YOUNG LESBIAN VOX POP
Vox Pop is a National Youth Agency initiative in collaboration with local youth services. Vox Pop is a series of workshops for young people.
It aims to:
* Provide them with an opportunity to voice their views on a range of issues which are of importance and relevance to them;
* To be representative of all young people, regardless of race, gender, class, religion, mental and physical abilities and sexuality;
* It is about young people discussing, exploring and sharing their experiences and concerns about life in this country today.
The structure of Vox Pop, envisaged by the National Youth Agency, was that it would operate on three levels:
- Through a series of local seminars (discussions in youth clubs) for young people where they could begin to identify issues which were of some relevance to them to take to the regional conferences;
- Through a series of nine, one-day, regional, workshops;
- and, ultimately, representatives would be elected to attend a national conference in London.
The idea is to create opportunities for "young people to talk to each other about their lives and the issues that are of importance to them in small groups... (and) to consider what specific action should be taken locally, regionally and nationally in order to address in a positive way the issues as perceived and identified by them earlier in the day." The national forum would also offer young people the chance to express their concerns directly to policy makers.
LESBIAN YOUTH SUPPORT INFORMATION SERVICE (LYSIS)
Lesbian Information Service conducted research in the North West of England into the needs of Young Lesbians. We found that due to discrimination Young Lesbians were isolated and without support, the effects of which were that a high proportion of the participants had attempted suicide, misused alcohol and had been homeless; a high percentage had also been sexually abused (see Appendix A). Because of the research findings, and because we received numerous desperate letters and telephone calls from isolated Young Lesbians from around the country, Lesbian Information Service set up LYSIS, a special project to support Young Lesbians in Britain.
Lesbian Information Service/Lesbian Youth Support Information Service supports Young Lesbians in two main ways: (1) Directly - by providing a national helpline and corresponding with Young Lesbians, and producing material such as the booklet "i think i might be a Lesbian...now what do i do?" which we send free to Young Lesbians who contact us, and the "Coming Out: Young Lesbian Pack." (2) Indirectly - by encouraging the voluntary and statutory sectors to provide appropriate support for Young Lesbians and publishing information to help them do this (see Appendix B). We are publishing the "Working With Lesbian and Gay Youth Resource List" to coincide with Vox Pop.
Since the establishment of LYSIS we have received 100's of telephone calls and letters from Young Lesbians from around Britain; been awarded £1,000 from Save The Children Fund to buy a printer to help with our publications (and a further £500 to help towards Vox Pop). We have also been awarded a Bronze Certificate, signed by Her Majesty the Queen, which states: "This Certificate is awarded to LYSIS in recognition of the completion of a project of long term benefit to the nation in the Royal Anniversary Trusts' Challenge."
Given that our aim is "to support Young Lesbians and to make visible their experiences in order to establish and improve appropriate support services" we thought the National Youth Agency's Vox Pop was an ideal opportunity to enable Young Lesbians to have their say.
We agreed to try and get a group of Young Lesbians from across the North West of England together to take part in Vox Pop. The National Youth Agency agreed that we could take a group of Young Lesbians to the National Conference in London. Given that LYSIS receives no on-going funding and that the National Youth Agency had no special monies, this was an extremely difficult task.
LYSIS have close links with Lancashire Youth & Community Service through the full-time worker at Darwen and, with the support of Lancashire in the form of worker involvement and funding, we were able to plan a series of day events (18th and 25th April) and a residential (7-9th May - see Appendix C).
Lancashire invited the LYSIS group to attend their 'local' event planned for May 3rd. We also received an invitation to attend the 'regional' conference at St Helens on 24th April.
Information about Vox Pop was sent to:
* Darwen/Rossendale Young Lesbian Group (statutory);
* Skelmersdale One in Ten Lesbian and Gay Youth Group (statutory);
* Lancaster Bottleshop Lesbian and Gay Youth Group (statutory);
* Manchester Young Lesbian Group and Zami, Young Black Lesbian Group, (both voluntary).
