Lesbian and gay youth face isolation from society, family, friends and other homosexuals, especially lesbian and gay peers; pressure to conform and family rejection; isolation and problems at school (including the homophobia of teachers and pupils); verbal, physical and mental violence and harassment; lack of support; as well as the terrible emotional stresses caused by the internalisation of a stigmatised identity. This creates great conflict for young homosexuals: to either accept their sexuality, and face the consequences of coming out, or suppress it, which will lead to greater problems. This conflict is in addition to other problems facing adolescents such as, especially for young lesbians, sexual abuse within the family; young gay men are especially vulnerable to HIV infection.

Because of these unique circumstances lesbian and gay youth are extremely vulnerable and, without adequate support, accurate information, positive role models and peer support, fall victim to:

* Alcohol and drug misuse. A third of lesbians and gays seriously misuse alcohol, this usually begins in adolescence. (Bridget, 1994, see, also, Lesbians and Alcohol Resource List, 1992, L.I.S.).

* Depression, suicide and other emotional health issues. Gibson (1989) suggests that lesbian and gay youth are 2 or 3 times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth and that up to 30% of youth suicides are by lesbian and gay youth. Trenchard and Warren (1984) found that 19% of the participants in the London survey had attempted suicide; Bye (1984) cited in Plummer (1989) found 40% of the isolated lesbian and gay youth from across England who took part in her survey had attempted suicide; a study conducted by Parents Friend in 1982, cited by Plummer (1989) found that 55% of the participants had attempted suicide; Woods (1993) discovered that 21% of the young lesbians who took part in her Manchester study had attempted suicide whilst our research (LIS 1990-1993) found that 70% of the lesbians had attempted suicide. (See Lesbians, Mental Health and Therapy, Resource List, 1993, L.I.S.)

* Truancy and drop out from school, unemployment. (Vergara, 1984, Hunter & Schaecher, 1987, Gibson, 1989).

* Homelessness and the risk of prostitution. (Gibson, 1989, Remafedi, 1990).

* Running away from home. (Remafedi, 1990).

* Relationship problems.

* Misuse and exploitation by lesbian and gay adults.

* Promiscuity, unwanted pregnancies and S.T.D./HIV infection. (Sanford, 1989, Remafedi, 1990, Schneider, 1991).

At the same time, however, to simply lump lesbian and gay youth together usually ignores the special problems facing them because of their sex, race, ethnicity, class, and disabilities.


Not all young lesbians and gays experience all of these problems but the majority experience some. It is lesbian and gay youth who are more isolated who are most at risk. These include:

* those who have not yet come out and made contact with lesbian and gay groups;

* those who are aware of their 'difference' at an early age;

* those who grow up in rural areas and small towns where there is no lesbian or gay visibility and support;

* those who belong to other minority groups, for example black and minority ethnic lesbians and gays, working class lesbians and gays, and disabled lesbians and gays; and

* those who are female. Young lesbians of all minority groups are more invisible and more isolated. (Gibson, 1989).

Several research studies - Shiveley & DeCecco, 1978, Nyberg, 1976, West, 1983, Bell & Weinberg, 1978, Schneider, 1991, Savin-Williams 1990 - suggest that there appears to be between a third and a half fewer lesbians than there are gay men. We do not accept this and believe that this is an example of the compounded effects of sexism and heterosexism, i.e. a) lesbians are not out; b) lesbians are more invisible; c) lesbians are more isolated and d) many lesbians are in heterosexual marriages. Because of conditioning Plummer (1989), citing Lees, (1986) noted that young women "... may have a much tougher time in confronting their lesbianism and in breaking away from the heterosexual tramline." A recent (1991) survey of 100 lesbians and gays in Camden revealed that 53% of the lesbian participants compared with 93% of the gay participants knew about their sexual orientation whilst at school.

