It should be noted, however, that much of the early U.S. research was male only, followed by lesbian and gay papers with a male bias. Berger (1982) states:
"If there is a dearth of research on the older male homosexual, even less information exists about the older lesbian. Researchers have had difficulty in locating older lesbians because they tend to socialize in private circles and to avoid the public institutions of the gay community - the bars and clubs - more than their male counterparts. Because the preponderance of researchers have studied the older gay male, this article focuses on him, and refers to the older woman where information is available. The author does not assume that older men and women homosexuals are always similar. Important differences exist."
(For case studies compiled by the London Pensioners Link Workers Group see Old Lesbians and Gays Resource List).
More recently lesbian specific research has been conducted. The papers in this Resource List show quite clearly that work around lesbian and gay issues and social work has been going on in the U.S.A. for many years. As early as 1977, R.M. Berger wrote "An Advocate Model for Intervention with Homosexuals."
U.S. research has shown that social workers/social services are particularly homophobic, something which the dearth of British research shows is clearly true in Britain. Diana D. Dulaney and James Kelly discuss this in "Improving services to gay and lesbian clients." Referring to one study Dulaney and Kelly state:
"Its findings are especially disturbing because not only were social workers found to be the most homophobic practitioners of the groups studied, but because it is likely that social workers are reaching and influencing more clients than are practitioners of the other two fields combined....[psychologists and psychiatrists]"
As part of her CQSW course Lyn Ridley wrote a dissertation entitled "Social Work with Lesbians Over 60" (1991). Ridley observed:
"...I was never alerted to any issues around equal opportunities and probably never thought once about old lesbians. I am sure this is not peculiar to ... social services department and that most other social services departments do not even begin to think about the needs of old lesbians. In discussion with my ex. team leader recently I mentioned that I was writing my dissertation on lesbians over 60, she was very intrigued, in her 20 years experience in Social Work she had not once thought about the issue!
This experience is backed up by my last placement, here I worked in an Old people's home in ... in an officer position. In discussion with my Officer in Charge about this work, she informed me that she had never had an old lesbian in the home, she had been there fifteen years! Thinking back to my last working situation, I was in a team with two other out lesbians and our area manager was a gay man. Never once was the subject of old lesbians put on our team agenda. I don't think it ever once touched our consciousness. What chance do most social work teams have in beginning to formulate ideas about these issues?"
Very little has been done in Britain, although there have been a few short articles in Social Work Today and Community Care. Currently research is being conducted into Heterosexism and Social Work which includes an examination of the Lesbian and Gay content of social work training courses. There is some excellent training material in the NASW book; Bernie S. Newman's paper "Including Curriculum Content on Lesbian and Gay Issues" also deals with this topic.
Lyn Ridley noted, whilst discussing the history of lesbian oppression:
"Out of Freud's theories grew the notion that homosexuality and lesbianism were simply forms of arrested sexual development, representing a failure to progress satisfactorily to mature heterosexuality. Unfortunately such views remain very prevalent today. Despite my own CQSW course delving deeply into issues around equal opportunities, I find social work students who remain very ignorant about homosexuality. A number, for religious reasons, are openly battling with deep-rooted feelings that homosexuality is a sexual sin - a perversion against god's will. Others struggle long and hard with the 'nature of homosexuality'; many still believe that homosexuality is a 'learned condition' due to a trauma in early life for example and fail to understand the inherent homphobia within this attitude! ..."
There can be no doubt that social services in Britain are neglecting their duty by not providing services specifically designed to meet the needs of lesbians and gays, in particular those who are multi-oppressed.
Whilst it is important to address this neglect, it is also important not to minimalise the needs of lesbians because of their invisibility. We believe that specific research is necessary to highlight the special needs of lesbians. Certainly, our study into the needs of young lesbians is a start.
We have conducted in-depth interviews (lasting from 2 to 8 hours) with 20 lesbians (all but three aged 25 and below; the majority of whom knew about their sexuality at an early age, one as early as seven years), 17 of whom come from places where there was no support for them (parts of Lancashire, Cumbria, and Yorkshire). Of the 20 lesbians interviewed, 12 are working class; 3 are black; 4 are disabled; 8 are, or have been, fat; 4 are mothers. The findings were shocking:
* All but one had experienced long periods of depression.
* Fourteen had attempted suicide, 5 had contemplated it (several had tried to kill themselves 5 or 6 times).
* All but 3 used alcohol, 10 having serious problems. The majority had used illegal drugs.
* Ten had experienced sexual abuse or rape (2 experiencing both).
* Ten were unemployed, several worked in factories; only two held a professional qualification.
* The majority left school at 16, two were still at school, only one had a degree.
* Eleven had been homeless.
* Eight had been badly treated by an older lesbian/woman.
* One had been a prostitute.
* One had been in prison.
These were VERY ISOLATED, MULTI-OPPRESSED, young lesbians. But we believe this situation will be repeated elsewhere in Britain where there is no support.
Six of the participants had been involved with Social Services, virtually all having negative experiences:
"When I told my male social worker in hospital that I was lesbian he said that if I still feel like this when I am 21 to come back and tell him."
"I had a male social worker when I went into hospital after my breakdown. I didn't like him. I was out to him but he didn't say anything."
"In care they tried to make me a lady, they said I hadn't to do things. On my fourteenth birthday I got nothing but make up, skirts, high heels, and the same for christmas. I had to sit and write about trees and football because I liked them so that I'd get fed up with them. They kept me locked up in my bedroom. ...
(A few years later): My social worker suggested I had this problem, that I needed some help, that I had to get some professional help. She said she'd get help about learning how to be a young lady and the things you need to know about being a young lady. Last time I saw her we were arguing about this. I left and then had the accident (I rode my bike into a car). I felt violent. I always do when I have a row with anyone. I told her to 'fuck off.' I know about being self destructive. I felt angry and violent but I could get into trouble if I hit someone. So I hurt myself, then I won't get sued. It makes my anger go away so I don't hit someone but it doesn't make it go away."
"A male social worker tried to counsel me once but it didn't work, it was no use at all."
One young lesbian, who initially agreed to be interviewed but later changed her mind, worked with young offenders. She suggested that 80% of the young women she worked with were lesbian and that their underlying problems were related to living in a heterosexist society. She said she had discussed this with her seniors who were not willing to take any action about it.
We have a lot of catching up to do in this country and it is hoped this Resource List will facilitate the process.