As far as we are aware, the only other groups which exist in the North West of England are:
* Cumbria: a new Gay Youth Group in Carlisle (voluntary);
* Merseyside: a Gay Youth Group in Liverpool (voluntary);
* Manchester: Gay Youth Manchester (voluntary).
The Gay Youth Groups in Carlisle and Liverpool consist of Young Gay men and Gay Youth Manchester is Gay male dominated; there is also 42nd Street in Manchester which have a Lesbian and Gay Mental Health Youth Group but we understand that this is also male dominated. There is no provision in Cheshire that we are aware of.
Whilst there seemed to be interest from all groups initially, in the event the first day meeting had to be cancelled due to lack of response and only three Young Lesbians (Darwen/Blackburn) attended the second day. Because of this we were, regretfully, unable to attend both the 'local' and 'regional' forums. (But see Evaluation).
We were uncertain, up to the last minute, whether or not the residential would take place, but it did and eight Young Lesbians participated.
YOUNG LESBIANS EXPERIENCES AND CONCERNS
The participants were aged between 16 and 22 years. Four came from Lancashire, two from Cheshire and two from Manchester. There were three workers, two from Lancashire Youth & Community Service and one from LYSIS.
RESPONSES TO QUESTIONNAIRE
Each participant was asked a series of questions, as a method of setting the context. The responses (which include the responses of one Young Lesbian who atttended the day meeting but was unable to attend the residential) were as follows:
1. How old where you when you thought you were different? In what way did you think you were different?
7/8: Dead young, infant school. Not wear girly clothes and play with girly toys. 10/11 when I first understood what Lesbian meant.
Always knew was different but at 10 I didn't understand what Lesbianism meant.
6/7: Felt excluded.
9/10: No interest in men.
11/12: Can love girls more than men.
15: I knew I was Lesbian because I fancied other women. I didn't want to gossip about sleeping with boys.
18: I fancied other women and went off my boyfriend.
13: Wanting to hug my best friend.
9: I fancied my best friend. I knew there was something wrong, she wasn't a boy. It was confusing. I ignored it and hoped it would go away but it never did.
General: Pressure to conform increases with age.
2. Who did you first tell, how old were you? How did they respond?
17: First told tutor at college. She was supportive: "You're not the only one."
12/13: I first told my best mate when we were sharing a tent. She was very supportive. In fact we're still best mates now.
16: Catholic Gay Group.
16: I told another Lesbian, she was very supportive.
18: My boyfriend. He said nothing, he wanted me to get support and to have what I wanted.
16: My best mate. She was fine. She said she already knew.
12: My best buddy (a lad). He looked at me and said maybe it's just a phase. Seven years later he said he should have believed me (loads of people said it was a phase). I'd say "Phases don't go on for seven years!"
General: Helplines positive; choosing trust-worthy friends to tell.
3. Are you out to your parents? If yes, how did they respond? If not, why not?
Yes: Dad ok, mum very prejudice. Sister prejudice. Mum blames herself. If ignore it, it will go away. They've known for about three years.
Yes: They've been really good about it. They talk about it. My dad picks me up from the Lesbian Group.
No: They sort of know, keep hinting. "Why do I go to Gay clubs, what's my interest?" "Why do I listen to k.d. lang?"
No: I don't want to die. My sister knows.
No: I'm not ready.
Yes: It's not talked about but they acknowledge my partner.
Yes: It's not talked about at all; I only go to see them if I have to.
Yes: I talk about it to my mother, not my dad.
Yes: To my mum (I don't know who my dad is). She takes the rag out of me all the time. She's very supportive.
4. What have you heard about Lesbians? Where did you hear it from? What have you read?
Stereotypes: short hair and trousers. No Lesbian images of any kind.
Traditional dyke stereotype image: short hair, big boots, feminist.
Jokes about Gay people: Lezzie, insults.
Granda: "Should all be locked up in mental institutions. I never met anyone who was Gay."
Lesbians are unhappy.
Newspapers, media: Lesbians and Gays targetted for HIV/AIDS.
Read positive books and leaflets.
It's not easy to get information, I go to Manchester.
