LESBIANS AND HOUSING IN LEICESTER: A REPORT BY
LESBIAN INFORMATION SERVICE
This is a Report of a Pilot Study, the purpose of which is to establish a more accurate picture of the position of Lesbians in relation to Housing. Although further intensive research is needed, the findings do
substantiate the limited research that has been done elsewhere.
The disclosures by Lesbians for the purposes of this Study illustrate conclusively the ways in which Lesbians suffer as a result of living in a heterosexist society - a society which regards heterosexuality as
normal and Lesbianism as abnormal. Such disclosures are not meant to reinforce the negative stereotypes which prevail about Lesbians, although we recognise the risks involved in a study of this kind.
However, it is our belief that until the details of Lesbian experience are made visible to the authorities, the plight of Lesbians will not improve. It is important to recognise the parallels between Lesbians and other oppressed groups:
Women are oppressed by Sexism;
Black people are oppressed by Racism;
Lesbians are oppressed by Heterosexism.
There is a huge gap in the knowledge of authorities regarding Lesbian oppression and how this manifests itself in the lack of services for Lesbians. This omission represents discrimination against Lesbians on a
large scale, especially in the field of housing.
This Report will make the issue of Lesbian experience, in the area of housing, visible. It will be up to the Housing Authorities to take steps to address the needs of Lesbians as a matter of urgency. How they
should do this is outlined in the CONCLUSION of this report. Amendment 28 of the Local Government Bill seeks to prevent Local Authorities from spending money on "promoting homosexuality". If this
Amendment is passed, it will be up to the Courts to interpret the word "promote". Some Local Authorities will seek to hide behind such an Act of Parliament and use it as an excuse not to make provision for
Evidence(1) shows that local housing policies overlook vulnerable groups of women and the special problems women face when they become or are potentially homeless. Lesbians are one such vulnerable group: not only because we do not fall within the usual priority categories of housing agencies but also because there is no acknowledgement of our special needs. This report will not be looking at the general needs of women and housing but at the specific needs of Lesbians. There is, however, little research about the housing needs of Lesbians.(2)
To understand the special needs of Lesbians we must first understand what it is like to live in a society that is heterosexist and homophobic.
Women are told how to behave: our laws, procedures, institutions all tell us that it is 'normal' to get married, have children and fit into the 'normal' family role (heterosexism). To be an 'open' Lesbian means that you are going against all the things that you have been told you should be. So it is not surprising that most Lesbians lead a double life, they pretend that they are heterosexual so that they will not lose their jobs, children, homes, family, friends, etc.
There are no laws against discriminating against Lesbians. Indeed, if Amendment 28 to the Local Government Bill is passed there will actually be a law making Lesbianism illegal. Lesbians are sacked because of their sexualty - because they work with children/young people despite the fact that it is men who perpetrate rape, incest, sexual abuse, etc. Losing your job can, in turn, mean losing your home, particularly if you are trying to buy a house.
There are many older Lesbians who, after years of marriage and bringing up a family, discover they are Lesbian. These women, in particular, are frightened to be openly Lesbian because the courts say that, as Lesbians, they are unfit to bring up their children and mostly give custody to the father (even though the father may be violent, drink, etc). When Lesbian mothers do manage to keep their children they have
to keep quiet about their sexuality for fear of losing them. Courts often state that they must not live with another woman. Children of out Lesbian mothers face abuse at school - another reason why their mothers keep quiet about their sexuality. It is, perhaps, ironic that if Lesbian mothers won custody cases they would come within the housing priority needs of local authorities, although it is then argued that they have made themselves intentionally homeless.
One-fifth of Lesbians are mothers who have responsibility for children. Lesbian mothers need to have the same opportunities as heterosexual mothers to perform their functions as effectively as possible. With the current lack of acknowledgement of the oppression of Lesbians this is not being achieved. It is important for children to see that their Lesbian mothers are supported by the authorities, as Lesbians.
We live in a society which dis-empowers young and old people. Young Lesbians are particularly vulnerable in a hostile society. Research(3) shows that young Lesbians are thrown out of their parental homes and suffer harassment from their parents because of their sexuality, this is happening at a time, i.e. coming to terms with their sexality, when young Lesbians mostly need support. Often young Lesbians are introduced to the 'gay scene' via the local gay pub or club which makes them immediately vulnerable to alcohol and other drug abuse, and, added to the problems of living in a heterosexist society, in turn often leads to depression and suicide attempts.
Older Lesbians are less likely than their gay male counterparts to be wealthy, therefore, they have less choice if they become physically/mentally frail in old age. The ratio of old women far exceeds men and it increases with age. Old Lesbians, especially when they become dependent on others, are particularly vulnerable. Local authorities are obliged to provide residential access for frail, elderly people, but access is entirely heterosexual in orientation and no acknowledgement is made of the existence of older Lesbians.(4) Lesbian couples entering residential care are highly unlikely to have the nature of their relationship and status as a couple, recognised. Ageism imposes silence on women with regard to their sexuality. An assertion of your identity as a Lesbian when you are old is breaking the taboo that sexuality is the preserve of the young. Older Lesbians who have come out later in life following years of marriage may not have the benefit of 'owner-occupied' property to use as an asset; alternately, it could take a long time for a divorce settlement.
The society in which we live is racist. Therefore the experience of Black Lesbians will be more complex and problematic. The fear of being 'out' for Black Lesbians will be greater as the loss of support from family and friends has far greater consequences because a white society can offer Black Lesbians no comfort. Most established Lesbian and Gay Organisations are predominantly white (and male).
Differently-Abled Lesbians are particularly vulnerable in a society which is disablist. Because Differently-Abled Lesbians have to rely on others for support, again, it is almost impossible for them - in a
heterosexist society - to assert their sexuality for fear of the loss of life support. The existing institutions that could house Lesbians are often either heterosexist or do not have access for Differently-Abled
Differently-Abled women cannot just discharge themselves from hospitals and 'walk' away. Careful plans must be made for a prepared return to the community where their independent life styles may once again be established. Hospitalisation with the imposed sick role and medical model of disability can destroy self-image, create increased levels of dependency making return to friends, lovers or family so much more difficult. But what about the Differently-Abled Lesbian who is not out to her family? What about the Differently-Abled Lesbian who is not in a relationship? What support networks are there for her?
The above are specific categories relating to Lesbians and housing needs. The following are more general and affect Lesbians across the board.
"Building a Lesbian relationship is exciting, scary, wonderful, hard work. It is work for which few of use are prepared. Our society, with its compulsory enforcement of heterosexuality, gives us little positive training to build a healthy woman-to-woman relationship.
Heterosexuals largely take for granted the societal supports given to their relationships. They bring their friends home for parental approval, they date openly and receive community feedback. Many have access to religious or mental health counsel. They can choose rituals to mark commitment and life changes. A host of socia, legal, financial and political benefits come to heterosexual persons if they choose marriage.
This is not the Lesbian reality. Most of us grow up with little or no information about our sexual identity or lifestyle choices. Once we identify ourselves as Lesbian, we are often isolated in profound ways from families, our community, and sometimes even from ourselves. The homophobia of our culture leaves us a legacy of paranoia and low self-esteem.
It is often a challenge for us even to find a potential partner. And when we do, there are no rules, no role models, no supports for building that relationship. Our isolation can drive us too quickly together. Our lack of information and the weight of oppression can drive us apart, or mold us into patterns of relating that are less than healthy." Taken from "The Lesbian Relationship Handbook," P J K Athey and M J K Osterman, 1986, A Kinheart Posh Resource.
When our relationships break down we find ourselves in an extremely vulnerable position. More often than not at least one member of the partnership finds herself homeless. This does not happen once or twice; it is more usual to occur regularly in our life-time because of the difficulties of maintaining a Lesbian relationship in an environment that is totally unsupportive.
Alcohol abuse among women is on the increase. Oppression of women is one reason for women drinking: women see themselves as not fulfilling societies expectations i.e. to be a wife and mother. This produces guilt and many other negative symptoms.
In a book by Bridgid McConville entitled "Women Under The Influence," the same theme emerged from interviews with different women: they all felt guilty that they were not doing what they 'should' be doing and not being what they 'should' be as women. They also suffered from a sense of personal inadequacy and low self-esteem, which after temporary relief from drinking is even lower.
