LESBIAN and gay members of the community feel that the Borders still harbours a homophobic culture, according to a new report.
Safety in the community was another concern, not just for those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups, but also for members of ethnic minorities, the disabled, elderly and other communities.
These were just two of the findings to come from a series of focus groups held between June and September of last year as part of work by Scottish Borders Council to formulate its new equality scheme.
Councillors were given a briefing at the recent full session meeting of the local authority on the proposal for a corporate approach and an equality scheme to address the requirements within the Equality Act 2010, as well as meet the needs of other equality and diversity work being undertaken within the council.
Eight focus groups and 52 people participated, including representatives from the Borders Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Forum (BLGBT), Borders Disability Forum, Borders Voluntary Community Care Forum, Borders Chinese Society, Borders Islamic Group, Borders Equality Forum and the migrant community.
Community tensions were raised by all of the community groups involved, with concerns raised about hate crime by people from the ethnic minority community, those with learning disabilities and the LGBT community
Within the household survey, women, older people with disabilities and those from ethnic minorities all felt less safe to walk alone in their local area after dark.
Many groups highlighted isolation and poor integration, and there were also issues raised around education, income, political representation and employment opportunities.
Councillors approved recommendations for a single equality scheme, plus they endorsed a set of equality outcomes; supported embedding equality outcomes within new corporate priorities and agreed to set up a member officer review group.
Councillor Michael Cook (East Berwickshire, Ind), SBC executive member for HR and corporate improvement told TheSouthern that the Borders was no different from other parts of Scotland in the need to undertake further work to improve equality, albeit with different emphasises.
“The population is becoming more diverse and we need to recognise and respond to this as a public organisation,” said Mr Cook.
“The report provides a basis for moving ahead in dealing with these matters both from the perspective of the council and working with partner bodies through the community planning process.”
On specific issues, Mr Cook said the police had recorded 31 hate crimes this fiscal year to date, of which 24 were race related.
“This is consistent with previous years and there is no spike,” he said. “The vast majority of these are verbal comments. It will surprise no-one to hear that, frequently, these offences were committed by individuals who had consumed alcohol.
“The figures also include abuse directed against police officers where their ethnicity is at the heart of the abuse.
“There is no specific trend, nor any identified problematic areas within the Scottish Borders, and thankfully such crimes are rare. We need to try and make them extinct.
“We are challenging homophobia through our support for the LGBT youth project which is highly regarded in the country and in our close working with the Borders LGBT Forum.
“As with any public organisation, we need to ensure that we are an equal opportunities employer and gather information to ensure we are making progress in this, and make improvements.”
SBC was praised for its engagement efforts by Borders LGBT youth worker Karen Wilson.
“Younger members of the LGBT community certainly do say they feel a culture of homophobia still exists in the Borders and if they are out at night, particularly at the weekend, they do often feel unsafe and will tend to take the long way round to avoid certain areas,” she told us.
“There is still a stigma – I think for the older members of the LGBT community it is probably worse as the Borders remains a very traditional area in many ways.
“But this report is a big step in the right direction to help address such issues and the council has to be commended for such a positive and proactive approach.”