Was told in R.E. that the age of consent was 21 for men.
There are lots of pressures from the media to be having heterosexual sex.
When I was 15 I read a positive article in a teenage magazine. At school I'd hear Lesbian jokes - they'd take the piss if you were close to a friend. Now I read lots, including novels and political books.
The first thing I heard was about Clause 28. When I was at college doing social care they went through all the minorities arguing for and against. I think my teacher was Lesbian; she was supportive. In college I did an assignment on Homosexuality.
My mother had a copy of "Our Bodies, Our Selves." There is a chapter on Lesbianism, it was positive. I read and re-read it. It was the only thing I had for years. But there wasn't enough information in it.
It wasn't mentioned at school. The first thing I heard was from other Lesbians, their coming-out stories. Someone suggested I read "The Well of Loneliness." Now I read loads, novels, political, etc. Once I found out there was literature I was reading everything I could.
When I was 14 a lad said "When you get you're first girlfriend can I watch?" I laughed. I've read "Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit," "The Colour Purple," and "Desert Hearts."
5. What Do We Need?
Recognition and visibility.
More accessibility to support. More understanding. Get rid of Section 28: You can't 'promote' Homosexuality.
Safer venues for groups. Recognition that Lesbians exist.
More information, health information, help with the stress.
More visibility, publicity, support when coming out, support at school, books in the school library so that people would see that Lesbianism exists.
Don't know, sack the idea that you can promote Homosexuality.
Basic human needs but more because people don't understand it. More information. k.d. lang for prime minister.
Opposite to Section 28, i.e. positive images, tons of unbiased information: especially when you're coming out as a Lesbian.
Shouldn't be need for a support network - in an ideal world we should be accepted.
After the participants introduced themselves (via an icebreaker method), one participant defined HOMOPHOBIA as fear and hatred of loving someone of the same sex and INSTITUTIONAL HOMOPHOBIA as the belief that heterosexuality is superior to Homosexuality and discriminates against Homosexuals because of this.
We then had a BRAINSTORM in which the following institutions which discriminate against Lesbians were identified:
Government; Law; Health Service; Social Services; Youth Service; Media; Housing; Education; Family; Church; Businesses.
Still in the main group, we expanded on how the different institutions discriminate:
LAW: marriage; adoption/fostering; H.M. Forces; Clause 28; Public Order Acts; Immigration; no anti-discrimination laws (can be sacked for being Lesbian, especially if work with children); (Age of consent for Gay men, Lesbians not recognised under law, yet law used against Lesbians i.e. Jenny Saunders (1991)).
Second thoughts about joining police/army for fear of being discovered.
Potential problems of being open at work - as a solicitor, in the army etc.
Problems with having relationship recognised - adoption.
Equal Opportunities means nothing if sexuality is recognised at all.
BUSINESSES: Banks, mortgages, employment.
FAMILY: Assume you are heterosexual and bring you up as heterosexual. Pressure to conform to heterosexuality. If you are young your parents are influential, i.e. they can send you to see a doctor, have you sectioned.
Mother refuses to accept my Lesbianism.
Dad asked me to try men first and then decide.
Don't talk about it therefore don't talk about what's happening in your life.
Parents threatened to phone police if I didn't come home from girlfriend's house.
Mum threatened to send me to doctors.
CHURCH: Don't allow it. Not exist and even though Lesbianism doesn't exist, you still can't do it! In some religions Homosexuality is okay as long as there's no sex. Marry heterosexuals not Homosexuals. Emphasis on procreation and the family. Various holy books, Bible, Koran, say Homosexuality is wrong.
HOUSING: Not recognised as a couple when buying or renting. Not have accession rights in public housing (recently changed). Harassment. Landlord can throw you out. No recognition of housing needs of Lesbians (especially Young and Old Lesbians).
EDUCATION: Homosexuality not mentioned at all. In personal and social education you have to do projects on boy/girl but nothing on Homosexuality. The emphasis is always on how great boy/girl relationships are. No Gay Societies in Further Education Colleges (unlike Universities). Usually invisible in history, although one Young Lesbian said her history teacher mentioned that Homosexuals were put in concentration camps and killed. There are no Lesbian or Gay novels. We are invisible. It is seen as not normal. Homophobia from the students goes unchallenged by teachers (for fear teachers may be seen as Gay). Teachers homophobic.
