Homophobia in Sport

– in the Scottish Parliament on 19th September 2017.

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Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-05970, in the name of Mary Fee, on tackling homophobia in sport. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament considers that there is a continuing existence of homophobia in Scottish sport; regrets that research by Stonewall Scotland states that 60% of sports fans had witnessed homophobic behaviour in the last five years, which is 9% higher than the rest of the UK; believes that it is important for sports personalities, coaches and sports clubs in the West Scotland region and across the country to challenge and oppose homophobia in all its forms to show that it has no place in Scottish sport; understands that there is a particular problem with homophobia in football, which is highlighted by the fact that there are no openly-gay, male professional footballers in the UK; commends the work of the Equality Network and its LGBT Sports Charter, which aims to set out the principles to make Scottish sport more inclusive, and welcomes the commitment of the SFA and sportscotland to tackle homophobia and LGBT discrimination in sport.

Photo of Mary Fee Mary Fee Labour

In opening the debate, I take the opportunity to welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights campaigners and activists to the public gallery, and I thank members from across the chamber for supporting my motion on tackling homophobia in sport and thereby enabling the debate to take place.

Almost two decades since the formation of the Scottish Parliament, massive gains have been made in LGBT rights in Scotland. Rights such as equal marriage rights have been hard fought for by tens of thousands of strong, proud LGBT activists and campaigners, but despite those advances, discrimination against LGBT people persists in all walks of Scottish society.

Recent research by Stonewall Scotland highlights the particular issue of LGBT discrimination in Scottish sport. A staggering 46 per cent of LGBT people do not find sporting events to be welcoming spaces, and more than one in 10 LGBT people avoid going to the gym or participating in sports groups because of fear of discrimination and harassment. For trans people, that figure shoots up to 39 per cent.

It is clear that there is a particular issue with LGBT discrimination in Scottish football and football more generally. Research by the Equality Network back in 2012 identified football as the sport that had the biggest challenges to overcome in relation to LGBT inclusivity. It is vital that the culture in sport—particularly the culture in football—changes.

Education, LGBT rights campaigns and visible role models are all important mechanisms that can help in the battle to eradicate LGBT discrimination in football and in wider society. I would like to mention LEAP Sports Scotland, which is an LGBTI sports charity that works for the inclusion of LGBT sports participants and seeks to tackle homophobia and transphobia. I had the pleasure of meeting staff and volunteers of LEAP Sports at Pride house in Glasgow during the 2014 Commonwealth games, and I encourage members and visitors to the gallery to visit the organisation’s website to see what they can do to support its work.

Research by Stonewall Scotland revealed that a shocking 70 per cent of fans had heard homophobic abuse in the stands at a football game. One of the respondents in Stonewall’s research commented:

“Men in the crowd around me at a football match using the term ‘gay’ in a derogatory manner to refer to the players on the pitch. Made me extremely uncomfortable but I didn’t feel in a position to challenge them.”

Among the common forms of discrimination that are experienced by LGBT people when participating in or spectating at sport are the use of homophobic or transphobic language and the use of stereotypes about sexual orientation and gender identity. Such stereotypes are dangerous and only serve to reinforce prejudice against LGBT people.

According to Scottish Government statistics regarding sexual orientation, around 100,000 people in Scotland identify themselves as “LGB and Other”. However, there are still no openly gay or bisexual male professional footballers in Scotland or across the UK.

The lack of a visible role model for LGBT people in professional football in Scotland is of real concern, because it makes it extremely difficult for a young gay or bi male to feel confident about being themselves if they cannot see anyone else like them in the sport. It is incredibly important that the governing body of Scottish football, professional football clubs, LGBT groups and this Parliament work collaboratively to create the right environment for players to feel comfortable about coming out.

I was extremely pleased that 13 professional football clubs took the lead in eliminating LGBT discrimination by signing up to the Equality Network’s LGBT sports charter. Current signatories to the charter are Aberdeen, Airdrie, Albion Rovers, Celtic, Dumbarton, Elgin City, Forfar Athletic, Hearts, Hibs, Partick Thistle, Peterhead, Rangers and St Johnstone, and there are a further six professional clubs that are currently in contact with the Equality Network with a view to signing up to the charter.

Aberdeen fans have proved to be a shining example. They are leading the way in tackling homophobia and promoting equality and diversity by establishing the first LGBT supporters group in Scotland, which is known as the proud dons.