"Lesbian Health Matters," published by Santa Cruz Women's Health Collective, 1979, states that one in three gay people abuses alcohol - which is more than three times the estimated number of problem drinkers in the general population.
"Out From Under - Sober Dykes and Our Friends," edited by Jean Swallow, gives accounts of American Lesbians and their experiences of alcohol. In a study done in 1982 in the Lesbian community she says the statistics are: 38% alcoholic and 30% problem drinkers, which implies that Lesbians are likely to be either alcoholic or are having a relationship with someone who is alcoholic or has drinking problems.
Lesbians sometimes drink for very different reasons from heterosexual women, although as women we also face pressures around work, childcare and the continuing image of the 'drunk woman' as a disgusting and pathetic creature. Lesbians face a world which is either hostile or negates our existence; in such situations the existence of a Lesbian sub-culture is both a refuge and a celebration of our sexuality.
Historically this sub-culture is often located in pubs and clubs. Add to this the considerable pressure Lesbians are often under from the outside world - a pressure which is both antagonistically direct yet indirectly sends messages about our failure to be 'real women' - and it is not difficult to understand why alcohol features so strongly in many Lesbians' lives.
Although there are special projects for alcohol abuse, including residential schemes and women only schemes, these are usually heterosexual in their orientation. Some projects try to support their clients by concentrating not only on drink related problems - seeing this as a symptom - but also on other areas of concern. From our experience, however, this rarely (if ever) extends to an acknowledgement of the
problems facing Lesbians created by heterosexist society.(5)
Lesbians with drug-related problems face similar experiences: i.e. that there is little/no support for Lesbians with alcohol/drug related problems. Furthermore, many women only hostels will not accept women who have any problems, be they related to alcohol, drugs or violence.
It is well known that women are more likely to suffer from mental illness than men. Although further research needs to be carried out, it seems to be the case that many Lesbians have either attempted suicide at some stage in their life or have suffered some form of mental illness (it seems possible that the former is more likely to be the case for women who have known about their sexuality from teenage days whereas the latter seems to occur to Lesbians who only become aware of their sexuality after years of forced heterosexuality, marriage and raising a family).
Lesbians can be hospitalised for their depression but often the problems which heterosexism creates are ignored, except maybe to concentrate on one's sexuality and see it as a personal problem rather than as a whole series of problems created by the heterosexist society in which we live. Coming out of a psychiatric hospital is, for many women, a time of bare survival. Lesbians are released from psychiatric care into a totally unsupportive environment and, before long, they have to return to the psychiatric hospital where their problems are made worse at the hands of heterosexist nursing staff and doctors.
Housing is crucial to starting again in the outside world. Many women coming out of hospital cannot return to their previous homes because they have lost their tenancy or because it is too difficult to cope.
Housing policies and provision at local level do not meet needs for suitable accommodation.
LESBIANS AND HOUSING IN LEICESTER
METHOD OF RESEARCH
To my knowledge there has been no in depth research into the housing needs of Lesbians in Leicester(6). Indeed, a recently published pamphlet, "Homelessness and Housing for Unemployed Women in Leicester-shire," (November 1987) virtually ignores Lesbians, apart from a reference under the section on CHAR (Housing Campaign for Single People). Research into this subject is difficult for a variety of reasons: Firstly, given that society and the media, and Lesbians themselves, make Lesbians invisible, how can contact with Lesbians be made? Secondly, when Lesbians internalise their oppression, and often deny its existence, how can they be made aware of it?
With regard to contact with Lesbians, Lesbian Information Service has been involved in setting up and running a Young Lesbian Group, a Lesbian Coffee Bar, a Lesbians and Phobias Group and, most recently, a Lesbian Line. Prior to this we were involved for some time with a local Lesbian Group and were running a local Lesbian Newsletter which became national in August 1987. Contact with other Lesbian organisations around the country has enabled L.I.S. to acquire relevant information, whilst workwith Lesbians locally - and involvement with the Leicester Lesbian and Gay Housing Group - prompted this research.
In order to try and overcome the problem of awareness of our oppression, the questionnaire (see Appendix A) was designed in such a way to help the participants. For example, there is a three page introduction which gives a brief background to the survey. Participants were asked to read this before completing the questionnaire. Similarly, the questions were put in such a way as to enable the participants to concentrate on their housing experiences. Even so, this method had its short-comings and ideally the questionnaire should be completed on a one-to-one basis with the questioner assisting the participant.
As well as conducting a survey through the questionnaire we also arranged to interview some women and/or women wrote their own case studies. This revealed some of the short-comings of the questionnaire. For instance, Case Study 1 (see Apprendix C for Case Studies): initially the participant felt that she had only suffered a little housing harassment because of her sexuality but discussion of her experience proved otherwise. Similarly, whilst Case Study 2 reveals parental harassment, when the same woman completed the questionnaire she said she had not experienced any harassment because of her sexuality. With no funding (L.I.S. has received a grant of £1,000 from Leicester City Council but this is to cover all our work with local Lesbians) and with other commitments, we had to put restrictions on the amount of time spent on this research. For this reason the research can only be seen as a pilot study: we produced 30 questionnaires and distributed 23, 14 of which have been completed and returned. Please note, two of the Lesbians whose experiences are shown in the case studies did not complete the questionnaire. In all, therefore, sixteen Lesbians took part in the study. There was also a time limit of two weeks given to complete the questionnaire (over the festive season!) Having said this, however, we cannot ignore the results of the survey, nor our experience of working with Lesbians locally and our contact with authorities locally in relation to Lesbian issues. (See, for example, Appendix D which contains information about visits to three local hostels).
ANALYSIS OF THE FINDINGS OF THE SURVEY
The purpose of the questionnaire was to supply local statistics and examples in order to show the vulnerability of Lesbians; to highlight their special housing needs; and to reveal what the consequencies are of living in a society in which heterosexuality is seen as the 'norm'. The complete results of the survey are to be found in Appendix B.
Lesbians who took part in the survey covered a wide variety of backgrounds, e.g. Young, Older, Lesbian Mothers, Differently-Abled, Middle Class, Working Class, and Irish, unfortunately no Black Lesbians or Old Lesbians took part.
With regard to class origin, because no definitions were given it would be difficult to draw any conclusions but it is clear that the oppression of Lesbians cuts right across economic and social class distinctions.
It is clear from the responses that the housing situation of Lesbians is usually insecure. For example, if we group together the "secure" types of housing, i.e. owner/occupier; housing association; local authority;
and marital home, there were twenty-one responses. For "insecure" types of housing, i.e. private rented; temporary; friends; caravans; etc., there were 110 responses. LESBIANS ARE MORE LIKELY TO BE INSECURE IF THEY LIVE IN INSECURE ACCOMMODATION AND ARE MORE PRONE TO HARASSMENT. It is further interesting to note that of the four women who are now owner/occupiers, three were married and the other lived with her parents in a local authority house and is now buying the property under the 'Right To Buy' Scheme. The following are types of harassment that the respondents suffered:
"Physical, emotional and verbal abuse from ex-husbands and boyfriends.
Variety of abuse from landlords/landladies including: eviction, threat of eviction, verbal: "lowering the tone of the neighbourhood," "perverts," non-verbal: doors banged late at night, loud music, shit on doorstep.
Neighbours: cross-questioning of children, fear and paranoia that neighbours will report them to the authorities and they may lose custody of the children, verbal: "They're (Lesbians) a bad influence on young people," "Perverts," house daubed with LESBIAN.
Witch-hunt in the W.R.A.F. (i.e. Lesbianism in the forces is illegal; every now and then the Special Investigation Branch set up witch-hunts to find Lesbians, interrogate them and then discharge them.)"
Even so, Lesbians in "secure" housing can still suffer harassment from neighbours or workmen. At the same time, it is possible that if a Lesbian were to lose her job because of her sexuality her home could be at risk. Although none of the participants lost their homes in this way, one respondent said she changed her job and had to move away because she came out at work and was refused promotion which, in turn,
meant that she is no longer an owner/occupier. Another Lesbian said it took her nine months to get a job after leaving her previous one because she came out, whilst a third, ironically, lost her job because she moved: she used to live next door to a member of her management committee (this would have made it difficult to sack her) and when she moved she was sacked because she was a Lesbian. Although there was no definition of 'coming out' in the questionnaire - we have different interpretations, for example, some might say they are out to their family yet they are only out to their mother, etc - what we can draw from the responses and our experience is that the more 'out' you are the more likely you are to suffer harassment.