It is not surprising that several researchers (Saghir et al, 1970; Saghir & Robins, 1974; Bell & Weinberg, 1978; Diamond & Wilsnack, 1978; Lewis et al, 1982; Brandsma & Pattison, 1982; Blume, 1985; Anderson & Henderson, 1985; McKirnan & Peterson, 1989; Schilit et al, 1990;) refer to higher attempted suicide rates and alcohol misuse levels among lesbians than among heterosexual women, heterosexual men or homosexual men. Between 80 and 90% of young people who attempt suicide are female (Samaritans, 1990). We believe that a high proportion of these (maybe 50%) will be lesbian.

Our own research bears this out. To date 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, 4 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, one was still at school, only two 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.


We are all brought up in a society whose institutions such as religions, the media, education, laws and the family are heterosexist. Institutional heterosexism - wherein heterosexism is built into the structures of institutions - and individual heterosexism is discrimination against homosexuals based on the belief that heterosexuality is superior to homosexuality. The result of this conditioning is that everyone is taught to be homophobic. Slater (1988) defines homophobia as the recognised or unrecognised fear or hatred of homosexuals or homosexuality which is present in both heterosexuals and homosexuals.

In other words,

1. Heterosexuals -

a. experience internalised superiority to homosexuals;

b. are more likely to achieve positions of power;

c. are therefore able to discriminate against homosexuals; and

2. Homosexuals -

a. experience internalised inferiority to heterosexuals;

b. are less likely to achieve positions of power if they are open about their sexuality and, if closet, will experience constant stress about having to keep secret an essential part of their being and consistently fear being discovered and dismissed or rejected;

c. are discriminated against.

Institutional heterosexism teaches us that homosexuality is a mental disorder, a sickness, an illness; that homosexuality isn't normal, it's not natural, it's a deviancy, it's a perversion, it's a crime against nature; that homosexuality is a sin, it's immoral; that homosexuals are promiscuous, only interested in sex, obsessed with sex, carry disease, have all got AIDS; that homosexuals are not to be trusted, they lead young people astray, they are child molesters, they are dangerous, they are sex abusers; that male homosexuals are all sissies, effeminate, limp-wristed, want to be women, dress like women; that all female homosexuals are butch, masculine, ugly, want to be men, dress like men, do not have children, hate children; that homosexuality is a white disease, it's a capitalist disease, it's a western disease, it isn't found in the country only in cities; ad nauseum.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that we are all homophobic or that we remain homophobic unless and until we come across accurate information which contradicts the lies we have been conditioned to believe. The system works in a similar way against all oppressed groups so understanding how it works, for example in relation to homosexuals, means that we are more likely to understand how it works against black people, women, working class people, disabled people, Irish people, Jewish people, etc., and vice versa. One major difference, however, is that the families of oppressed groups often defend their children against oppression and teach them how to cope with it; the families of lesbians and gays are more likely to be one of the main sources of oppression and often reject their children when they most need their support and understanding.

As well as being homosexual, lesbians are also female, which means that we experience two lots of discrimination and internalise two lots of negative messages. Those lesbians/gays who reject femininity/masculinity, i.e. tomboys/butches/sissy boys, are particularly vulnerable to discrimination and internalised self hatred because they do not conform to the stereotyped image of femaleness/maleness; are more easily recognisd as homosexual; are likely to experience greater pressure to conform; and are more susceptible to bullying, verbal and physical abuse.

Those lesbians and gays who are multi-oppressed, i.e. those who are black, working class, minority ethnic, disabled, etc., experience further discrimination and inferiority. The more oppressed groups we belong to, the more likely we will have low self-esteem, low confidence, poor self identity and are more vulnerable to depression, alcohol and drug problems, and other self-destructive behaviours or coping methods. As Cranston (1992) points out: "... young people cannot be expected to choose healthy behaviors, whether it is observing good nutrition, wearing seat belts, or opting for safer sexual practices, if they do not possess a strong sense of personal worth."