Dumbarton FC has also proved itself to be a modern and inclusive club by ensuring the club’s commitment to equality and diversity through its anti-discrimination policy. In the contract of each footballer and employee of Dumbarton FC, there is a clause stating that the club is opposed to racism, sectarianism, bigotry and discrimination of any form, including on the basis of gender or sexual orientation.

I again congratulate and thank those professional football clubs and other sporting institutions that have already signed up to the LGBT sports charter, and I urge other professional football clubs and governing bodies to reach out to the Equality Network and to sign up. It is vitally important that sports organisations take the lead in changing the culture in Scottish sports by tackling and eradicating LGBT discrimination to ensure that sports clubs, gyms, stadiums and arenas are modern, inclusive and welcoming to all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I have just spilled water all over the console. If everything goes dark, members will know why.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

Although I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in the debate, and I thank Mary Fee for bringing it to the chamber, I take no pleasure in having to address such a topic in this day and age. I find it depressing that the spectre of homophobic behaviour still casts a shadow over our communities.

The topic is one that I only really became aware of and began to take an interest in when I joined the Parliament, mainly through research for my consultation paper on barriers to inclusion in sport and activity. It came as a shock to hear about some of the experiences of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community in their participation in sport. There were stories of discrimination, bullying and, sometimes, worse experiences, and that came as a surprise to me. I come from a sports background and it was never an issue that I was aware of during my 10 years’ experience of professional sport. We were all just athletes who were joined by a mutual respect for the work that it had taken to get to where we were in our sport.

Members might find it difficult to believe, but I retired quite a long time ago; it was in the previous millennium. That time is measured in decades—or, to put it delicately, about two stones ago—but friendships that were made at that time endure to this day, irrespective of colour, creed, religion or sexual orientation. We never gave any thought or consideration to any of those categories. Only last Sunday, us old boys got together for our annual golf outing and a more disparate group of people could not be found anywhere.

The quiet man of the group is Kriss Akabusi, who is of Nigerian background. At 6 feet, 9 inches, Geoff “Tour Bags” Parsons, the Scottish high jump record holder, plays golf like a giraffe that is going for a drink. They, I, “Captain CourageousDerek Redmond, the steeplechaser Eddie “the Chip” Wedderburn, and Johnny “Two Chests” Regis all travelled from every part of the country to meet—and let me tell you, golf was the winner.

That is what sport is to me: a way to break down barriers and find commonality. It is a way to promote inclusion and participation. Everybody here knows that I see it not only as a tool for tackling poor physical health but a major component of how to address the epidemic of poor mental health that we face, which the Scottish Association for Mental Health says is to be done with inclusivity and physical activity.

Now we are debating about certain elements of society being excluded from sports opportunities. There have been examples in sport of poor treatment of athletes, such as the intersex debate around Caster Semenya, who is the Olympic and World women’s 800m champion. There might have been a genuine issue to be investigated, but the International Association of Athletics Federations handled it so badly and with such a lack of respect to the athlete’s welfare that LGBTI participation in world sport was put back many years. Thankfully Semenya is now back competing at the highest level, and she won the World Championships in London this year.

I thank all the organisations that sent briefing notes prior to this debate. I also recognise the Stonewall Scotland rainbow laces campaign, which I took part in last year. They used the picture of me with just one shoe on, and I would just like to say, for goodness’ sake, it was more than 30 years ago—would you please let it go?

Sports should be a sanctuary for all. It should be a place where a person’s background, whatever that may be, is irrelevant. Sport can lead in the battle against prejudice. We in this place must continue to drive that direction of travel until such prejudices are no more in our communities.

Photo of Rona Mackay Rona Mackay Scottish National Party

Last week

I attended the cross-party group on sexual health and blood-borne viruses. There we heard a moving account from an HIV-positive woman who based her talk around the word “stigma”. The dictionary definition of the word is:

“a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person”.

I believe that everyone in this chamber would agree that being gay should have no stigma attached to it. Sadly, despite Scotland being one of the most progressive nations in the world when it comes to LGBT+ equality, when it comes to sport, there is still much work to be done.

In sport, players face a disproportionately difficult time coming out, for a variety of reasons that are too complex to detail in a four-minute speech. Recently, Gareth Thomas, a Welsh rugby player with 100 caps, gave a grim account of his experiences of being a gay man in rugby. He believes that sport, and football in particular, must not be allowed to remain in the “dark ages” of homophobia. He says that unless homophobia in football is

“policed as stringently as racism is policed, then it will always be a problem” and I agree with him.