Questions 5, 7, 8, 9 and 10, - i.e. Where did you go to live when you first discovered you were a Lesbian? Have you ever attempted suicide? Have you ever suffered from depression, had any drink or drug related problems? And question 11, Has relationship breakdown ever had consequences for your housing situation? - were all asked as a prompt for question 12: Have you ever been in a situation where you would have welcomed an all Lesbian, supportive, environment. We do not, in any way, want the responses to be viewed as perpetuating the myth that Lesbians are inherently inadequate. Rather, they highlight what a heterosexist society does to us.
For example, three of the participants were thrown out of their parental homes when they became Lesbians; one joined the WRAF; two left their husbands and one was said to be "voluntarily homeless"; one ran away from home; and one went to London.
Twelve (86%) of the participants have suffered from depression whilst six (43% - with a total of 15 attempts) have attempted suicide. Five (36%) have had drug-related problems and six (43%) drink-related problems; six (43%) gave relationship breakdown as having consequences on their housing situations, these included four leaving matrimonial homes. Having said this, it is clear - de facto - that unless the two women involved have their own homes, relationship breakdown is bound to have housing implications for at least one of the couple.
These examples clearly show the need for a supportive, all Lesbian environment where Lesbians can go when they first come out, when they go through a relationship breakdown or when they are going through a particular crisis. Although one participant answered "no" to question 12, and one did not answer the question, 12 out of 14 (86%) said yes. Responses included:
"Yes, parents and friends unsupportive or unable to help. Safe environment would have helped a lot."
"Yes, when I needed help in coming out, I was drinking heavily, needed place to stay to sort myself out as my parents threw me out."
"Yes, When I left marital home and when I was having a nervous breakdown and at the end of relationships."
"Yes, on demob from W.R.A.F. when I was coming out. Also when I got together with my first girlfriend; at the end of my relationships and at seventeen and a half - perhaps I might not have joined up!"
"Yes, main time when partner committed suicide; also when I left home the first and second time; at the end of relationships and when thrown out of partner's parents home."
"Yes, during all the times I was confused, scared and isolated."
"Yes, when I first lived alone with my two children in 1982 I would have liked to have lived with other Lesbians."
"Yes, I would have done when I moved out of the shared heterosexual
house because I couldn't cope with their unacceptance - I needed a place to go and lick my wounds, but all I had was a tiny room in a nurses home where no-one spoke to me."
"Yes, when I first realised I was Lesbian and, now that I think about it, also all the time I was married with small children. I would not want it now that I'm older, I like to live on my own."
"Yes, because it is an opportunity to get away from an oppressive situation - and it means that I would have a choice about what I could do if I needed to find another place to go."
"Yes, it would be very lovely and might have made the transition from heterosexual to Lesbian less painful."
Whilst one respondent said she had had problems getting mortgage related insurance because of her age and weight, a second said that the cold and damp exacerbated her asthma and other bronchial problems, a third respondent gave a shocking example of homophobia:
"(I) had to move from my partners home because of access difficulties. The Disablement Officer could have told us about certain
grants and benefits enabling adjustments to property, e.g. stanna lift, shower, outside loo, etc."
"It would be unheard of to separate a married heterosexual couple because one of the couple was disabled!"
Eight of the participants (57%), and possibly three others, said they would like to live in some kind of Lesbian environment, whilst ten said they would be interested in a Lesbian housing co-op, either as a tenant or member (with another two possibles).
Some of the final comments made included:
"There should be more housing for us when you are homeless."
"There is a desperate need for a hostel and for Lesbian houses (with separate flats) and supported houses."
"Lesbians need safe, secure, well maintained property to live in, they need their life-styles and their problems acknowledged and catered for by the authorities."
"Women are vulnerable when it comes to housing. Because of institutionalised homophobia and heterosexism Lesbians are clearly even more vulnerable."
"That there is an URGENT need before Lesbians have to die because of no provisions, concern or care shown by this society."
"Well, as men own nearly all the land and property we have a very hard time getting any of it - heterosexual women generally marry into it - but as Lesbians we haven't a hope in hell unless we have a reasonable income."
"Just that it can be precarious if the relationship broke down now it would have far reaching consequences for how four of us live -
myself, partner and two children."
The case studies show how Lesbians suffer both in relation to housing and to living in a heterosexist and homophobic society. Case Study 1 gives details of how a Lesbian was incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital because of her sexuality. We are still being incarcerated because we are Lesbians.
Case Studies 2 and 3 reveal how two Young Lesbians have been and are being treated by their parents/relations, that is being thrown out and under the threat of being thrown out.
Case Study 4 highlights what it is like for an Older Lesbian to leave her matrimonial home and children, face being a Lesbian and living in constant fear of violence.
The final Case Study, 5, shows how a Lesbian faced the heterosexism and homophobia of other female tenants (in an all women hostel).
VISITS TO HOSTELS
The hostel visits (and Case Study 5) revealed, all too clearly, that heterosexism and homophobia would make life for a Lesbian in a mixed hostel unbearable: given that a Lesbian would be seeking hostel
accommodation at a time of crisis, usually brought on by a heterosexist society, these sort of attitudes can only make our situation worse. Our experiences clearly show the need for a Lesbian hostel as well as
awareness training for housing staff.
All the services provided by the local authorities - and all other authorities - are based upon the assumption that everybody is heterosexual. Any other concept is not within the sights, let alone the
policies and practices, of authorities. Lesbians have no credibility in society. We are, therefore, unable to make any impact on the authorities who, in turn, treat us with little or no respect.
A major function of any local authority is the provision of housing. A huge amount of money is spent every year in providing adequate housing for people with different housing needs. Over recent years steps have been taken to acknowledge the special housing needs of Women and of Black People. There has been no corresponding acknowledgement or recognition of the special housing needs of Lesbians.
It is clear that Lesbians are suffering and that authorities are doing nothing about it - perhaps the authorities need to ask themselves why? Lesbians need to be able to go to authorities and say "I am a Lesbian" in the knowledge that the authorities will immediately recognise the implications for the woman involved, without her having to convince the authority that she has special needs. For authorities to defensively claim that "everyone is treated the same," is ignoring the reality of Lesbians.
Within the small sample involved in the survey the picture is grim. What we have is a catalogue of difficulties and hardships - simply because of our sexuality. Given the size of the survey, this is
clearly just the tip of the iceberg.
Currently Lesbians are invisible - invisibility is the only respite we have in a hostile world but, far from being any kind of asset, it is the single most oppressive element of heterosexism.
The following are recommendations which we strongly urge are taken up by both the local authority and other housing authorities/related projects. It is quite a comprehensive list because we have included recommendations made by other bodies (see Bibliography).
1. There is a desperate need to provide a Lesbian Hostel which will cater not only for the Young Lesbian who has been thrown out of her parental home but also for the Lesbian Mother who has left her hus-
band/partner - with or without her children, for the Lesbian who is just coming to terms with her sexuality, for the Lesbian who is being discharged from hospital, for the Lesbian who is Differently-Abled, for Black Lesbians, for the Lesbian whose relationship has just broken down, etc., with a Lesbian Warden who is skilled, is out, and who is aware of the problems Lesbians face.
There is, at present, a Lesbian Housing Group being set up (having broken away from the Lesbian and Gay Housing Group); it is envisaged that this group would form a management committee for a Lesbian Hostel or a Housing Co-op. We are in the process of writing to similar organisations. 2. There is clearly a need for wider research into the housing needs of Lesbians, Old and Young, Black and White, with Children and Single and Lesbians who are Differently-Abled, and into the provision that already exists. (See, for example, Appendix E).
3. The level of awareness about the needs of Lesbians amongst housing staff needs to be raised. This can be achieved through a variety of methods, including:
3.1 All housing associations, local authority housing departments, hostels, housing co-ops, related schemes e.g. residential homes for the elderly, hostels for people with drink/drug related problems, hostels
for people recovering from mental illnesses, etc., should be encouraged to have an equal opportunities policy that includes Lesbians. Life in a mixed hostel can be a nightmare for Lesbians - hostels need
clearly spelt out penalties against harassment which the project is prepared to carry through.
