A new MSP who worried he wouldn’t be accepted when he came out as gay has become the first openly homosexual man to be elected into Holyrood for Scottish Labour.
Paul O’Kane was one of seven West Scotland list candidates to secure a seat in the Scottish Parliament at the weekend after voters hit the polls last Thursday.
He will now represent Renfrewshire and Inverclyde as part of his remit, a duty he regarded as “the honour of his life” in the wake of his victory.
But the 33-year-old councillor said he was equally delighted to have “broken a glass ceiling” within his party.
In the 22-year history of Holyrood, Scottish Labour has never had an openly gay man within its parliamentary team.
And Mr O’Kane – who first came out when he was a teenager – said he was humbled to have been chosen as the first.
“When I was younger I worried I wouldn’t be accepted for who I was,” said Mr O’Kane, who represents Neilston and Newton Mearns North on East Renfrewshire Council.
“When you’re going through coming out and realising who you are, you do question whether people will accept it and whether it will have an adverse impact on the career you want to do and I just want this to be proof to people they can achieve the things they want to.
“In this election process, when we were discussing the list in Scottish Labour, it was an argument I made really strongly that we had never had an openly gay man elected to Holyrood within the party.
“I am so honoured I am now in this position today and I really just want to give a strong voice to the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] community in the West of Scotland as someone who has lived and experienced coming out as a gay man.
“We need to show young people going through that they have someone speaking up for them because the suicide rates of LGBT people are too high.
“There is a huge amount of work to be done in this parliament and I am so ready for that.”
The SNP, Greens, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have all already had gay men sat in the chamber at some point since the establishment of the parliament, and Labour has now finally followed suit.
Mr O’Kane will become the party’s second LGBT MSP after former leader Kezia Dugdale in a parliament which is being billed as possibly the most diverse yet.
Glasgow Kelvin MSP Kaukab Stewart and West Scotland MSP Pam Gosal were the first women of colour to be elected into Holyrood, while the latter also became the first Sikh to take up office.
Women now also make up 45 per cent of the chamber, a new record high.
Mr O’Kane added: “Within Scottish Labour we have always had a focus on how we become more diverse but I think right across the parties there’s an energy around trying to achieve that too.
“We need to have a parliament that looks and feels like Scotland and I hope people will see that more now.
“I want people to be able to look at the chamber and see there’s someone in there who looks and is like them.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of other MSPs who have said it’s a really positive step forward that I’ve been elected and that is really humbling.
“I think it’s going to be a really important parliament for defending the rights of trans people and supporting them and I think it’s important to me that we look to tackle prejudice and bullying more.”