Recently, three former Rangers players started working with the excellent time for inclusive education campaign to clamp down on homophobia. Education is the key to changing attitudes and helping people to realise that it is simply not acceptable to perpetrate this inequality.

As we have heard, sporting events can also be unwelcoming and threatening environments for LGBT fans. Seventy per cent of sports fans in Scotland have witnessed anti-LGBT language or abuse in a sports setting in the last five years. Almost half of LGBT people—46 per cent—think public sporting events are not a welcoming space, and one in 10 who attended a live sporting event in the last year experienced discrimination. In 2017 that simply is not good enough.

Problems with racism, sectarianism and homophobia are taken seriously by the Scottish National Party Government, and our hate crime legislation exists to eradicate it. That is why the Scottish Government is concerned that an outright repeal of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 might send the message that prejudice-based and threatening behaviour at football is acceptable, even when other legislation could also apply.

Stonewall Scotland supported the introduction of that bill in 2012, noting the serious impact that homophobic, biphobic and transphobic behaviour in sport has on LGBT people’s safety and on their confidence to participate in sport. Discrimination discourages participation and cultivates exclusion and a lack of diversity. Football and the sporting culture must not be left behind while the rest of society sees progress in equality. There is clearly a lot of work being done, with 13 clubs signed up to the Equality Network LGBT charter and more poised to do so, as we have heard.

Sportscotland believes that education, positive role models, embracing LGBT+ policies and promoting gay, lesbian and bisexual sports stars is the way forward, and that is the path that we should follow.

There is still a lot to be done and, until we need no longer debate this subject in the chamber, until it stops being a story, and until people wonder why someone’s sexual orientation is even being raised as an issue, we need to continue to strive for equality. It is time to blow the whistle on homophobia in sport.

Photo of Monica Lennon Monica Lennon Labour

I begin by thanking my colleague Mary Fee for bringing such an important topic to the Scottish Parliament this evening.

Homophobia certainly has no place in public life in Scotland and no place in Scottish sport. The continuing existence of homophobia in sport, as evidenced by Stonewall Scotland’s findings that 60 per cent of sports fans have witnessed homophobic behaviour in the past five years, is a sad and unacceptable state of affairs.

As a nation that is so passionate about football, it is a damning indictment of how far we still have to travel in tackling homophobia in all aspects of Scottish society that a majority of football fans are likely to have witnessed prejudiced behaviour towards the LGBT community, with 82 per cent of football fans admitting that they have heard homophobic abuse or language at a sports event. That is an alarming number of people.

Although Scotland has made great strides towards achieving legal equality for the LGBT community during the past few years with the commencement of equal marriage laws, it is clear that we still have so much more to do to combat prejudice and inequality.

Last week, most members of the Scottish Parliament were able to join with the show racism the red card campaign just outside the chamber in the garden lobby to show our support for combating racism in football. I am proud to support that campaign, and, just as there is no place for racism of any kind in Scottish sport, there being any homophobic prejudice towards the LGBT community in Scottish football should be equally repulsive to us. I would love to see the recommendations of the Equality Network’s report and Stonewall’s rainbow laces campaign to tackle anti-LGBT prejudice in sport gain similar traction among colleagues and the wider public. I look forward to the opportunity later this year to support the campaign. It is my hope that we will also see football clubs and fans across the country using that opportunity to engage with and embrace this important campaign. Mary Fee read out an impressive list of football clubs, but many more names could be added.

In the evidence gathered by Stonewall Scotland about homophobia in sport, the most troubling and striking statistics were those that show how negative experiences of sport for LGBT people can often start as early as their school years: one in seven LGBT young people say they have experienced bullying during school sport, and almost one in five say that they have experienced bullying in school changing rooms—yet more worrying statistics that underline why it is so important that we ensure that we get inclusive education in our schools.

Many colleagues on their way into the chamber this evening will have noticed that the TIE campaign is in Parliament today, with an exhibition of its progress so far and the aim of signing up even more MSPs to the pledge. It has been my privilege to sponsor the campaign’s time in Parliament this week, and I hope that as many colleagues as possible will have the chance to speak to Jordan and Liam about their work. I saw on Twitter that more MSPs have signed the pledge today, so it is really good that we have the TIE campaign with us in Parliament.

