What on earth has being LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or queer) got to do with walking? Well, both nothing and everything.
This Pride month, we won’t be gathering together to walk down the streets of our towns and cities en masse, waving our rainbow flags and admiring the colourful diversity of our communities.
And because we won’t, Kate Joester - our Project Coordinator for Living Streets Scotland - has been thinking and reading about why we do it in the first place.
Walking down the street feeling safe and comfortable is a very basic right. When you are identified by others as LGBT – which for some people is “always” and for others just when they’re holding a partner’s hand – safety is never guaranteed.
Personally, my risk assessment for holding a partner’s hand in the street accepts that sexual harassment is likely to happen, and focuses on whether it’s dark, there are few people around, whether it’s “not a gay-friendly area”, and if there’s a higher risk of physical violence.
I'm not alone in these concerns and they're not without reason. One third of people in same-sex relationships don’t feel comfortable holding hands in the street, whilst one fifth of LGBT people experience violence or discrimination every year.
For young LGBT people, the walk to school, instead of being a way of building independence and peer relationships, can be a site of bullying. And for some people, their legal right simply to walk down the street at all is a recent and hard-won thing.
Recently on Twitter, some transgender women shared photos of their “walking papers” – letters from psychiatrists saying that they had an official diagnosis of gender dysphoria. The explicit aim of these letters was to be shown to police, who otherwise sometimes arrested people wearing “the wrong sex’s” clothes for breach of the peace or soliciting. The most recent “walking papers” date from the beginning of this century.
When we look at streets, we must always look at them from the perspectives of all their users. When we think about what walking means for an LGBTQ person, we must think about both safety and the perception of safety. We must think about how public spaces can advertise that they are for everyone and value different communities.
When we think about the walk to school, we must think about young people who are vulnerable to homophobic and transphobic bullying, and how we can make walking to school a healthy and happy experience for them.
When we promote walking, we must think about diversity in our imagery and language so that LGBTQ people know they are included.
Streets are for everyone. When Pride marches return in 2021, perhaps the streets they move through will be places LGBTQ people will still feel welcome the morning after, and every other day.
Caroline is a wheelchair user. She reflects on how lockdown has made streets even more inaccessible to so many.
Tools and guidance to help make the walk to school safe and enjoyable during these unprecedented times.