly clubs, bars and pubs; relevant voluntary sector organisations; and public libraries. This Fieldwork2involved walking around Glasgow, where we are based, as well as travelling to cities and towns across Scotland, including Edinburgh, Kircaldy, Perth, Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness. While leafleting across Scotland, particularly in towns and in smaller cities outside the Central Belt, we were often told that we may struggle to find participants, as even local LGBT people are often not very open about their sexuality. In Inverness we were told that coming out was still difficult for many in the Highlands, compared to other parts of Scotland; we heard a similar story about local gay men moving away from smalltown Fife towards Scottish cities, where they felt that they could be more open about their sexuality. In Aberdeen we heard that it would be very easy to involve white Scottish/British LGBT individuals in a research project, but that it would be a challenge to reach out to LGB people from minority ethnic or migrant backgrounds.  Yet our patience has been rewarded: we have managed to recruit participants based in Aberdeen (2), Inverness (1) and smalltown Fife (3), although they found out about the project through social media or friends, rather than our leaflets.

Leafletting led to some chance encounters with LGB migrants who agreed to be interviewed, and with people who helped out in spreading the word. Some people showed an interest in the project and promised us to let their gay friends from Poland or Slovakia know about the project, although this did not always come to fruition. Although only a small minority of participants have been recruited through this activity, leafleting was an interesting experience in its own right: we had interesting chats with fieldwork1different people, from shopkeepers to waiters, from bar staff to representatives of a wide range of organisations and institutions. We had been warned that some migrant communities from the region may be confronted by, or hostile to the project; however we found that the reception was generally positive or neutral, a sign that same-sexuality and markers of cultural and national identity may not be as incompatible as they seem. For example, when we asked the shop assistant from a Polish deli if she could display a poster advertising out project, she invited us to display it on a notice board next to a leaflet advertising Mass in Polish at a local Catholic church and a course for those who wish to deepen their faith. This struck us as ironic, given the Catholic Church’s stance on LGBT issues. The juxtaposition of the two was clearly not a problem for the shop assistant.

We are still recruiting, and seeking participants sometimes still feel like looking for a needle in a haystack. If you think you can help please do get in touch, we really appreciate your help!

Find out more about who we would like to speak to.

Who are we researching? Frequently asked questions

Francesca Stella

We have interviewed 27 participants aged 19 to 47; we have spoken to 16 women and 11 men, one of whom is transgender; 7 of our participants identify as gay, 11 as lesbian and 9 as bisexual.

We have a majority of Polish participants so far (20), which partly reflects the demographics of East European migration in Scotland (Poles are by far the largest community of ‘new’ migrants); we have been struggling to recruit participants from other ethnonational backgrounds. We are also trying to diversify our sample in terms of socio-economic background: highly educated, relatively well-off migrants are over-represented in our sample.

We are often asked what we mean by ‘Eastern Europe’, and which nationalities we are trying to capture. We would like to speak to migrants from formerly communist countries in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union; keeping in mind the demographic profile of migrants from the region in Scotland, we have produced recruitment posters in Polish, Russian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Czech/Slovak, Romanian and Bulgarian. We are able to interview Polish and Russian-speaking migrants in their own language (Polish: Anna; Russian: Francesca). So far, we have interviewed speakers of other languages from the region in English: we have interviewed migrants from Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia in English. If you are interested in taking part but feel uncomfortable being interviewed in English, we *may* be able to interview you through an interpreter. This will be arranged through a partner organisation which has staff speaking Latvian, Lithuanian, Czech/Slovak, Romanian and Bulgarian.

We are aware that ‘Eastern European’ is sometimes used in a derogatory way in the UK, and that migrants from the region often feel the term ‘Eastern Europe’ is inaccurate (preferring, for example, ‘Central and Eastern Europe’). However, the term ‘Central and Eastern Europe’ is potentially confusing: when we used ‘Central and Eastern Europe’ in our recruitment messages, we received responses from Austrian and Dutch migrants, and so returned to the term ‘Eastern Europe’.

We are often asked why the project does not specifically target transgender migrants. This was a decision taken in consultation with relevant community and voluntary sector organisations before the project begun. Our shared concern was that we may struggle to recruit LGB migrants as a ‘hidden’ population, and that we may fail to recruit any transgender migrants at all: local LGBT organisations have found trans people a particularly hard to reach population. We just did not want to end up having no, or a puny number of trans migrants involved, and a token ‘T’ in the title. We decided to focus the project specifically on sexuality, rather than gender identity. Trans migrants from the region who also identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual are very welcome to take part in the project, and we have interviewed one trans bisexual migrant so far. The experience of trans migrants is certainly a very important topic in its own right, so if you identify as trans but not as lesbian, gay or bisexual we would still like to hear from you (we would like to interview you, although not as part of the ‘Intimate Migration’ project, which focuses on sexuality).