It has been only a few months since I led my members’ business debate on the TIE campaign, and I am pleased that the Scottish Government working group on inclusive education is continuing to make progress. As ever, I look forward to seeing the group’s eventual outcomes and recommendations when its work concludes.

We need to make inclusive education a reality so that we can eradicate homophobic attitudes in the next generation of young people—those who are growing up in Scotland today. Homophobia has no place in our society and the route to tackling that begins with education.

I repeat my thanks to Mary Fee for bringing the debate to Parliament. At the start of the debate, she mentioned the importance of role models in sport and in general. Because Kezia Dugdale is sitting next to me, I will take my chance and say that she was awarded politician of the year at the prestigious Icon awards on Friday night. I congratulate her, and I am sure that colleagues across the chamber do too.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

I also thank Mary Fee for bringing this important debate to the chamber. I agree whole-heartedly with the terms of the motion and I thank all the organisations that sent us briefings indicating the work that is going on to tackle homophobia and improve our sporting culture, and highlighting the unacceptable barriers to participation that LGBTI people still face.

In 2012, I spoke at the out for sport conference, launching the Equality Network’s report on the opportunities that sport provides to tackle discrimination and promote equalities. The report recommended that there should be more visible leadership from Government and from sports governing bodies, with the establishment of a Scottish LGBT sports charter to ensure that LGBTI people are more fully included in Scottish sport. The report called for more action to ensure that clubs at all levels of sport—whether competitive or recreational, in our local authorities or in our universities—comply with the Equality Act 2010. It asked clubs and sports facilities to improve training for their staff and coaches to help them to identify, prevent and challenge homophobic and transphobic bullying.

In the past five years, there have been improvements in sport in Scotland and I am glad to see sportscotland make new commitments to embed equalities and inclusion in all aspects of its work. I also want to highlight some of the positive work that scottishathletics has been leading on, building on its four frontrunners LGBT clubs and supporting them to work with more athletics clubs and jogscotland groups. Scottishathletics also helped to pilot a non-binary athletics category, approving non-binary races for Jedburgh running festival.

Sadly, few areas of sport in Scotland are quite so inclusive and, as the briefings that I have read while preparing for the debate make all too clear, the impact of homophobia in sport is felt very early in life, as others have said. In 2016, sportscotland’s research with the Equality and Human Rights Commission showed that the key barriers to participation in sport for young people included homophobia and previous negative experiences, particularly in school. If we are serious about tackling homophobia in sport and making sport more accessible for everyone, we really have to tackle the bullying and discrimination that young people face.

LGBT Youth Scotland’s report on the legacy of the Commonwealth games shows that LGBTI young people are less likely to engage in sport and physical activity. Homophobia in sport is holding young people back from participating in sport, and I have no doubt that that will have a negative impact on the long-term physical health and wellbeing of too many LGBTI young people. Stonewall’s research shows that one in seven LGBT young people in UK schools has experienced bullying during school sport, and almost one in five has experienced bullying in school changing rooms. Even if not bullied themselves, more than half of LGBTI pupils frequently hear homophobic language in sports lessons.

It is appalling to think that such bullying, harassment and discrimination exist in our schools. My colleague Ross Greer has campaigned for a review of personal and social education in schools and today’s debate shows us that the upcoming review of PSE must consider sport in schools and how high-quality PSE can help to build a whole-school approach to equalities and mental health, moving beyond the classroom and improving all aspects of school life.

Recently, there has been a greater focus on the potential of sport to improve mental health, which is welcome. The Scottish Association for Mental Health is partnering scottishathletics in a jogscotland programme, helping people to become more active. Such initiatives show the urgent need to make sport truly accessible to all and to tackle homophobia at all levels of sport.

As Mary Fee, Rona Mackay and others have noted, homophobia in sport is not just a barrier to active participation; it is even a barrier to being a fan and a spectator. If we want to make long-lasting changes to the culture of spectatorship, we have to work internationally as well. “Out on the Fields”, the first international study of homophobia in sport, highlighted the prevalence of homophobia in sport on a global level. It showed that the most likely place to encounter homophobia in UK sport was on the spectator stands; 85 per cent of that study’s participants believed that in UK sport

“an openly gay person would not be very safe as a spectator at a sports event”.

Given the impact of international competition on sporting culture and on societal behaviour more widely, we must think about how good practice can be shared internationally and how we can protect sportspeople and fans from homophobia, wherever they are competing or supporting.