Fig 1, Some Common Effects of Discrimination: Visibility, and Fig 2, Some Common Effects of Discrimination: Privileges, suggest some of the effects which positive and negative visibility and privileges or lack of privileges have on people. The powerful and powerless groups are given as examples others might include, for instance, old people, adolescents, non-Christians, and so on. Clearly, the more groups one belongs to on the minus side - less visible and less privilege - the more vulnerable one would be due to the compounded effects of multi-oppression, and vice versa.



  White             Black
  English             Minority Ethnic
  Middle Class           Working Class
  Heterosexual           Homosexual
  Able-bodied/minded         Disabled
  Male             Female
  |             |
  |             |
  Better Education         Worse Education
  & Wider Horizons         & Lower Horizons
  |             |
  Better Employment Opps       Worse Employment Opps
  More Job Satisfaction         Less Job Satisfaction
  Better Pay           Worse Pay
  Less Unemployment         More Unemployment
____________|__________________   _______________|_______________
| | |   | |   |
More Ind. More Less   More Dep. Less   More
from Family Status Trouble   on Family Status Trouble
| | with Law | |   with Law
Less Homeless/ More |   More Homeless/ Less   |
Harassment Power Less   Harassment Power More
| | likely   |   | likely
More Own More Custodial Less Own Less   Custodial
Houses Influence Sentences Houses Influence Sentences
| |   |   |   |   |
Better   More Social More   Worse   Fewer Social Less
Housing Outlets   Justice   Housing Outlets Justice



  White       Black
  English     Minority Ethnic
  Middle Class     Working Class
  Heterosexual     Homosexual
  Able-bodied/minded   Disabled
  Male       Female
  |       |
  Greater Visibility   Less Visibility
  |       |
  More Positive     Fewer Positive
  Role Models     Role Models
  |       |
  Few Negative     More Negative
  Stereotypes     Stereotypes
  |       |
  More Acceptance   Less Acceptance
  |       |
  Less Isolation     More Isolation
_____________|________   __________|______________
| | |     |
Stronger/Superior Less   Weaker/Stigmatised More
Identity   Need   Identity Need
|   | |   |
Higher   More   Lower Less
Self Esteem   Visibility Self Esteem Visibility
|   of Issues |   of Issues
|   |   |   |
Less Vulnerable   More   More Vulnerable Less
to Suggestion Research/ to Suggestion Research/
|   Information |   Information
|     |   |     |
More Confidence/ More   Less Confidence/ Less
Assertive   Support   Assertive   Support
|     |   |     |
Better Mental   More Likely Worse Mental   Less Likely
Health     to use   Health     to use
|     Services   |     Services
|     |   |     |
Less Need,   Support   More Need,   Support
& Less Use of   Geared to & More Use of   Not Geared to
Alcohol/Drugs   their Needs Alcohol/Drugs   their Needs

Discussing the rising number of African-American women who attempt suicide, Aldridge (1980) noted: "The costs of having several negatively evaluated statuses are particularly high and lead to social bankruptcy when people simply cannot muster the resources to pay them." Different cultures may alter or mitigate against some of the effects of oppression. For example, those which do not allow alcohol use and consider suicide sinful. But there would still be over-riding conflict with the dominant culture in Britain and one of the compounded effects of multi-oppression is that those who belong to several oppressed groups will be more isolated.


Scientists, LeVay (1991), Bailey & Pillard (1992), and Hamer (1993), are increasingly coming up with evidence that some people are pre-disposed to homosexuality. In any case, many agree that same-sex preference is present as early as five years with recognition by adolescence: Bell, Weinberg & Hammersmith, (1981); Berzon (1979); Borhek (1983); Cass (1985); Jay & Young (1979); Minton & McDonald (1985); Morin & Schultz (1978); Woodman (1979). Many young lesbians and gays say that they began to notice they were 'different,' i.e. they were falling for members of the same sex, at around the age of eleven (some earlier, some later). Even before they have become aware of their 'difference' they have already internalised the negative messages they have heard about homosexuality.