A girl in our school tried to kill herself in school by taking pills. I'd not go back to school if I'd come out.
No-one to talk to.
Not mentioned in education.
Not allowed to be seen as normal.
Treated as a novelty.
No books in libraries.
No Gay societies.
No opportunities for self-expression.
MEDIA: Very few television programmes show Lesbians. The tabloids, e.g. Sun, are anti-Gay and anti-Lesbian.
YOUTH SERVICE: Workers and officers scared. Working with Young Lesbians is not a vote catcher. Part-time workers lack support. When Local Authority support for Young Lesbians exists (which is rare) there is insufficient resources. Manchester Young Lesbian Group: only meet fortnightly in dangerous and inaccessible premises.
WHAT YOUNG LESBIANS WANT
After discussing the issues in pairs, some participants shared their personal experiences of discrimination (included above). The participants were then asked what they would like to happen. They said:
Repeal any legislation which is anti-Lesbian.
Introduce an anti-discrimination law.
Introduce body, e.g. like Equal Opportunities Commission and Commission for Racial Equality, for Equal Treatment of Lesbians and Gays.
Examine any new laws for their effects on Lesbians/Gays and ensure we are included where relevant.
Introduce a Bill of Rights for Lesbians which examines specific aspects of law that relate to Lesbians e.g. Child Custody, Child Support Act, Section 28, H.M. Forces Act, etc.
Information for parents.
Parents must swallow pride first to support Lesbian daughters.
Parents need to be more supportive, accept their Lesbian daughters - we are not monsters.
Parents need to know that it is okay to have a daughter who is Lesbian.
Parents shouldn't be closetted at work for fear of reaction from colleagues.
Parents shouldn't be selfish in thinking they've got a problem - their daughter's have a problem living in a homophobic society. It usually ends up that daughters have to support parents!
Buy k.d. lang tapes for your daughters.
The seeds need to be set in parents for them not to bring their children up as heterosexual i.e. it's okay to be Lesbian, do not assume that your daughter is heterosexual.
Lesbianism should be in the curricula (at all levels, e.g. history, literature, sex education, etc).
Lesbianism should be discussed.
There should be (informed and supportive) counsellors available.
Teachers must challenge homophobia.
Scrap Section 28.
Teachers should give non-biased information.
It should be easier for teachers to be out.
Colleges should have Lesbian/Gay officers who are visible.
Lesbian books in school libraries.
Young Lesbian Hostels.
Recognition of special needs by housing authorities.
Include in anti-discrimination law aspect on housing so that landlords or neighbours cannot discriminate or harass.
Ban the Sun.
There should be a % of television time about and for Lesbians.
Include in the anti-discrimination law aspect about language in the media - to stop discriminatory stories or programmes and negative stereotypical characters.
There should be more positive Lesbian visibility.
Currently Social Services are family orientated and ignore the needs of Lesbians. This should be challenged.
There needs to be positive support for Young Lesbians in care.
There should be a service to provide support/counselling for parents/guardians to help them understand, accept and support their Lesbian daughters (and thereby cut down number of homeless!)
Should be able to be out to doctor.
Should be an acknowledgement that, due to homophobia, Lesbians are a high risk for suicide, alcohol misuse (and appropriate procedures, support, preventative measures introduced).
Homophobia awareness training for all medical staff.
A complaints system should be set up (as part of the anti-discrimination law).
There should be appropriate support for Young Lesbians, i.e. referral to Young Lesbian Groups (when available), supportive counsellor, etc.
The Youth Service should promote Homosexuality in order to allow people to be individuals.
There needs to be visible Young Lesbian Groups in all districts.
There needs to be out Lesbian youth workers.
There needs to be visible information, leaflets, etc., available in all youth clubs.
There are girls' workers; there should be Lesbian workers.
