This case study was written for Together’s 2016 ‘State of Children’s Rights’ report by Brandi Lee Lough Dennell, Policy and Research Manager at LGBT Youth Scotland. They are the largest youth and community-based organisation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Scotland, working to empower young people and ensure inclusivity at home, school and in the community. The case study headlined the report chapter on Leisure and Cultural Activities.
Children and young people living in rural areas experience barriers to socialisation that are not experienced by their urban peers. For example, there may not be any socialisation opportunities available in their area or they may need to travel long distances to access these opportunities or venues, requiring use of public transportation or support from a parent or carer.
Barriers to socialisation can be intensified for LGBT children and young people. Where there are services, such as mainstream youth groups, LGBT young people may not feel confident to access them or be hesitant about accessing a potentially homophobic, biphobic or transphobic service. Rather than considering LGBT young people a ‘hard to engage’ group, mainstream organisations need to do more to actively promote their services as inclusive to LGBT people. They then need to follow up on this by ensuring that everyone receives a positive, inclusive and responsive service.
LGBT young people living in rural areas are more likely to think homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are a problem in both Scotland and their local area. Just 27.1% of those living in rural areas consider their area to be a good place to live for LGBT young people. Rural respondents were also less likely to feel included and accepted in their families and communities.
74.8% of those who live in urban areas felt included and accepted in their own families, compared to 64.1% of those in suburban areas, and just 56.3% of rural respondents.
In the wider community, 69% of urban respondents felt included and accepted, while only 51.6% of suburban respondents and 45% of rural respondents said the same.
LGBT young people may not have transportation to LGBT-specific youth groups or may need to come out to a parent or carer in order to access transportation. Living in rural areas can mean that young people need to travel long distances between towns or that they return late at night after youth groups. As a result, even if it is not necessary to obtain transportation from parents or carers, young people living at home with parents or carers may question the travel they’re undertaking.
LGBT young people, particularly those in rural areas, often raise concerns about their safety when using public transportation. Although more than three quarters (78.7%) of all LGBT young people feel safe using public transportation, only half (51.8%) of transgender young people feel safe using public transport. Those in urban areas were most likely (88.3%) to feel safe using public transportation, followed by 76.3% of those in suburban areas and falling to 64.6% of those in rural areas. Buses are of particular concern as young people cannot simply move to another carriage, as they would on a train, if experiencing discrimination. Reporting opportunities on public transportation need to be improved and enforced. The reduced transportation options in rural areas mean that LGBT young people must often choose between using public transportation and not taking part in socialisation opportunities.
Dylan identifies as non-binary and grew up living with their brother, mother, and grandfather in a rural area with six houses. Dylan and their brother were the only children in the area, which lacked clubs and services, so did not socialise much until secondary school. LGBT identities were not discussed in Dylan’s family or community. Because Dylan was experiencing bullying at school, they did not feel comfortable taking part in the after school activities available. Dylan feels that opportunities to safely socialise at an earlier age, and LGBT-inclusive information in school, would have helped them understand their identity:
I think if I had more exposure earlier I would have understood how I was feeling about my body. [There should be] more information in schools because that’s the place the community gathers.
Dylan felt comfortable using the bus because it was always the same driver and an empty bus when they travelled, but found that the minimal service of one outward bus per day created other barriers. As both a ‘teenager and a night owl’, combined with depression and anxiety that they were unaware of until the age of 17, Dylan found it difficult to make the morning bus out of the village. This greatly reduced their ability to socialise with their peers. Although there were no LGBT-specific or LGBT-inclusive youth groups for Dylan to travel to, they did find a small group of friends with which they could be out about their gender identity.
If it was a good day and I had something really important to do, like spending the day with a few friends, I could make the bus. I live in a city now and can walk to social groups and [meet with] friends, so I socialise a lot more.
Evidence from Together’s State of Children’s Rights report 2016 finds that LGBT children and young people can face significant discrimination in many areas of their lives in addition to safe spaces to socialise, including stereotyping in the media (page 31), hate crime (page 32), abusive relationships (page 66), bullying impacting educational attainment (page 74), in accessing mental health services (page 99), and absence of LGBT issues in the current school curriculum (page 104). LGBT Youth Scotland, alongside Together and others, continue to push for change.