It is during adolescence when serious damage is done. Adolescence is a time when there is tremendous pressure for girls and boys to conform to femininity/masculinity, to be dating and, more and more, to be having sex (Sears, 1991; Fazal, 1994). Most important, this is happening round about the same time that many lesbians and gays are becoming painfully aware that they are different; a time when they are extremely vulnerable.

It is hard for heterosexuals to understand what it is like being lesbian or gay and growing up with that knowledge in a society which hates and fears homosexuals. Everywhere you turn you hear something negative about homosexuality - on the television, in newspapers, from your friends, from parents, grandparents and siblings, from other kids at school, from teachers! There has been a lot of discussion about homosexuality in the media, especially concerning the Age of Consent for gay men. Many famous and 'respectable' politicians were allowed to come out with blatantly homophobic remarks. For example, on Monday, 10th January 1994, BBC News at mid-day, Lady Olga Maitland, M.P., suggested that older homosexuals would pressurise young men into homosexuality and that this would "deprive them of future personal happiness, of family life and really, in a sense, being on the fringe of society." She continued, "If a girl of 16 has sexual intercourse she is carrying out, in a sense, a natural heterosexual function. But if a boy is forced into that mode he then could be forced into a sexuality for the rest of his life which would make him very troubled and very disturbed and very unhappy." On the BBC early evening news of the same day, Valerie Riches, Family & Youth Concern, said: "Heterosexual activity, even amongst 16-year-olds, is at least a normal activity. Homosexual activity is not normal, it is unnatural." Again on the same day, on BBC television, Lord Hailsham said "I think it [homosexuality] is a corrupt and corrupting vice."

We, Lesbian Information Service, are currently supporting a thirteen-year-old lesbian. Paula knew about her sexuality when she was eleven but it was two years before she spoke to anyone about it. She desperately needed support and told her school teacher whose response was to say that she was too young to make such a serious decision; the teacher now seems to avoid Paula. She told her best friend who, initially, said it was okay but has since become distant and constantly asks Paula, "When are you going to have a boyfriend?" Most recently, a boy in her class asked Paula out. When she refused he taunted her with: "Are you a lesbian, then?" Paula wanted to say, "Yes, I am, so what?" instead she told him to "Get lost."

Paula is one of the few younger lesbians who has contacted us after learning about our helpline in a magazine. We seem to be getting more and more calls from younger lesbians. Remafedi (1990) says:

"The youngest adolescents who are grappling with the possibility of homosexuality appear to be especially vulnerable to stigma and isolation because of emotional and physical immaturity, inexperience, the need to belong to a peer group, and dependence on families, schools, and communities for help during the transition to adulthood."

When Paula telephones she is often upset and cries when she tells us about the latest anti-homosexual joke or incident she has witnessed at school. She is desperate for support nearer home and, whilst it seems her parents may be supportive - one of their relatives is lesbian and her parents have gay friends - Paula is terrified to tell them. She fears they will not believe her.

We are able to give Paula limited support over the telephone and, more recently, she has felt able to receive information from us in the form of a booklet called "i think i might be a lesbian ... now what do i do?" Paula lives in a city where there is a Young Lesbian Group, which is quite rare. However, the Group meets a few miles away, in the evening, and the lower age limit is 16 years. It will be some time before Paula is able to meet other young lesbians of her own age.

To some degree Paula is fortunate to have come across our telephone number and to have had the confidence to call us; she can at least share her anger and sadness. But she is still without access to other young lesbians for friendship and without the support of those most dear to her, her parents.

Of the 20 lesbians we have interviewed, most knew they were 'different' at an early age and most had no-one to talk to for years. Without anyone to talk to young lesbians bottle up their feelings; many use drugs and alcohol to cope with their isolation, others become depressed and suicidal.