Setting targets is good but care must be taken to avoid, for example, a situation where two residents out of forty are Lesbian and the hostel thinks it has done its bit. There is a desperate need for a Lesbian
Hostel but mixed projects must also ensure that their premises are safe and welcoming for Lesbians.
3.2 Equal opportunities should be part of every training course run by housing authorities. This would ensure that no-one could opt out of equal opportunities training but no-one was being forced to go. N.B.
This training should include local councillors. In the meantime, special heterosexism awareness training courses should be introduced.
3.3 An Awareness Pack needs to be produced and circulated to all housing staff. L.I.S. is in the process of applying for funding from Leicester City Council Housing Department to fund such a project.
4. Lesbians aged 16-21 and 60 years plus should be defined as vulnerable and given priority housing status.
5. Housing authorities should make a commitment to rehousing Lesbians, including single Lesbians and Lesbian Mothers - with or without children - evicted because of their sexual orientation or forced to
leave accommodation because of harassment. They should recognise that Lesbians face harassment from neighbours and landlords and reflect this in the priority given in the assessment of their housing applications.
6. Housing authorities should give practical support to Lesbians facing harassment in or around our homes, with provisions for eviction action to be taken against the perpetrators if they are housing
authority tenants. Harassment should be a grounds for transfer and it is important that housing authorities treat harassment seriously.
7. Relationship breakdown policies should be developed by housing authorities giving Lesbian couples the right to be rehoused.
8. Housing schemes to be set up locally, either by funding Housing Associations or through council housing allocations, to increase housing provision available to Lesbians, (the findings of the survey, i.e. only one out of the fourteen participants lives in a local authority property - the participant who is buying her council house is excluded because it was her parents home - this indicates the extent to which local
authority housing is open to Lesbians) including suitable residential and sheltered housing for Older Lesbians. However, care must be taken when housing Lesbians all in the same area - creating a ghetto may gain support from the individuals living there but may also result in concentrated harassment unless security is tight. We do not want to be rehoused in 'hard to let' property where it is likely that we will be
even more prone to harassment. (See, for example, Case Study 4).
9. The public image of housing departments, advice centres, hostels, etc., is not conducive to encouraging Lesbians to come forward and use the service. Posters specifically welcoming enquiries from Lesbians and information about local services for Lesbians should be displayed in public areas.
10. Housing lists should be monitored for out Lesbians and targets set to encourage Lesbians to use the facilities. Until the figures of out Lesbians rise then the atmosphere has not improved enough for them
to feel happy about coming out and therefore more work must be done. Such monitoring should be in numbers only and not linked to people's names.
11. Efforts must be made to recruit Lesbian staff with anonymous monitoring of job applicants and positive advertising. It is very important that all housing agencies have staff who understand the
problems of their client group.
12. The local authority should campaign to have the law changed:
12.1 To allow Lesbian partners the same rights as heterosexual partners to succeed to tenancies and to have a council tenancy assigned.
12.2 To abolish the concept of "priority need" in homelessness legislation so as to give all homeless people, including the single homeless, the right to rehousing.
12.3 To abolish the concept of "intentional homelessness" in homelessness legislation.
IMPLICATIONS/RECOMMENDATIONS FOR LESBIANS
It seems possible that the Lesbians who are most affected by heterosexism are those who do not see their experiences in a political context but rather in a personal one. It is heterosexism which oppresses us -
it is not our fault! - it makes our lives difficult; it does not validate us or celebrate our sexuality or acknowledge our reality. It is imperative that we understand this, by: 1. We have to identify
ways in which we are affected and discriminated against.
2. We must acknowledge our oppression and locate the cause.
3. We need Lesbian counsellors and we need to set up: self-help groups, consciousness raising groups, co-counselling courses, etc.
4. We need to set up area (residents) support groups/networks for Lesbians.
5. We need to pursue further research.
6. We need to take responsibility for ourselves and other Lesbians instead of putting our energy into heterosexuals/gay men.
7. We need to make ourselves visible - to assert ourselves and speak out about our oppression.
8. We need to recognise our double oppression, as women (sexism) and as Lesbians (heterosexism) and our triple oppression as Black Lesbians (racism), Differently-Abled Lesbians (Handicappism) and Young and Old Lesbians (Ageism). To be a woman and not to conform is dangerous, demoralising and difficult.
9. We need to face up to and acknowledge the differences between us and gay men.
10. We must come out and organise together as Lesbians.
(1) "Single Women and Homelessness", Report of Conference held on 22nd October 1986, CHAR, 5-15 Cromer Street, London, WC1H 8LS. This report contains a Women and homelessness reading list.
(2) ibid; Conference Papers on Lesbians and the Law for Legislation for Lesbian and Gay Rights Conference, May 1987, OLGA, Room 221, 38 Mount Pleasant, London, WC1; article on Stonewall Housing Association from "Lesbian Newsletter", July 1987 L.I.S., P.O. Box 194, Leicester, LE1
(3) "Something To Tell You," L. Trenchard and H. Warren, 1984, London Gay Teenage Group.
(4) The Rock October Trust in London is an organisation set up to provide alternative access and sheltered flats for Old Lesbians at a reasonable cost. Rock October, c/o OLN/BM, London, WC1N 3XX.
(5) There are Lesbians and Alcohol Groups in Birmingham, The Women's Alcohol Project, 32 Essex Street, Birmingham, B5 and in Manchester, contact via Lesbian Link, 061.236.6205 (7 - 10 p.m.).
(6) There is some current research being carried out into the housing needs of women which includes Lesbians but this will not be available until about March 1988 and it does not concentrate specifically on
Lesbians. It is expected, however, that the results will give added weight to this report.
In a recent pamphlet published by Leicester Urban Studies Centre there is reference, in relation to Leicester CHAR, to a study "which will look at the issues behind homelessness, such as racism and discrimination against Lesbians and gay men..." However, on making enquiries, the study was primarily concerned with monitoring, does not cover Lesbian issues in any detail and only lasted for two days.
During the consultations between the Lesbian and Gay Community in Leicester and Leicester City Council, the Housing Department said that Lesbians were treated no differently than anyone else (a statement which was repeated during the CHAR study).
"Homelessness and Housing for Unemployed Women in Leicester," Leicester Urban Studies Centre.
"The Lesbian Relationship Handbook," P.J.K. Athey and M.J.K. Osterman, A Kinheart Posh Resource.
"Lesbians and The Law, Some Papers for Discussion," Legislation for Lesbian and Gay Rights Conference, May 1987; and notes presented by Sarah Tanburn, London Housing Unit; and recommendations from the Conference. Organisation for Lesbian and Gay Action, Room 221, 38 Mount
Pleasant, London, WC1X 0AP.
"Lesbian and Gay Socialist," Issue 11, Autumn 1987, article "Housing for All," Graham Nicholas.
"Lesbian Newsletter," July 1987, Issue 7, article "Hostels for Women - but not for Lesbians." (Case Study 5) and "Stonewall Housing Association," L.I.S., P.O. Box 194, Leicester, LE1 9HP and "LISN," Issue 5,
December 1987, article "Vulnerable in the Hands of our Carers, Kath Gillespie Sells, first produced in Women's Health Information Centre Newsletter, Autumn 1987, 52 Featherstone Street, London, EC1Y 8RT.
"Looking for a Place to Stay in Leicester?" Leicester City Council Housing Department.
"Report of a Conference on Single Women and Homelessness," held on 2nd October 1986, CHAR, 5-15 Cromer Street, London, WC1H 8LS.
"Something To Tell You," L. Trenchard and H. Warren, 1984, London Gay Teenage Group.
"Lesbian Health Matters," 1979, M. O'Donnell, V. Leoffler, K. Pollock, Z. Saunders, a Santa Cruz Women's Health Collective Publication, 250 Locust Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, U.S.A.
LESBIANS AND HOUSING - QUESTIONNAIRE PREAMBLE
Homelessness is a traumatic experience for anybody but for Lesbians it is more complex because we do not fit into the usual priority categories of housing agencies and we have special needs which are not recognised by the authorities. For example, single women aged 26 years or below are not classed as in priority need unless they are being sexually abused. As there is a shortage of housing it can take anything over 18 months (in Leicester) to acquire local authority housing. In some places we never succeed in getting local authority housing.