Photo of Miles Briggs Miles Briggs Conservative

I congratulate Mary Fee on securing the debate and I welcome the opportunity to participate in it. I pay tribute to her for the work that she has done in the Parliament on the issue over many years. I thank the organisations that provided briefings for the debate—Stonewall Scotland and the Equality Network—and I commend them for the good work that they have done on the issue over many years.

All of us in the chamber will agree that homophobia, just like any form of discrimination, should have no place in sport. However, we have to be honest that that is not the case for many of our Scottish sportspeople and fans. We all recognise the extent of the challenges that we face in tackling the issue and how much needs to change in the culture in sport in Scotland today. Members have mentioned the stark fact that 60 per cent of Scottish sports fans have heard homophobic abuse and that the figure rises to 82 per cent among football fans.

As Stonewall Scotland’s research indicates, a minority of sports fans still believe that anti-LGBTI chants and abuse are acceptable on the terraces or in the pubs, and we all have a role in helping to change that, so that such language is seen as being as intolerable as racist abuse. Casual homophobia among fans should not be dismissed just as macho banter; it should be challenged just as much as homophobia should and, I hope, would be challenged in any other context in life in Scotland.

The motion refers—rightly—to what appears to be a particular problem with homophobia in football. Like Mary Fee, I welcome the support of the Scottish Football Association and sportscotland for the Equality Network’s LGBT sports charter. The minister and I particularly like the fact that St Johnstone has led on that. However, it is clear that a lot of work still has to be done. The fact that no professional footballer in the UK has felt able to come out since Justin Fashanu in 1990 speaks volumes about how far we still have to go before being gay is as unremarkable for a footballer as it is for people in many other professions.

The lack of gay role models at professional football level is an obvious concern. Openly gay sportspeople such as rugby’s Gareth Thomas and Keegan Hirst, diving’s Tom Daley and boxing’s Nicola Adams have trail blazed in many ways and are an inspiration to many young LGBT people who might be questioning whether they can take part in sport or aim for a national or international career. We are right to put on record our admiration for the decisions of those sportspeople to be open about their sexuality in public and we thank them as we look forward to many other LGBT sportspeople excelling in their field in the future.

Increasing participation in sport and boosting physical activity across all age groups are vital to tackling obesity, improving the population’s physical health and maintaining mental wellbeing. Competitive and team sports encourage self-confidence, develop transferable skills and build resilience among young people. Tackling homophobia in sport should be seen as helping to remove another barrier that might prevent LGBT people from participating in sport. As a number of studies have shown that LGBT people are more prone to suffering from mental ill health, special importance should be given to allowing them to access sport without fear that they will be a victim of abuse or prejudice.

I again welcome the debate and I look forward to progress being made. I recognise that it can take time for ingrained cultures and behaviour to change, which can be difficult, but it is right that Scotland’s Parliament and all members across all parties unite today in sending out a clear message that we will not accept homophobia in sport and that we will work to reduce and eventually eradicate it so that everyone can access sport on an equal and welcoming basis.

Photo of Kezia Dugdale Kezia Dugdale Labour

As my colleagues have done, I congratulate Mary Fee on securing the debate and on leading on the issue for a number of years, as Miles Briggs acknowledged. I also thank the Equality Network and Stonewall Scotland for providing briefings for the debate.

When I read those briefings, I was reminded of the rainbow laces campaign that Stonewall Scotland launched not so long ago. I remember thinking at the time, even as an openly gay woman, that it was a bit of a gimmick and did not mean much. Then my political researcher at the time, a guy called Garreth Lodge, who played basketball for Scotland, sneaked the rainbow laces out of the Parliament office and wore them for an international match that he was playing in. I saw the pictures of that the next day, and I cannot tell members how touched I was that somebody had decided to do that for me and people like me. We should never underestimate the value of such campaigns and the difference that they can make.

The debate is all about sport, and I will focus the rest of my remarks on football, which is the sport that I know best. It is also recognised in a number of the briefings as the sport with the highest participation level among Scots.

I grew up with football. My dad was a referee for most of my childhood, mostly in the Highland league. I remember fondly—or not so fondly—sitting on the line on a football in freezing cold winters listening to people shout and swear at my dad. I wanted to share some stories of that, but the Presiding Officer has advised me that each and every one of the things that were shouted at my dad constitutes unparliamentary language. However, one word that we regularly heard at those football matches was “poof”. It would be shouted from the stands down on to the pitch every time a player dodged a heavy tackle or kicked the ball over the bar. We heard such language regularly; we definitely heard it across a season and probably in every match.

