Posted April 28, 2023

How LGBTQ+ History and Culture Have Shaped Glasgow


It’s only natural that a country of queens would also be a country of kweens. From Loch Ness to Edinburgh Castle, Scotland is a land of hallowed history. A crucial part of the land and isle patchwork that makes up Scotland is the country’s LGBTQ+ culture, which has helped shape both the Scottish landscape and the British monarchy.

Castles dot the landscape throughout Scotland. (Photo Credit: Connor Mollison)

Scotland: A land of majestic beauty. (Photo Credit: Bjorn Snelders)

With 1.7 million people, Glasgow is Scotland’s largest city and its epicenter for all facets of culture. While gay-friendly towns and cities, large and small, can be found all over Scotland, nowhere is Pride more front-and-center than this metropolitan mecca, whose architectural juxtaposition of the old and the new is mirrored by its history, heritage, and thriving LGBTQ+ culture today.

The Roots of Scottish Pride

Unlike cities in the U.S. (which is a comparatively much-younger nation whose LGBTQ+ history is far more recent) Glasgow is a country with roots that extend far deeper — and thus, LGBTQ+ culture is far more engrained. Flickers of homosexuality first emerged in 1586, when Poem 49 became one of the first lesbian love poems ever penned.

In castles and historical sites throughout the country, monarchs are frequently cited as having same-sex relationships, including James VI of Scotland, the son of Mary Queen of Scots, who wasn’t shy about his preference for male companions. In 1865, it was found that Dr. James Barry, an alumni of the University of Edinburgh Medical School, was assigned female at birth, making him one of the first known transgender men in Scottish history.

Monarchs throughout Scottish history were known to have had same-sex relationships. (Photo Credit: Nicholas Beel)

No matter how prominent and visible same-sex love was for this ancient land, though, it too faced inevitable hostility. In 1885, the Criminal Law Amendment Act made it illegal to practice same-sex sexual acts, with a maximum of up to two years in prison. By 1954, the number of men arrested for such acts surpassed 1,000 per year.

The Wolfenden Report was published in 1957, to assess the validity of such a law, and whether or not homosexuality should indeed be a criminal offense. Parliament debated the findings, dismissing it in 1960. England and Wales decriminalized homosexuality in 1967, and while Scotland remained hostile towards LGBTQ+ people, the Scottish Minorities Group arose in Glasgow to fight for rights in 1969, a mere month before the Stonewall Riots broke out in New York City.

The First Celebrations

Groups like the Scottish Minorities Group amped up their efforts in the early ‘70s, establishing the Edinburgh Gay Switchboard in 1972, the country’s first gay center in Edinburgh in 1975, and the Glasgow Gay Centre in 1977. Same-sex acts were finally decriminalized under the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act of 1980.

The cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow mirrored one another’s progress on LGBTQ+ rights. (Photo Credit: Chloe Frost Smith)

Nearby Edinburgh saw a spate of queer businesses and celebrations, including the country’s first LGBTQ+ bookshop, Lavender Menace, and the first Scottish Pride March in 1995. Meanwhile, Glasgow was experiencing a queer renaissance all its own.

The Glasgow LGBT Centre opened in 1995, and the Scottish Pride March moved to the metropolis the following year, culminating with a glorious out-and-proud festival on Glasgow Green — the oldest park in the city, and among its most famed. Making up for years of lost time and homophobic laws, Glasgow established the Homophobic Crime Line in 2002, as a way to buckle down on hate crimes in the city.

Pride is everywhere in Glasgow. (Photo Credit: Ross Sneddon)

As LGBTQ+ protections and culture became increasingly ubiquitous throughout the city, beyond the confines of an annual Pride festival, new events and amendments emerged — like Jesus, Queen of Everything, a play at Glasgow’s Tron Theatre that depicted Jesus as transgender, and the rights for same-sex couples to adopt and foster.

A Country Making History

In 2014, same-sex marriage was legalized in Scotland, and in 2021, the country became the first in the world to platform and prioritize LGBTQ+ education throughout its school curriculums — quite the reversal from Section 28, a “Don’t Say Gay” law from 1988 that barred teachers from discussing LGBTQ+ issues whatsoever.

This ancient country continues to make history today. (Photo Credit: Giorgio Trovato)

Scotland is the first country that includes the prioritization of LGBTQ+ education in its school curriculum. (Photo Credit: Nicholas Chester Adams)

This inclusive and historic city continues to march ever onwards. (Photo Credit: Nicholas Chester Adams)

Nowadays, centuries after some of the world’s first known lesbian poetry and gay monarchs, Glasgow is home to the largest Pride celebrations in Scotland, held annually in the summer. Elsewhere, the Lesbian Archive and Information Centre is on display at the Glasgow Women’s Library, Category is Books is the only LGBTQ+ bookstore in Scotland, and gay bars and clubs can be found throughout the city, from drag shows and karaoke at Katie’s Bar to the rainbow-bright dance floors at The Polo Lounge.

For centuries, Scotland — and its urban nexus of Glasgow — has told important stories of LGBTQ+ culture. From queens of yore to drag queens today, it’s a city that’s as inclusive as it is historic, thanks largely to the undeniable presence of queer stories throughout the country’s history.

Where to stay: Kimpton Blythswood Square Hotel

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