Why should we suffer because we do not fall into the "normal" categorisation of "family?" We invariably end up in private rented accommodation where we have to pay high rents and where we are often forced to be quiet about our sexuality for fear of eviction or harassment from the landlord and/or other tenants.
Lesbian Information Service is involved in campaigning for better housing provision for Lesbians: we are currently producing a Lesbians and Housing Pack (to make housing agencies more aware of our needs) and a report for the local authority/housing associations to put our case forward for a LESBIAN HOSTEL.
We have already established some general, and some specific, housing problems facing Lesbians. For instance, our involvement with Young Lesbians has shown that they are often harassed by their par-
ent/s/guardian/s because of their sexuality and some are actually thrown out because of it. (This is at a time i.e. coming to terms with one's sexuality, when we most need support.)
Involvement with other Lesbians has highlighted the following reasons why the provision of supportive housing for Lesbians is needed:-
We are told how to behave: our laws, procedures, institutions (education, local authorities, health service, etc,) all tell us that it is 'normal' to get married, have children and fit into the 'normal family role' (heterosexism). To be an 'open' Lesbian means that we are going against all the things that we have been told we should be. So it is not surprising that most of us lead a double life: we pretend that
we are 'straight' so that we won't lose our jobs, children, homes, friends, family, etc.
Because of this our relationships mean a lot to us: it is often only within our relationships that we can be truely open. There is tremendous pressure on us to form relationships in order to find support and love in a hostile society.
When our relationships break down we find ourselves in an extremely vulnerable position. (Indeed, we sometimes stay in an unhealthly relationship to avoid homelessness.) We can be left alone, having lost
contact with both friends and relations (the former because Lesbians tend to leave the 'gay scene' behind when we form a relationship; the latter because they wouldn't understand anyway) with a rent (usually in
the private sector) which we cannot afford. Or we leave, with nowhere to live - unless it is to form another live-in relationship and, in which case, it is more than likely that we are moving into someone
This does not happen once or twice; it is more usual to occur regularly in our life time because of the difficulties of maintaining a Lesbian relationship in an environment that is totally unsupportive.
ALCOHOL/DRUG RELATED PROBLEMS
When a Lesbian first comes onto the 'scene' it is more often than not that she will visit a gay pub or club. Because this is the only place where we can meet other Lesbians - and because of the pressures from a
heterosexist society - we are more likely to become dependent on alcohol or drugs to help us through stressful situations. In time we can become totally dependent on alcohol or drugs which creates more
Although there are sometimes special projects for alcohol/drug abuse these are usually heterosexual in their orientation. Some progressive projects try to support their clients by concentrating not only on the
drink/drug problem but also on other areas of concern. This does not, however, extend to the problems created by heterosexist society, except, maybe, to concentrate on one's sexuality and see it as a personal
problem rather than as a whole series of problems created by the heterosexist society in which we live.
A Lesbian with a drink/drug related problem is, therefore, left with little/no support.
Evidence shows that women are more likely to suffer from mental illness than men. Although further research needs to be carried out, it seems to be the case that many Lesbians have either attempted suicide at some stage in their life or have suffered some form of mental illness (it seems possible that the former is more likely to be the case for women who have known about their sexuality from teenage days whereas the
latter seems to occur to Lesbians who only become aware of ther sexuality after years of forced heterosexuality, marriage and raising a family).
Lesbians can be hospitalised for their depression but often the problems which heterosexism creates are ignored. Lesbians are released from psychiatric care into a totally unsupportive atmosphere and, before
long, they have to return to the psychiatric hospitals where their illnesses are made worse at the hands of heterosexist nursing staff and doctors.
There are numerous other situations in which Lesbians could be helped by having supportive accommodation to stay in. For example, after being demobbed from the forces; when moving to a different town; etc.
The society in which we live is Racist. Therefore the experience of a Black Lesbian will be more complex and problematic. The fear of being 'out' for a Black Lesbian will be greater as the loss of support from
family and friends has far greater consequences because a white society can offer Black Lesbians no comfort. Most established Lesbian and Gay Organisations are predominantly white.
We live in a society which disempowers young and old people. Young Lesbians are particularly vulnerable to a hostile society because they are starting to come to terms with their sexuality and have little/no support from school, parents, friends.
Old Lesbians, especially when they become dependent on others, are also vulnerable. They can lose their independence/loved ones and find themselves in institutions which are heterosexist. Ageism imposes silence on women with regard to their sexuality. An assertion of your identity as a Lesbian when you are old is breaking the taboo that sexuality is the preserve of the young.
Like Black Lesbians, Young Lesbians and Old Lesbians, Differently-Abled Lesbians are particlarly vulnerable in a hostile society. Because Differently-Abled Lesbians have to rely on others for support, again, it is almost impossible for them - in a heterosexist society - to assert their sexuality for fear of the loss of life support. Of the existing institutions that could house Lesbians they either do not have access
for Differently-Abled Lesbians or are heterosexist.
The foregoing are merely examples to illustrate some of the ways in which Lesbians are oppressed and in which the provision of supported accommodation would help to alleviate our oppression.
It is important that you tell us about your housing problems and, especially, where your situation has been made worse because of your sexuality. ALL PARTICIPANTS WILL REMAIN ANONYMOUS.
PLEASE WRITE CLEARLY
ETHNIC ORIGIN: WHITE
A WOMAN OF COLOUR
ARE YOU: WORKING CLASS
LOWER MIDDLE CLASS
UPPER MIDDLE CLASS?
ARE YOU DIFERENTLY-ABLED? (i.e. physically, mentally, drink or drug related problems):
ARE YOU A MOTHER? IF YES, WHAT ARRANGEMENTS DO YOU HAVE FOR YOUR
ARE YOU IRISH?
ARE YOU JEWISH?
WHAT IS YOUR PARENTAL BACKGROUND i.e. Mother and Father?
ARE YOU OUT: To Yourself?
To your friends?
To your parents/guardians?
Others, please state.
1. What is your housing situation now:
tenant in private accommodation?
tenant in local authority accommodation?
tenant in housing association accommodation?
other - please state.
2. Give brief details of where you have lived, i.e. length of stay, type of accommodation (from when you first left home).
3. Give any examples of harassment you have suffered (relating to housing) due to your sexuality i.e. from parents, husbands, boyfriends, lovers, other tenants, landlords, etc.
4. Give examples of any other harassment or problems relating to housing.
5. Where did you go to live when you first discovered you were a Lesbian? i.e. was it when you were at home with your parent/s/guardian/s? Living with your husband/partner? etc. What happened? Were you thrown out? Where did you go?
6. Have you ever lost a job because of your sexuality which in turn has affected your housing situation? Details please.
7. Have you ever attempted suicide? If yes, please give brief details.
8. Have you ever suffered from depression? Please give details.
9. Have you ever had any drug-related problems? Please give details.
10. Have you ever had any drink-related problems? Please give details.
11. Has relationship breakdown ever had consequences for your housing situation?
12. Have you ever been in a situation (including the above, especially questions 7,8,9 & 10) when you would have welcomed a chance to live - for a period - in an all Lesbian, supportive, environment? Please give details.
13. Have you had any problems relating to housing because of:
Please give details.
14. What sort of accommodation would you prefer to be in now? For example, if there were Lesbian Houses, or clusters of Lesbian flats, a Lesbian Housing Co-op, etc, would you prefer to live there?
15. A Housing Co-op requires work commitment from its tenants - would you be willing to do some work, e.g. letter-writing; typing; painting; decorating; telephone work; etc?
16. If a Lesbian Housing Co-op existed would you be interested in being a tenant/member?
17. Is there anything else you would like to say about Lesbians and housing?
Thank you for taking part in this survey. We hope that the result will be a Lesbian Hostel; more aware housing staff; possibly more appropriate future housing provision for Lesbians and acknowledgement
of the special needs of Lesbians by the authorities.
Lesbian Information Service
General Information about the Participants
The ages of the participants were: two x 20 years; one x 22 years; one x 23 years; two x 27 years; one x 31 years; one x 35 years; one x 36 years; one x 40 years; one x 41 years; one x 42 years; one x 50 years;
one x 52 years.