The reports that we read in advance of the debate recognise that 60 per cent of people have heard homophobic language at a sporting event, but that figure rises to 82 per cent in the instance of football. Although we have made a bit of progress, there is clearly a long way to go. The good news is that the same reports tell us that 68 per cent of football fans want more to be done about it.

I am delighted to represent Edinburgh and, in that city, to have two premier league football teams—we have not been able to say that for a little while. Not only do we have two premier league football teams, but they are both led by women—the chief executives of Hibernian Football Club and Heart of Midlothian Football Club are women.

I will pick a little fight with Mary Fee. She said that there are no LGBT role models in male football, but there is one and it is a woman: she is Leeann Dempster, who is the chief executive of Hibernian Football Club, which is my team. In fact, Hibs are a bit of a leader when it comes to LGBT sport, because they also have on their books Laura Montgomery, who was the founder of Glasgow City Football Club, which is a women’s football club. She is a UEFA official and now a senior projects manager at Hibernian Football Club, so Hibs are leading the way again.

I got in touch with Leeann Dempster before the debate to ask her what she might like to be shared with members on tackling homophobia in football in particular. She asked us to check our language. She said that it is, of course, important to talk about tackling homophobia in sport, but equally we need to promote inclusion in sport. That is the attitude that Hibs are taking. They are trying to create a more welcoming environment for LGBT fans and players.

We have asked ourselves many times in the debate why LGBT players do not come out. Why do they not speak? Why is it that, in Scotland, we have never had an openly gay football player? The report “Out for Sport: Tackling homophobia and transphobia in sport” from the Equality Network gives us some indication of why that is the case. It is worth remembering that the report was written by Margaret Smith, who was the first openly gay female MSP. She told us in the report that there are two main reasons why LGBT players do not come out: fear of what spectators would say and the impact on the players’ careers.

I have been spending a bit more time watching television recently—I cannot imagine why—and I have been hugely comforted by the increased number of adverts that show same-sex relationships. I hope that that is the start of a change in attitude and culture towards the relationship between commercial enterprise and people disclosing their sexual orientation.

I appreciate that I have gone over my time and that you are likely to be less gracious, Presiding Officer, now that I am on the back benches. However, we must acknowledge gender segregation in sport. As long as we consider that there are boy sports and girl sports, we perpetuate homophobia as well.

Photo of Aileen Campbell Aileen Campbell Scottish National Party

As other speakers have done, I thank Mary Fee for raising this important issue. I also thank everyone who contributed to the debate and put on record our congratulations to Kezia Dugdale on becoming an icon. We saw some of the pictures on Twitter and it looked like everybody had a heck of a good night.

Like all speakers, I believe firmly that there should be no barriers at all to participation in sport. Everyone should be able to enjoy sport, whoever they are and whatever their background. Be it on the court, on the pitch, in the stands or on the touchline, nobody should have to put up with homophobic comments or taunts. As Minister for Public Health and Sport, I am proud that the Government and Parliament are determined to create a modern, inclusive Scotland that protects and respects human rights and that they are determined that that should extend to the promotion of equal participation in, and access to, sport.

On that point, the words of Leeann Dempster are particularly pertinent. Certainly, she is someone to whom we should all listen because of the unique role that she has played in football and the huge contribution that she has made. We should also listen to Laura Montgomery. Both of them are incredibly impressive individuals who are doing a great deal to ensure and promote tolerance in sport.

The Government is committed to promoting equal participation access to sport and tackling homophobia and transphobia. That is why we support LGBT equality organisations that are working to reduce the discrimination and hate crimes that people have discussed this evening. In our 2017-18 programme for government, we have also given a commitment to consult on reforming gender recognition legislation and to bring forward legislation through the sexual offences (pardons and disregards) bill, which will ensure that men who were convicted under previously discriminatory Scottish laws that criminalised consensual same-sex sexual activity will receive a pardon and will be able to apply to have such criminal conviction-informed information removed from central records. I mention that because those actions, building on the two decades of progress that Mary Fee talked about under devolution, will enable people to openly discuss their sexual orientation without encountering the prejudice or the stigma that was attached to it in the past and even in the present day.