There should be homophobia awareness training for everyone, including the high ups, and special training specific to working with Young Lesbians.
Budgets for Lesbian activities.
Travelling allowances (i.e. often there is no support in isolated areas).
Young Lesbian Groups should organise more social events.
SPECIFIC ACTION TO BE TAKEN
The morning session had been excellent and the participants worked extremely hard. There were difficulties, however, with the concept of agreeing local, regional and national actions. In order to encourage ideas, 'Video 28' was shown and several positive moves by the government and U.S. authorities were discussed. Clearly the above comments need to be taken on board by authorities. Specifically, the participants agreed that the following action should be taken:
Produce a Report of the Young Lesbian Vox Pop, to be placed in context of positive and negative moves by government and to include examples of good practice from the U.S.A.;
Send draft copies to all participants for comments/agreement;
When sending final report, list persons being sent to, request they take note of the contents and respond to report by certain date, listing questions, e.g.
Does your equal opportunities policy include Lesbians? Yes/No. If no, why not? If yes, what support do you give Young Lesbians?
What training have your workers had on Homophobia Awareness?
What do you intend to do as a result of receiving this report?
Final copy of report to be sent to:
Minister for Youth and shadows;
Minister for Education and shadows;
National Youth Agency;
Youth Clubs UK;
Manchester Youth & Community Service;
Lancashire Youth & Community Service;
Cheshire Youth & Community Service;
Cumbria Youth & Community Service;
Other actions to be taken:
Work with Young Lesbians should be adequately funded, visible and supported.
There should be a full-time youth worker in every area with responsibility for working with Young Lesbians; the work should be co-ordinated.
Young Lesbian Groups should acquire information (e.g. Working With Lesbian and Gay Youth Resource List, Lesbian Information Service, books, etc).
The Library Services should stock the Pink Paper and increase their stock of Lesbian books.
Change the L.C.C.'Guidelines' to delete homophobic pieces.
Manchester Young Lesbian Group should meet weekly in safer, accessible premises.
Better links between groups.
Find out more information about Sheffield organisation (supporting workers).
Promote competition (i.e. who can provide the best support) between regions.
None of the participants felt able to attend the London Conference, some couldn't because of exams. (See Evaluation).
This report, and the experiences and comments of the Young Lesbians, should be seen within the following context.
* There has been a recognition for many years that Lesbian and Gay Youth should be supported by the Youth Service (and other agencies). For example, at its meeting on 11th May 1977, the National Executive Council of the NAYC (National Association of Youth Clubs) resolved that:-
"1. The question of young people and homosexuality should be considered within the general context of adolescent development and social education.
2. The Youth Service should seek to meet the needs of all young people irrespective of their sexual orientation in a sympathetic and informed manner.
3. The practical consideration of sexuality must begin from the standpoint of human variation.
4. Information about homosexuality should be included in all programmes of sex education.
5. Young people should be encouraged to realise the importance of their own behaviour in relationships with others.
6. Similar principles of advice and guidance should be applied to the young homosexual and to the young heterosexual.
7. Myths about homosexuality should be actively dispelled.
8. The training of senior members and youth workers should be reassesed in the light of this report.
9. The Youth Service should be encouraged to offer positive acceptance to all young people, irrespective of their sexual orientation.
10. More adequate counselling facilities should be provided for all young people with psychosexual problems." ("Young People and Homosexuality," the Very Reverent Edward H. Patey, M.A., Dean of Liverpool Cathedral 1977, National Association of Youth Clubs).