All of the participants were white. Questionnaires were circulated to Black Lesbians but were not returned. There was one participant who defined herself as Irish and another as part Irish.
Working Class x 3 (although one defined herself as lower middle class now).
Lower Middle Class x 6;
Upper Middle Class x 2;
Not specified x 2;
Don't know x 1.
This is not, however, conclusive because there was no definition of the different classes.
Six of the participants were Differently-Abled: agoraphobic/panic attacks; mental dementia; drink/drug and smoking problems for over ten years; two said they were physically disabled but did not specify in
what way and another answered yes, she was disabled but did not specify in what way.
There were five Lesbian Mothers who took part. Their situations regarding their children are: father has custody, I have access; have custody, care and control; no younger children; Lesbian woman with whom
I live does bulk of care, I'm out at work, though the kids go to their fathers at school holidays; now all adults themselves, but found sex-=-life inhibited while they are/were at home.
Eight of the participants had both mothers and fathers; three had mothers only; one had a father only; one a guardian and one woman said she had no parents.
This question should either have been more specific i.e. who were you brought up by or omitted - the idea behind it was to eliminate the myth that all Lesbians come from broken homes.
The reason why this question was asked is because Lesbians are more likely to suffer harassment the more they are out. The results were:
Thirteen women said they were out to themselves;
Fourteen said they were out to friends; (one said only to Lesbian ones)
Nine were out to their families;
Eight were out at work;
The following comments were made under the heading "Others":
"Do not feel totally out."
"Out at college."
"Run a Lesbian organisation."
In any future study the wording of this section should be clearer, giving definitions of being out and being more specific about who out to, e.g. family could include parents, sisters, brothers, extended
Current Housing Situation
Tenant in private rented: 3
Tenant in local authority rented: 1
Tenant in housing association rented: 3
Other: student housing; parents; boarder/lodger in own home (DHSS
Give brief details of where you have lived, i.e. length of stay, type of accommodation (from when you first left home).
The purpose of posing this question was partly to ascertain how many moves the participants had made, partly to ascertain the type of accommodation Lesbians use; and partly to act as an aide-memoire for the
remainder of the questionnaire.
one x 1 move;
two x 4 moves;
five x 5 moves;
one x 6 moves;
one x 12 moves;
one x 14 moves;
one x 19 moves (but this includes, as one move, a period of two years
one x 23 moves;
one x 24 moves.
Type of accommodation included:
Private rented: 60
Local authority rented: 3
Housing Association rented: 6
Partner's home: 3
College accommodation: 4
With job: 13
Nurses home: 2
Marital home: 6
Bed & breakfast: 1
With partner's parents: 4.
In another survey this question would need to be more clearly defined, giving examples of type of accommodation. The results are not concise.
Give any examples of harassment you have suffered (relating to housing) due to your sexuality, i.e. from parents, husbands, boyfriends, lovers, other tenants, landlords, etc.
"Lack of support from co-tenants."
"Hit by boyfriend when came out to him, thrown out by him."
"Had to leave flat last year due to hassle from man who I rented flat
off; took form of shouting at me, loud music, banging door."
"Evicted from flat and had to go and live on friend's floor because of
being a Lesbian." (Homeless for three months).
"Lived in friend's house when thrown out temporarily."
"Hassle from present landlord, shit on doorstep, banging on door late at
night, verbal abuse, total anti-Lesbianism sentiment came out:
'lowering tone of neighbourhood', 'perverts having strip shows.'"
"Verbal abuse from next-door-neighbours about Lesbians being perverts:
'I've never liked them'; 'They're a bad influence on young people';
'Children and young people can't go anywhere now'; what Lesbians do/are
"Husband came into my bedsit once and refused to leave. I was uable to
walk at the time because I had a slipped disc."
"An ex-lover imprisoned me in my house for several hours. I was unable
to get any help or support at the time."
"Had house daubed with LESBIAN."
"Harassment from Housing Asssociation maintenance workers
"Left W.R.A.F. because Lesbianism illegal - was involved in a witch-
"Verbal abuse from neighbour, referring to Lesbians."
"Living with partner's father - having to pretend I was straight."
"Harassment re housing - I've been quite lucky - I was het till age 30 -
I got fuck all out of all those years of renting places and nothing out
of being married. I've had 24 different addresses - I think its too
many! This is a difficult question to answer."
"Some harassment from ex-husband but not particularly related to housing
though I was living with him at the time."
"Just a lot of hassle that I cannot think about at this moment."
"Landlady - abuse verbally at 11.45 p.m. - told us we were preverted,
lowering tone of neighbourhood, exhibitionist, etc and so were our
friends - she was going to chuck us out as soon as possible."
"Living on my own (with children) I've been 'accused' of not being
'able' to get a man. Parents and others want me to 'settle down' and
get married. Found it impossible to get jobs done on house because I'm
single and therefore must have a boyfriend somewhere who should be doing
jobs for me. Most of the problems other Lesbians encounter were
resolved when I bought my own house, except that of getting workmen in
to do jobs."
Give examples of any other harassment or problems relating to housing.
"Men - coming in to do repair work etc for landlord - looking at
posters, belongings, etc - passing judgements."
"If you do not get on with a partner you are on the street and being a
single woman there is no help available."
"In 1981 neighbour cross-questioning my children about the sleeping
arrangements in our house - i.e. did we have a double bed.?"
"Paranoia and fear that neighbours will freak reference rows/will report
you to various authorities. Since I have been Lesbian I haven't taken
the kids to clinic - have not had a health visitor in the house - as a
young het mother they came all the time, so they lost touch of me over
various moves, including being homeless at one stage! Where's the
concern for the child?"
"Had to leave one house because landlord selling; had to leave another
because landlord harassing us because he wanted to sell. Was also
harassed in a housing association flat because there was no sound-
"First house I lived in after I left marital home I had to leave because
it was being sold by the owner. Harassment in bedsit - supposed to be
for women only but women had boyfriends staying regularly. Woman next
door's boyfriend brought young women into flat during day time. He was
also violent. Felt very vulnerable as a Lesbian. Only house I could
get into was in one of the worse streets in Leicester which was violent
and noisy with constant harassment from punters looking for women
selling sex. Men regularly urinating in my entry. Man stabbed in my
Where did you go to live when you first discovered you were a Lesbian? i.e. was it when you were at home with your parent/s/guardian/s? Living with your husband/partner? etc. What happened? Were you thrown out? Where did you go?
"I was just going to college so I went to live in a Hall of Residence."
"I was living with my Mum. I was thrown out but it was not due to my
"I came out at college, so I lived in a Hall of Residence."
"Was at home with parents - ran away and stayed in various dives."
"I was living with my husband. After about a year I left him and went
to live with my lover."
"Kept quiet until parents died."
"Living in Lancashire with father - found out I was a Lesbian when I was
a kid though. Sexually abused - another reason for leaving home. When
I left husband I told him I was a Lesbian, he wouldn't discuss it."
"I was with husband - left once and went back thinking why should I give
up my home? I am changing - turned out it wasn't my home at all - I
made myself 'voluntarily homeless' by going and as a wife I had a right
to live there - not to be a tenant!!! I stayed with my lover till we
had difficuties in our relationship."
"Was in the W.R.A.F. but nearly got thrown out. On demob I was more
aware of my Lesbianism, I went to live in a flat with four straight
women and felt completely unsupported."
"At first I went to live in a rented house with lots of other Lesbians -
soon discovered I was a Lesbian! This was three months or so after I
had left the matrimonial home."
"At home, thrown out temporarily. Wondered the streets until I went to
a friend's house."
"Thrown out of parents lived with gay friends."
"Came out whilst living in present accommodation."
"I was living with my husband, unhappy marriage, we were in tied
accommodation, I didn't tell anyone but my uncle who is also gay. I
stayed for the kids' sake."
Have you ever lost a job because of your sexuality which in turn has affected your housing situation?
"Not yet!" x twice.
"Moving house contributed to my being sacked - house I had lived in
before was next door to management committee member therefore would have
been difficult to sack me whilst living there. Therefore unable to buy
"Not really but left Lancashire Youth Service because I couldn't get
promotion because I'd come out at work. I therefore had housing problem
when I came to Leicester for a new job."
