Get Yourself Elected!
This section contains some examples of ways to get involved in the area of representation. There are many ways to become an active citizen in this area, each involving different levels of commitment, skills and responsibility.
In this section of the guide we focus on the roles of:
- How to become a Councillor
- How to become an MP
- How to become an MSP
- How to become a student representative
Things to consider
As an LGBT person interested in starting or increasing your involvement in the area of representation you might want to consider:
- With a history of activism and self-help on the face of criminalisation and social exclusion, participation in the official democratic process may not seem to be the most natural home for LGBT people. And it is important that we do not lose our role of challenging the system from the outside. However, it is also increasingly important and possible to use the experience and skills gained from our history to campaign for change from within. The formal system, for example of local councillors, is where important decisions are made that affect our lives. So, as LGBT people it is essential that we are actively engaged and involved with the democratic process at a local and national level, pushing for positive change in relation to sexual orientation and gender recognition and other crucial issues affecting our society.
- The democratic process operates at local, national and international levels but as many important services and policies operate at local level it is particularly important for local authorities and our LGBT communities to engage with each other for mutual benefit. On a practical level, LGBT groups should be able to make use of local public services in the same way that other communities can: to get funding for projects, such as setting up a helpline or an anti-harassment campaign; to book a venue for a meeting; or to arrange for homophobic graffiti to be removed.
- Elected representatives have a very visible role in public life. In the past although many LGBT people were actively involved in important roles, it was not always possible for us to be open about our sexual orientation or transgender identity or to raise relevant LGBT issues. However, in recent years it has become much more feasible to be an “out and proud” LGBT member of the democratic process. In terms of personal comfort and political acceptance from political parties. The decision to come out as an LGBT person in public office is a highly personal decision that no one should be forced into. Fortunately it is increasingly unnecessary to remain closeted.
- Many people in public office must now publicly declare their professional and personal interests, including membership of campaigning groups.
- Some LGBT people and groups find that there is a difference between the head office policies of our organisations and the practice on the ground. For example, while party manifestos might strongly support LGBT rights, the old guard in the council chamber might not. The good news is that it is increasingly unlikely that people will get away with homophobic or transphobic opinions, with protests coming from across the political board. However, you should be prepared to carry out education about LGBT issues, not only among those that you represent, but also your colleagues.
- LGBT people’s experiences within the democratic process vary considerably. For some of us, sexual orientation and gender identity is simply not an issue whilst for others it is the subject of huge challenges. For example, being an openly LGBT local councillor in a rural area may be more difficult than being an MSP in a city like Edinburgh. Or it may not! It is worth doing some research beforehand to identify what type of organisation and role best suits your personal and professional preferences and whether there will be any types of support available to you as an LGBT person.
- As an openly LGBT elected representative, you may have been elected, or may be expected, to represent the LGBT and broader community. It will be important to be clear about when you are sharing your knowledge and experience as an individual and when you need to consult other LGBT people and other community members in order to include the different needs and opinions of our diverse community. Also, other people might assume that you will only have interests or expertise in relation to LGBT issues, such as transgender rights or same-sex parenting. They may need reminding that you can have just as much to offer on issues that are not specific to gender identity or sexuality, such as education and voting systems, as anyone else.
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