* Following a survey conducted in 1987-88, the Department of Education and Science published an H.M.I. Report on "Youth Counselling Services," which stated:-
"The needs of homosexual young people are a concern of many youth workers and youth counselling agencies. Youth workers reported that young people who are homosexual can feel isolated and hesitate to discuss their feelings about sexual identity. They fear rejection and attack if they 'come out' and many who had done so said that they went through periods of severe depression, some contemplating suicide. The London Gay Teenage Group provides a safe, accepting, supportive environment for young people aged 16-21, most of whom join with great apprehension and with very low opinions of themselves. The part-time worker is a trainer and a professional consultant on counselling. Through discussion group members gain a greater understanding of their own behaviour and concern for the experiences of others. As the need arises the worker offers individual counselling to complement this group work. Residential social and health education programmes provide opportunities for more extensive counselling; research undertaken by the group has led to several publications. The individual stories of group members reveal the extreme difficulties they face in coming to terms with their own sexuality exacerbated by the hostility with which they are surrounded. They often feel cut off from the usual support groups within the youth service which they hesitate to approach for fear of being rejected or judged harshly. They also usually lack the informal peer group discussion through which friends will share problems and often recommend an agency. It seems that unless they can be sure that counsellors will be supportive, they hesitate to make the initial approach. Consequently they rely on specialist groups for help. But the groups like the London Gay Teenage Group are rare. Where they exist they also enable these young people to receive appropriate sex and health education, for example, about AIDS. These groups act responsibly towards their members, but reported that they find it increasingly difficult to operate, particularly with the present climate of opinion about homosexuality and in the light of anxieties aroused by section 28 of the Local Government Act (1988)."
* In January 1989, the Department of Education and Science Welsh Office published the NACYS (National Advisory Council For The Youth Service) report "Youth Work With Girls And Young Women" which states:
"Outside the process of the Consultation, individual lesbian women workers have approached us about the difficulties they experience in meeting the social educational needs of young lesbians. These arise from both recent legislation, which has made it more problematic getting permission for more overt provision, and from the attitudes of other workers - including women - who appear not to recognise that there will almost certainly be young lesbians amongst any group of young people they are working with. The view was expressed that this can cause insensitivity and alienation. Certainly our impression at the Buzz Groups was that workers generally were only peripherally aware, and were unable to offer many suggestions for ensuring that the needs of young lesbians were met - either in separate or general 'girls only' provision.
The harassment of girls' groups generally by both male workers and young men alike and the scape-goating of lesbians by the accusations of the 'lesbians together' approach, were highlighted by lesbian workers as one of the ways in which young lesbians are oppressed - even within 'girls' only' provision; another example was the way in which discussion/conversations most frequently assume that all females are heterosexual.
Young lesbians are no different from any other identifiable group of young women in that they have the same basic needs; they may also have particular needs arising from their sexual orientation - some of which may be to do with their own personal development, and some about the attitudes of others around them which are not accepting and which affect their ability to fully take up opportunities offered.
The Youth Service has a responsibility to provide social education for young lesbians, no less than any other group of young women, and to do so in whatever way is more appropriate, ie separate provision as a choice if required." (p13-14).
* The Children Act, 1991, also acknowledges that Lesbian and Gay Youth need special support:
"The needs and concerns of young gay men and women must ... be recognised and approached sympathetically" and "Gay young men and women may require very sympathetic carers to enable them to accept their sexuality and to develop their self-esteem" (Para 9.50 and Para 9.53 Volume 3 - Guidance and Regulations on Family Placements).
* As recently as April this year the Department of the Environment issued guidelines to local authorities instructing them to treat same sex couples the same as heteosexuals. In response to questions by Lord Falkland, Lord Strathclyde, the junior environment minister, said the guidance:
"will also confirm that the Government does not consider that discrimination on the grounds of ethnic origin, gender, sexual orientation or disability is acceptable in deciding whether or not to grant a tenancy." (The Pink Paper, 9.4.93).
These positive steps by the Government are against the background of Section 28 of the Local Government Act (1988) which states that "a local authority shall not intentionally promote homosexuality," nor shall it "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship."
