When I was at school, words like 'gay' and 'lesbian' were thrown around a lot. I was being called a 'lesbo' long before I met my partner two years ago. Not, I believe, because my peers could detect sapphic vibes of which I was unaware, but because words like 'lesbian', 'lesbo', 'gay' and 'homo' were readily used as throw-away insults.
That was well over a decade ago, and thanks to the efforts of LGBT activists, I assumed that pre-teens and teens today had stopped using sexual orientation as a way of belittling one another. But I was wrong. A couple of weeks ago, as my partner and I were walking the dog hand-in-hand in the park, we crossed paths with three young girls, no older than 13, who looked at us and laughed.
'LESBIANS!' they shouted. 'LESBIANS LESBIANS LESBIANS!'
I was so stunned that I just kept walking. I couldn't believe that after 10 years of political activism and LGBT awareness campaigns, 'lesbian' was still a term used to deride and offend. I had every intention of ignoring them, until about an hour later, as we were driving home, when I saw the same trio crossing the street. They spotted us too, took a photo of us, and ran off laughing into a nearby supermarket. It was then that I veered slightly off the moral high road.
'Pull over' I said to my partner who, ever the pacifist, reluctantly stopped the car so I could catch up with them. We found them huddled together in the confectionery aisle, but their giggles turned to whispers when they saw us.
'Guys,' I said. 'Are you aware that calling someone names because of their sexual orientation is illegal in Scotland?'
'What?' they chorused.
'Hostility directed at someone because of their sexuality is a hate crime and it's illegal. Did you know that?'
'We've never seen you before, we don't know what you're talking about.'
'You know exactly who we are and what you did, so if you're not prepared to be honest then we'll contact your parents to talk to them, and if you don't feel like telling us where your parents live then I'll just call the police.'
At this point, the girl with the pony tail began sobbing and frantically apologising. Looking back, I had sufficiently made my point and could have left, but by then I was on my high horse and the air is thinner up there, so instead, I launched into a five-minute sermon about equality and discrimination, concluding indignantly with, 'I had more faith in your generation'.
'I have faith too, I promise!' cried the girl with the pony tail.
It was only then that I left them standing there along with an audience of bewildered-looking staff. Once I got back to the car, I broke down into tears, partly because lecturing a bunch of pre-teens until they cried didn't bring me any satisfaction, and partly because my idealised vision of younger generations as beacons of tolerance and acceptance had been shattered.
For the most part, Scotland can boast a respectable reputation for LGBT rights: it has legalised same-sex marriage, it provides treatment for gender dysphoria under the NHS, and even offers asylum to those fleeing homophobic persecution in their own countries. But in spite of this progress, same-sex couples still don't have the same pension rights as heterosexual couples, and intersex individuals don't receive the same legal protection from discrimination as homosexuals or bisexuals. And now, on top of this, the Conservatives want to seek a deal with a party that supports the reintroduction of the conscience clause.
Beyond the legal inequality that LGBT people face, there is still widespread ideological misunderstanding about homosexuality and bisexuality in this country. I've been told more than once that I 'don’t look gay', and my partner and I once had the word 'dyke' chanted at us by a group of drunk men standing outside a pub. Just a couple of months ago, as we were having a drink with a couple of friends, two men in their late-20s sat down at the table next to ours to tell us that they 'don't have a problem with your kind'.
I used to be good at laughing off comments like these, but that's grown increasingly difficult since I realised that this kind of ignorance isn't being bred out as I'd previously assumed. I am deeply appreciative for the legal protection that I do receive, and that my friends and family are as indifferent to the gender of my partner as I am, but if I can't walk my dog or have a drink in a bar without someone being either directly or inadvertently offensive towards me for my sexuality, then perhaps Scotland isn't as progressive or LGBT-friendly as I thought.