We remain committed to demonstrating the leadership that is needed to tackle inequalities, homophobia and transphobia in sport. That approach was demonstrated by Scotland during the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth games, when we supported the establishment of Pride house, which provided a welcoming place for people to view the games and enjoy the events and cultural programmes that supported the sporting events. I am pleased that the Scottish Government is again working with partners to explore opportunities to further boost the engagement of the LGBTI community during the 2018 European championships, including using the 2014 Pride house model.

The Government participates in the national LGBTI sports co-ordinating group. That group brings together partners including sportscotland, LEAP Sports, Stonewall, the Equality Network, the SFA and others with the aim of removing barriers that might stop LGBT individuals participating in sport, as well as educating sport providers to be as open and accessible as they can be. However, the statistics in Stonewall’s report show the journey that we still have to make to ensure that our shared ambition of eradicating homophobia is turned into reality.

Many people have mentioned our beautiful game. Like Mary Fee, I am encouraged that a number of SPFL clubs have already signed up to the equality charter. We have been encouraged by positive discussions with the SPFL as it continues to promote equality in Scottish football through its support of initiatives such as the rainbow laces campaign. Like Miles Briggs, I was particularly pleased to see that St Johnstone featured to a great extent among the clubs that were mentioned today.

The SFA has recently established an equality and diversity advisory board, which will act as a senior supporting group to provide guidance and ensure that the organisation’s commitment to inclusion, equality and diversity is embedded throughout its structures, plans and activities.

I was pleased to hear from Mary Fee about the Aberdeen fans’ initiative, and I note that Joe FitzPatrick whispered in my ear that, last month, Dundee Football Club introduced a similar initiative, which is called “Proud Dees”.

There is a great opportunity to explore the potential that football has to change culture. As Kezia Dugdale, Mary Fee and others have mentioned, it has a reach into all of our communities through the game changer project that Hibs runs, the community trust at Aberdeen Football Club and so on, and we have not even touched the surface of the further work that our football clubs can do in our communities to help change cultures and act as a force for good.

Lots of additional work is going on. Last year, sportscotland and the Equality and Human Rights Commission published research into equality in Scottish sport that looked at who currently participates in sports and the barriers to participation, and suggested potential solutions. Although participation levels among the LGBTI population are not particularly different from those in the heterosexual population, it is always important to treat these findings with a level of caution, as the results reflect the experiences of people who are already out, rather than those who are not. We have also heard from speakers this evening about people’s experience of the all-too-present bullying and anxieties and a host of other barriers that prevent LGBT people from becoming active in and enjoying sport.

Of course, equalities inclusion is one of the three priorities for improvement set out in sportscotland’s corporate plan for 2015 to 2019, which sets out a number of ways in which it is seeking to support our governing bodies. Although we have good stories to tell about the Commonwealth games and the leadership in many of our governing bodies, we need to unpick and challenge the experience at the grass-roots level. The equality standard for sport, which is there to help governing bodies ensure that they are as inclusive as they can be and is accompanied by training programmes, is relevant.

One of our governing bodies that is doing fantastic work, in addition to the work that is being done in athletics and a host of other sports, is the Royal Yachting Association Scotland. It is the first governing body in Scotland and one of only two governing bodies in the UK to have been awarded the advanced level of the equality standard that was set out by sportscotland.

Alison Johnstone mentioned athletics, and governing bodies for boxing and squash also have innovative ways that they are using to reach out to communities that in the past they have not reached, to ensure that they can enjoy the offer that sports can bring.

In a couple of weeks’ time, I will be visiting Shawlands academy in Glasgow, which, in partnership with LEAP Sports, has developed a safer sports at schools manifesto that will allow all children to feel comfortable in taking part in physical education.

At school level and governing body level we have plans. There are strategies in place to try to ensure the inclusivity in sport that we all desire. We are becoming a fully inclusive nation, but of course there is much more to do. I thank sportscotland, the governing bodies, LEAP Sports and everyone else who has been involved in working together to improve equal opportunities for all and who are committed to tolerance, respect and removing barriers that have persisted. I commend Mary Fee for her work and the commitment that she has shown to the issue.

Parliament is always at its best when it works together, and on this issue we are absolutely united. In the words of Rona Mackay, it is time for us to blow the whistle on homophobia and use that as our opportunity to work together to make the progress that we all seek.

Meeting closed at 17:47.