Whilst a case has yet to be brought to court, Section 28 has been very successful. Prior to its enactment equal opportunities work had begun to incorporate Homosexuality. Section 28 stopped a lot of this work and has meant that Homophobic individuals in positions of power, e.g. local councillors, local authority lawyers, etc., and institutions, now use Section 28 to discriminate against Homosexuals by not providing appropriate services. In fact, Section 28 should not stop statutory or voluntary services providing support to Homosexuals. In a letter to the Organisation for Lesbian and Gay action (3.3.88) Mrs Thatcher, the then Prime Minister, stated that central government believed that Homosexuals were entitled to receive services "on the same basis as everyone else." (Lesbian and Gay Equality Now! Association of London Authorities, 1990) This opinion was reiterated in a DES Circular dated 22.4.88 signed by J.R. Goodwin, Schools Branch 3):
"...I should like to take this opportunity to stress that there has been a great deal of misrepresentation about the effects of section 28. It is not intended to: lead to a censorship of the arts; stop activities in health care and counselling; prevent local authorities from granting entertainment licences; or prevent them from providing any other service to homosexuals on the same basis as to other groups..."
This advice has not deterred authorities and organisations from discriminating against Homosexuals. On the contrary, the effect of section 28 has been to encourage discrimination. Indeed, only this month (May 1993), John Patton, the Secretary of State for Education issued the following guidelines to teachers:
"There is no place in any school in any circumstances for teaching which advocates homosexual behaviour, which presents it as the norm, or which encourages the homosexual experimentation by pupils. It must also be recognised that for many people, including members of various religious faiths, homosexual practice is not morally acceptable; and that deep offence may be caused to them if the subject is not handled with sensitivity by teachers if it is discussed in the classroom.
Although it does not impose any direct responsibilities upon them, school staff and governing bodies should also be aware that section 2 of the Local Government Act 1986 (as amended by section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988) prohibits local authorities from intentionally promoting homosexuality, or from promoting in maintained schools "teaching...of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship."" (clause 25).
Lesbian and Gay Youth are a high risk for suicide and attempted suicide. This has been shown not only by the findings of the research conducted by Lesbian Information Service, i.e. 78% of the isolated Young Lesbian participants had attempted suicide, but also by the earlier (1984) London Gay Teenage Group Project which found that 19% of their participants had attempted suicide. Several U.S. research projects have come up with similar findings. For example, Paul Gibson suggests that up to 30% of completed Youth suicides are by Lesbian and Gay Youth ("Gay Male and Lesbian Youth Suicide, Report of the Secretary's Task Force on Youth Suicide, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 1989). Indeed, there has been much research in the U.S. but little in Britain. Most of the U.S. research is available in Britain through our excellent Library Service. To coincide with Vox Pop Lesbian Information Service have produced "Working With Lesbian and Gay Youth Resource List" which contains abstracts of over 70 relevant research papers. The abstract of one such paper, entitled "Developmental Issues and Their Resolution for Gay and Lesbian Adolescents," by E.S. Hetrick and A.D. Martin, Journal of Homosexuality, 1987, Vol 14(1/2) p25-43, states:
"The primary development task for homosexually oriented adolescents is adjustment to a socially stigmatized role. Although the individual homosexual adolescent reacts with diversity and great resilience to societal pressures, most pass through a turbulent period that carries the risk of maladaptive behaviors that may affect adult performance. Despite individual variation, certain issues have been found to concern most homosexual adolescents. Empirical data from the Institute for the Protection of Lesbian and Gay Youth, Inc. in New York city suggests that isolation, family violence, educational issues, emotional stresses, shelter and sexual abuse are the main concerns of youth entering the program. If not resolved, the social, cognitive, and social isolation may extend into adulthood, and anxiety, depressive symptoms, alienation, self-hatred, and demoralization may result. In a non-threatening supportive environment that provides accurate information and appropriate peer and adult role models, many of the concerns are alleviated and internalized negative attitudes are either modified or prevented from developing. The authors discuss the effects of prejudice and the impact of negative societal attitudes on the developing social and personal identities of homosexual youths."
The Institute for Protection of Lesbian and Gay Youth, Inc is now called the Hetrick Martin Institute (HMI). It was founded in 1979 to "protect the interests of gay and lesbian youth, to prevent their exploitation and to promote their physical and mental well being." HMI now has several projects: the Harvey Milk School, Project First Step, the Drop-In Centre, AIDS Education Programme, and Professional Education (see Appendix D). There are 24 full-time staff and numerous part-time and voluntary workers.