"I left my job when I came out as Lesbian and it took me nine months to
Have you ever attempted suicide? If yes, please give brief details.
"Yes, over-dose on mogadon and booze; cut wrist at 18 - 20 years.
Dependent on other people for accommodation and just feeling really
"Yes, tried to drink myself to death - over a period of time - didn't
work fast enough so I gave up."
"When I was nine years old - because of sexual abuse; again when I was
twelve - was in children's home, unhappy, aware very different from
other girls, adults beginning to realise as well. Just felt thoroughly
"I've thought about it often enough - but am not the type to actually
hurt myself!! (too vain) too sensitive, ha, ha."
"Yes, on several occasions in the W.R.A.F. (about four times) because
could not cope with my sexuality; three times when my first partner had
an affair after we'd been together for four years. Once when I failed
to get a first class honours degree. Thought about it at the end of my
first relationship of eight years."
"Yes, was very drunk and totally oblivious to reason."
"Yes, over-dose in 1979."
"No, but I have often found myself contemplating it in a clear and
logical way, as the logical solution to all my problems and as the only
course to take bearing in mind my dissatisfaction with my life and where
it was going."
Have you ever suffered from depression?
"Yes, in 1979."
"Yes, after a relationship, didn't go to work for ages, went out every
"Yes, permanently when challenging heterosexism and homophobia."
"Yes, have had severe nervous breakdown, exacerbated by living in a
violent area of the city. Coming to terms with my Lesbian sexuality and
the reality of living not only in a woman-hating but a Lesbian-hating
society. Powerlessness as Lesbian in relation to male authorities. As
Lesbian Mother unable to make impact on situation after I left husband
and family. Left with agoraphobia - element of which is depression due
to inability to travel, etc."
"PMS. Depressed in W.R.A.F. - leading double life, hiding sexuality,
not coming out to self. Depressed when first partner had affair. Low
at end of relationships (eight years and six years). Depressed when
probation period extended as a youth worker because I came out.
Depressed when Mother died. Depressed at state of Lesbian community in
"Yes, plenty, its fairly debilitating and upsetting and long lasting. I
don't know how to give details."
"Yes, not serious depression, but depressed recently because of long
term partner having a relationship with someone else."
"Yes, feelings of poor self worth - no point in living at various parts
- end of relationship - unable to see ever being free to be me - feeling
so isolated I might as well be dead."
"Not clinically depressed."
"Yes, but it's too much to think about."
"Yes, to a minor degree. When I started work I found it very difficult
to come to terms with not being free to talk about my life and my
"Yes, I haven't suffered from depression relating to problems concerning
"Always! Ten years on librium while I was married, stopped the day I
left my husband. Still suffer depression related to 'inability' to find
Have you ever had any drug-related problems?
"Drug abuse, 1979."
"Took drugs during whole period of marriage - 12 years - anti-
depressants, sleeping tablets, tranquilisers, etc. Had physical break-
down when finally came off drugs altogether."
"Not in the 'drug-abuse' sense but librium was a problem in itself - it
"Yes, I never thought I had a problem with drink. Just got out of my
mind some of the time - used dope at one time to get me through - felt
very dependent after say 1 - 2 years and got off it."
"Yes, barbituarates and grass."
"Yes, at various times I have felt myself to be addicted to tranqui-
liers, cigarettes and alcohol. I don't think I'll drink to excess again
as far as I can tell."
Have you ever had any drink-related problems?
"Yes, I have had a drink problem in the past but these are now largely
under control. I don't think I'll drink to excess again as far as I can
"Yes, drank heavily for 4 - 5 years, then regular binges 10 - 12 years."
"Yes, for 12 years, on breakdown of relationships, fear of sexuality,
pressures of caring for bed-ridden mother."
"Sometimes I have a drink, last Wednesday I drank a bottle of wine in
half an hour and was sick and this upset me and before that I hadn't
really had a drink for six months - but I wouldn't say that was problem
"Yes, once start can't stop (but didn't see it as a problem). Don't
drink very much now, did when I was young and when I was unemployed.
Also my suicide attempts occurred when I was drunk (most of them).
"Yes, was very reliant until I came out."
"Yes, about eight years ago was drinking up to 10-15 bacardi and cokes
just in order to enjoy myself in the company I was keeping at the time.
I developed an ulcer which I had treated homeopathically now ok."
Has relationship breakdown ever had consequences for your housing situations?
"No, but am reliant upon someone to subsidise my present housing."
"Yes, when I left marital home. Had no money, no job and nowhere to go.
Left behind everything I had. Had no choice."
"Yes, end of first relationship - I left and stayed with a friend then
with two gay men, then in my second lover's room in a straight mixed
house. Also at the end of my second relationship - I moved to Leicester
for a job and had nowhere to live, had to stay in bed and breakfast for
short time. Also, left home after breakdown of second relationship
meant we had to sell the house and I cannot afford to buy another one
"Yes, of course, with the husband - bastard. Lost place to live -
'home' mad - I'd put a lot of work in - lived with my lover and when we
had problems I had to stay elsewhere for a while."
"Yes" - see Case Study 1.
"Yes, breakdown of relationship in 1982 meant I had to remove myself and
my children from jointly owned home."
"Yes, marital breakdown, squatted for a year before buying my own house;
even then depended on male for some support (financial.)"
Have you ever been in a situation (including the above, especially questions 7,8,9 and 10) when you would have welcomed a chance to live - for a period - in an all Lesbian, supportive, environment?
"Yes, parents and friends unsupportive or unable to help. Safe
environment would have helped a lot."
"Yes, when I needed help in coming out, I was drinking heavily, needed
place to stay to sort myself out as my parents threw me out."
"Yes, when I left marital home and when I was having a nervous breakdown
and at end of relationships."
"Yes, on demob from W.R.A.F., when I was just coming out. Also when I
got together with my first girlfriend; at the end of my relationships
and at seventeen and a half years - I might not have joined up!"
"Yes, it would've been very lovely and might have made the transition
from het to Lesbian less painful (after the euphoria wore off and
reality whacks you in the face!)"
"Yes, main time when partner committed suicide; also when I left home
the first and second time, at the end of relationships and when thrown
out of partner's parents' home (after I'd been in psychiatric hospital).
"Yes, during all the times I was confused, scared and isolated."
"Yes, when I first lived alone with my two children in 1982 I would have
liked to have lived with other Lesbians."
"Yes, I would have done when I moved out of the shared heterosexual
house because I couldn't cope with their unacceptance - I needed a place
to go and lick my wounds, but all I had was a tiny room in a nurses home
where no-one spoke to me."
"Yes, because it is an opportunity to get away from an oppressive
situation - and it means that I would have a choice about what I could
do if I needed to find another place to go."
"Yes, when I first realised I was Lesbian and when, now that I think
about it, also all the time I was married with small children. I would
not want it now that I'm older, I like to live on my own."
Have you had any problems relating to housing because of Racism, Handicappism, Ageism?
"Poor housing, cold and damp, exacerbating asthma and other bronchial
"I don't think so."
"No and yes: had to move from partner's home because of access
difficulties. Disablement officer could have told us about certain
grants and benefits enabling adjustments to property e.g. stanna lift,
shower, outside loo, etc."
"My mortgage related insurance is high because of my age and weight."
What sort of accommodation would you prefer to be in now? For example, if there were Lesbian houses, or clusters of Lesbian flats, a Lesbian housing co-op, etc., would you prefer to live there?
Eight participants answered yes, in some kind of Lesbian environment. One possible; another might consider it in future and a third said she was not sure she would want to now: "If when left partner's house might have chosen Lesbian housing." (Participant lives in an adapted flat). Another respondent said "I want to stay where I am in my own (owner-occupied) home."
A housing co-op requires work commitment from its tenants - would you be willing to do some work, e.g. letter writing; typing; painting; decorating; telephone work; etc.?
Twelve said yes, one no, one not applicable.
If a Lesbian housing co-op existed would you be interested in being a tenant/member?
Nine said yes; one said yes in principle; two said possible; one said no and another said not applicable.
Is there anything else you would like to say about Lesbians and housing?
"Women are vulnerable when it comes to housing. Because of institutiona-
lised homophobia/heterosexism, Lesbians are clearly even more vulner-
"There is a desperate need for a Lesbian Hostel and for Lesbian Houses
(with separate flats) and supported Lesbian Houses."
