The Scottish Parliament Corporate Body (SPCB) sparked a controversy when it issued a diktat banning members of parliamentary staff from wearing any other than a standard purple lanyard on their work passes. On the surface it seems like a quite dull administrative decision by a quite dull administrative group.

Except it ended up being anything but, because in all of this, it transpired that while some political symbols are in fact allowed under the new dress-code, the rainbow lanyard – commonly worn by LGBT allies to express their acceptance and affirmation of the LGBT community – is verboten as of close of play on Thursday.

The bizarre explanation issued by the SPCB was that: “This decision will help to minimise the risk of perceived bias and avoid any perception that wearing such items may be influencing our decision-making.”

This is, obviously, not the reason at all. First up, a bias in favour of acceptance and inclusion is surely no bad thing in a parliament that claims to have equal opportunities as a founding principle, and which passed landmark legislation allowing us queers the right to marry.

The Herald: Symbols of trade union membership will still be allowedSymbols of trade union membership will still be allowed (Image: free)

Moreover, the claim that the citizens of Scotland might be wandering around deluding themselves that the person who asks for their name at reception is involved in the selection of Stage 2 amendments is a joke without the funny bit at the end.

Meanwhile, symbols of trade union membership – one of the strongest indicators of political bias if ever there were one – will still be allowed. And the poppy too is safe for now, presumably only if it is a red one. Again, another strong political statement.

In the real world, we know that the decision was taken in response to complaints that some opponents of reforms to the law that would make obtaining legal recognition of their identity for transgender people easier were having items removed by security staff. Political campaigning in the gallery of the parliament has been banned since the year dot, and those who take part in any such activity are usually asked to leave. Asking them to remove a badge or any other symbols is actually pretty hands-off as a response from the parliament’s excellent and discerning security team.

In contrast, the rainbow lanyard has typically been worn as an expression of support and acceptance for the LGBT community. You might wonder why and if you do it is likely that you aren’t one of us and have genuinely never experienced the relief of realising that the person you are talking to won’t shut you out – or worse – simply for being who you are. If so I am glad for you and I want this to be how life plays out for everyone. Sadly that isn’t the case for a lot of LGBT people.

It was with that personal history that while working as a civil servant at Registers of Scotland (RoS) I took tentative steps towards establishing the Scottish Government department’s first LGBT+ staff network in 2018.


Rainbow lanyard ban: how did Scotland get here?

Greens: Scottish Parliament rainbow lanyard ban 'regressive'

I was inspired by listening to the new Keeper of the Registers of Scotland, Jennifer Henderson, talk about how she set up a women’s network in a previous role. I asked her, at the end of a meeting, whether she would support an LGBT+ staff network; her one word response was “absolutely”. She made good on that commitment at every single turn.

Her leadership was matched by other managers and team leaders, and within weeks the overwhelming majority of my colleagues were wearing rainbow lanyards – mostly cisgender, mostly straight, all keen to let colleagues and visitors know that they were safe people to be ‘out’ to.

You might not think that this should even be relevant. So think about who you know at work who happens to be married. Who has kids? Who’s present you just chipped into to congratulate them on a new baby, or express condolences on the loss of a parent. Queer people have the same lives – the thing we can’t assume is that we will have acceptance or that we wont suffer for being our own true selves.

Until we can that is. A pal of mine talked about how, while in the process of applying for a new job, she was very aware that, should she be successful, she would need to talk to her manager about time off for her already planned, very lesbian, wedding. Those fears fell away at the interview on clocking her future manager’s rainbow lanyard.

We should all feel safe to be ourselves at work, and we should all feel safe when accessing public services. And yet people who are LGBT can’t assume that to be the case. I was still at school when section 28 was in place, and at university when its abolition was being debated. LGBT related hate crime is on the rise and all the while opponents of a new law extending protections express their outrage.

The Herald: Holyrood rainbow lanyard ban is 'regressive step' say Scottish GreensHolyrood rainbow lanyard ban is 'regressive step' say Scottish Greens (Image: free)

Some are staging a Funeral for Freedom of Speech on Easter Monday at Holyrood. Hate speech of the kind that they are referring to has actually been an offence in relation to racial hatred in the UK since 1986 – the new legislation simply extends the law to other groups, including the LGBT community.

It does beg the question of what is it that these people want to say and, perhaps more importantly, why?

Faced with the choice, I’d take a life where my sexual orientation didn’t factor in the way that people view me at all. But unfortunately that isn’t a world I get to live in.

Yet come Monday, parliament employees will have to endure the sight and sounds of protesters moaning that they may now be held to account for bigotry, while inside being banned from wearing what has been a symbol of acceptance and affirmation of a marginalised group. Shame on the Corporate Body, and shame on every member of parliament at Holyrood by extension.