In San Francisco the School District have introduced a special programme, "Student Educational Support Services for Gay and Lesbian Youth" (see Appendix E), whilst in February this year, the State of Massachusetts published The Governor's Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth first report on Education entitled "Making Schools Safe for Gay and Lesbian Youth, Breaking the Silence in Schools and in Families." The Governor of Massachusetts, William F. Weld, in response to high levels of suicide by Lesbian and Gay Youth, established a "Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth." (See Appendix F).
In 1992 the British Government published "The Health of The Nation," and various other, connected reports. One of the main targets is to reduce suicides by 15% by the year 2000. Given that Lesbian and Gay Youth are a high risk for suicide, it is important that "The Health of the Nation" states:
"...Other vulnerable groups that will also require special attention are the elderly, children and adolescents, people at risk of suicide, ..." (p23)
"Developing services aimed at the prevention of mental illness (for example counselling services, self-help groups, and stress and anxiety management groups). (p29)
"The mental health of children and adolescents is a particularly important area as many are vulnerable to physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural developmental disorders which, if not treated, may have serious implications for adult life." (p83)
"Systems will need to be developed locally to identify people who are in danger of losing contact with services and to assist in preventing them from falling through the 'care network.'" (p87)
"Local support for voluntary agencies, such as those that support people at high risk for depression, should be improved in order to strengthen the role that they play." (p89)
"Action to achieve targets for reducing excessive alcohol consumption will have a more direct benefit. Excessive drinking is associated with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and personality problems..." (p91)
The issues can no longer be brushed under the carpet.
1. The effects of Homophobia on isolated Young Lesbians can be devastating.
2. Young Lesbians coming to terms with their sexuality usually do so in complete isolation with no support from parents, schools, youth services, etc., and with little or no access to accurate information or positive role models.
3. Support services in general do not include Young Lesbians and, on the rare occasions that they do, projects are under-resourced and keep a low profile.
4. Central government needs to encourage the eradication of Homophobia in this country by repealing all anti-Homosexual legislation and introducing anti-discrimination legislation.
5. Local Government and services need to respond by acknowledging the special needs of Young Lesbians, establishing appropriate support services and introducing training, policies and strategies to eradicate Homophobia in their organisations.
In order that Minority groups fully participate in projects their special needs must be taken into consideration and appropriate strategies introduced.
The structure set up by the National Youth Agency to enable Young people to participate is skewed towards enabling Young, middle class, white, heterosexual men to take part because it is these Young people who are more confident and have more experience at public speaking and debate (e.g. Young Farmers Clubs, Students Unions, etc). Minority groups and Women - because of oppression - have less confidence and less experience in these arenas. Young Women of all Minority groups, being doubly oppressed, are likely to be even more inexperienced, lacking in confidence and invisible. Unless, that is, Youth Services have targetted specific groups to work with to build up confidence and experience like, for example, Work with Girls and Young Women. At the same time, it is unlikely that members of Multi-oppressed groups will want to place themselves in situations where they are likely to be further oppressed.
There is little work being done in the North West with Young Lesbians, and that which does exist is under-resourced and receives little support and understanding from statutory bodies. There was no special structure or funding set up to enable Young Lesbians to participate in Vox Pop (apart from that system which we set up - including methods which enabled the participants to talk about their experiences). It is not surprising, therefore, that we, Jan Bridget (LYSIS) and Caron Drucker (LYCS), had great difficulties in getting the Young Lesbian Vox Pop off the ground. Indeed, had it not been for the support and commitment of LIS, Caron Drucker and the Save The Children Fund, the Young Lesbian Vox Pop would not have happened!
Any future endeavours must take on board the specific needs of ALL Minority Youth, especially those who are Multi-oppressed. It would be interesting to note how many of the representatives who attended the London Conference came from Multi-oppressed groups and what it was that enabled them to attend.
It is important that Vox Pop happened, and we would like to thank the National Youth Bureau for initiating this project. It is hoped that national, regional and local services which work with Young people will learn from this important process and introduce ways of enabling Minority Youth to fully participate in society, including Young Lesbians.
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