"Lesbians need safe, secure, well-maintained property to live in. They
need their life-styles and their problems acknowledged and catered for
by the authorities."
"That there is an urgent need before Lesbians have to die because of no
provisions, concern or care shown by this society."
"A lot of discrimination exists - needs radical change."
"Just that it can be precarious if the relationship broke down now it
would have far reaching consequences for how four of us live - myself,
partner and two children and all the animals. I would have to make
large adjustments re the house."
" A much needed project. I know how lucky I am - good luck."
"There should be more housing for us when you are homeless."
"Well, as men own nearly all the land and property we have a very hard
time getting any of it - heterosexual women generally marry into it but
as Lesbians we haven't a hope in hell unless we have a reasonable income."
VISITS TO LOCAL HOSTELS
The purpose of our visits to hostels and to Housing Associations was to assess their suitability for young Lesbians; to raise the awareness of the staff as to the needs of Lesbians; and to draw their attention to
the work of Lesbian Information Service in Leicester.
We have visited three hostels and one Housing Association. However, we have collected a considerable amount of information and material about Housing Associations, hostels and housing generally, in order to establish what is being done for Lesbians by the housing authorities. The following information is specific to the hostels we have visited but we have no reason whatsoever to believe that the situation for Lesbians is any better in those hostels we have not visited.
We set out with the belief that a women-only hostel would be the most appropriate for a Lesbian (in the absence of a Lesbian only hostel) but felt obliged to visit mixed hostels as the age-limit of the only women-only hostel in Leicester is above that of the Young Lesbians we work with (16-25 yrs).
The following are details of comments made, informally, by a young woman in a hostel we visited for 16 - 30 year-olds. We are grateful for her honesty in expressing her opinions when we enquired how the hostel would accommodate a young Lesbian. Most of the responses we get are that there is no discrimination against Lesbians. This, of course, is not the case and these people are revealing their complete lack of
understanding, and knowledge, of Lesbian oppression by such a response. Only by facing up to the ways in which Lesbians are discriminated against will we begin to be able to take steps to stop doing it.
Throughout most of our visit to the hostel the young woman was sitting on the lap of her boyfriend who, apparently, "almost lives here."
Young woman: "I wouldn't like it if a Lesbian came into the hostel. It wouldn't be right would if the hostel was all young women to have a Lesbian?"
"I don't know any Lesbians - I don't know anything about them. Lesbians are isolated - they stick together - so I don't know anything about them." (Later she said she knew a Lesbian).
"I wouldn't like it if someone came in the hostel with AIDS."
"I wouldn't like it if she didn't keep it to herself,(being a Lesbian) if she was open about it."
"I get on better with men than with girls."
"I wouldn't be so bothered about a Gay man - they are more acceptable, you see them more, on television......"
"My attitudes about Lesbians come from my parents. I would hate to have to go to my parents and tell them I was a Lesbian. They would throw me out."
"It would be alright if a Lesbian had her partner to stay. I have my boyfriend - it's the same isn't it? Its only fair - if I have my boyfriend then I couldn't say anything could I? What you do behind closed doors is nothing to do with anyone else. You pay your rent, its your room, its O.K."
The next visit was to a hostel which is the most suitable in terms of the age range and the potential level of support available. It is mixed and the residents are allowed to sleep with one another. However, they
had no recollection of either two Lesbians or two Gay men sleeping together. Like the above hostel, the orientation was very heterosexual. Residents are required to share rooms on arrival, and for some time,
which would be difficult for a Lesbian. The staff admitted that they had very little knowledge or experience of Lesbians but that they had had one Gay young man that they were aware of, who had, "Got on well with the other residents and whose presence had prompted discussions about sexuality." Their only experience of Lesbians was with two residents, "One of whom was Lesbian, she became involved with a young woman who wasn't sure - who was impressionable." A staff member said they hadn't known what to do apart from talking to them. The hostel did not attempt to seek any outside advice or help. There was no representation anywhere in the hostel of Lesbians (or Gay men).
The staff were very helpful and interested in Lesbian Information Service and what we are trying to do. They would like to have a copy of the Housing Pack we are going to produce and said they would contact
LIS, if necessary, when they have any Lesbian residents.
Although the age limit of the third hostel we visited was outside of the age limit of the Young Lesbian Group, we were informed that, in certain circumstances, this can be waived.
Our visit to the hostel coincided with an arranged interview for Sue (Case Study 3). In this sense it was valuable because we could see their procedures in practice. What happened was as follows:
We were initially shown around the hostel. This was followed by an informal meeting between the warden, LIS and Sue. We left the hostel with the impression that Sue had been offered a place, i.e. the warden told Sue to "Think about whether she wanted a place and to let her know." We also took away an application form which we helped Sue to complete, despite the fact that the warden had said that it was not necessary to do so. Although we were surprised at the informal nature of Sue being offered a place we were, nevertheless, pleased at the friendliness, openness, and willingness of the warden to accommodate
Sue, if that was what she wanted.
Two days later the warden contacted LIS and said there were problems concerning Sue's entry into the hostel. The reasons she gave were that two of the residents had told her that Sue was not 22 years old and more like 17 or 18 and that she had a "drink problem." We agreed to verify Sue's age. We did this by consulting the electoral register at the Reference Library; we informed Sue that she would be questioned about the suggestion that she has a "drink problem." It should be noted that, after our visit to the hostel, we agreed with Sue to disclose relevant personal information, e.g. her attempted suicide, which would guarantee the right kind of support when she went to the hostel.
This experience had the effect of demoralising Sue's attempts to secure a place in the hostel, especially in relation to the question of her age which, due to her unsettled background, she could not easily substan-
tiate. Because of the complications the matter was now in the hands of the Special Projects Officer of the Housing Association, who agreed to a further interview with Sue to discuss the matters raised by the
residents; the Special Projects Officer reluctantly agreed to a representative from LIS attending the interview, to support Sue. We were not surprised when Sue did not appear for the meeting as arranged, given the nature of the objections and the way which the matter had been handled.
When Sue did not turn up we asked the Special Projects Officer if she would discuss the situation with us. During this meeting, and at a previous meeting with the Special Projects Officer, we had been badly
treated. Such treatment is to be the subject of an official complaint to the Housing Association concerned. N.B. During the interview the Projects Officer said that Sue had not been offered a place, that she
had not completed an application form and that by not attending the meeting Sue had obviously made a choice not to pursue her entry into the hostel.
Sue continues to live temporarily with Lesbian friends and she intends to leave Leicester in the New Year.
HOSTEL ACCOMMODATION IN LEICESTER
Nightshelter: mixed, four places for women after which women go into bed and breakfast.
Leicester City Council have four hostels for single people, 16 years and over, three full board, one self-catering.
Hastings Lodge, mixed, 18-60 years with drink problems.
Ashcroft Lodge, mixed, 18-60 years for the recovering mentally ill.
Guidepost, mixed, 19 and over, single, for the recovering mentally ill.
Runcorn House, mixed, 18-60 years for the recovering mentally ill.
Rathbone Project, mixed, 16-25 years with learning difficulties.
Info Hostel, mixed, single, 16-22, young homeless people with other problems, e.g. drugs and alcohol.
Park Lodge, mixed, single 17-24 years, discretionery.
St Michaels, mixed, single, under 30 without drugs or drink related problems and without a history of violence.
Hits Homes Trust, mixed, single.
Clive Lloyd House, mixed, single, 16-18 years on YTS or low income or college.
Jarvis House, mixed, single, young people leaving care of local authority.
Emmaus Housing Association, for women 16 plus with/without children; Mainly caters for pregnant young women and young mothers; referral through social worker preferred.
Life Care and Housing Trust, for single pregnant women and women who are unsupported and their babies.
WING, (Women in Need Group), single or separated women over 26 without children; aimed at women who are more independent rather than women with psychiatric, drink or drug-related problems.
220 Group, for single/separated women who are pregnant or with a child under the age of one year.
Havan Project, for young Asian women (17 and over) in need of temporary accommodation.
Leicester Women's Aid, for single and married women with or without children, who have suffered or fear physical or mental cruelty or abuse.
Roof, refuge for Asian women and children who have suffered or fear mental or physical violence or abuse.