Young lesbians and gays do not need to become alcohol/drug dependent, depressed or suicidal, although because of isolation most are depressed during the very vulnerable early stages of coming out. Hetrick and Martin (1987) note:

"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, (Hetrick Martin Institute) 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."

But Young Lesbian Groups or Young Gay Groups are few and far between, often only exist in large cities and are rarely adequately staffed with specially trained workers who know how to deal with the issues (most groups are run on a part time basis and of those that do exist, most are mixed groups with young gay men dominating, which means young lesbians rarely attend). Many young lesbians and gays hold onto years of pain, anger, fear, guilt, shame and sadness inside them. When their emotions do come out this often takes the form of self harm, either in the form of self mutiliation, attempted suicide, alcohol or drug misuse and, in the case of young gay men, unsafe sex. For further information see Working With Lesbian and Gay Youth, Resource List, 1993, L.I.S.


In order to help minority groups understand the process they go through in acquiring a positive identity, U.S. academics have develeloped various stage theories. For example, Cass (1979), Coleman (1982), Sophie (1983), and Troiden (1989), have produced identity stage models for homosexuals; Chan (1989), Loiacano (1989), and Morales (1989), have produced models for people who are homosexual and who belong to other minorities; whilst others have produced models to cover the identity development of all minority groups: Barret (1990), Atkinson, Morton & Sue (1983), and Sue (1981).

Utilising previous work, the following model has been developed to assist our understanding of the stages a person who belongs to a minority group might go through from internalising a stigmatised identity to developing a positive identity. It should be noted that, without help, only a few will arrive at the final stage - isolation and multi-oppression make progression more complex.

Stage 1: Whilst we have internalised the negative messages about our minority status, at this early stage we are not aware that we are different.

Stage 2: We begin to realise we are different from the 'majority' and, because of internalised negative messages, are ashamed of who we are. If possible we try and hide our difference. We want to be like the majority and try to conform to something we are not. This creates depression and conflict and makes us vulnerable to drug or alcohol misuse. Use of alcohol or drugs as a means of coping, and isolation from accurate information and other members of our minority group who challenge the stereotyped images, means that we can get stuck in this stage.

Stage 3: If/when we have access to other members of our minority group (some people, for example homosexuals, disabled people, black children adopted by white families, etc., have no, or limited, access to members of the same minority group and are denied their support and understanding) we realise that we share similar experiences. We begin to meet people and read information which challenges the negative images perpetuated by society. However, we are still greatly influenced by the dominant culture which means we experience conflict and confusion about our beliefs and values.

Those who can 'pass' - i.e. some homosexuals, some people with hidden disabilities, black people with light coloured skin, educated working class people - can get stuck in this stage, never deal with their internalised oppression and never fully develop their self-esteem. They will remain vulnerable to depression and suicide, alcohol and drug misuse.

Stage 4: We reject the dominant view of society and culture and positively identify with our minority status. Through access to accurate information, positive role models and support, we realise that it is society which is wrong, not us. This stage is extremely important in helping to eliminate internalised negative images and beliefs, making us complete persons, and developing our self-esteem.

There is also a danger of getting stuck in this stage, however, when we become arrogant and argue that we are the 'most oppressed.' We ignore or minimalise other oppressions. In consequence we are, in turn, guilty of oppressing not only other minority groups but also members of our own minority group who are multi-oppressed. If we are multi-oppressed we continue to oppress ourselves by not dealing with all of our internalised oppressions. We often project the effects of other oppressions onto the one we consider the 'worst.' For example, many feminist lesbians consider their oppression as women to be 'worse' and deal only with that, ignoring or minimalising lesbian oppression and projecting the effects of heterosexism and homophobia onto sexism and mysogyny.

Stage 5: We realise that there are often many aspects to our identity and, by accepting and dealing with all of our internalised oppressions, we are on the road to recovery, developing our self-esteem and confidence, and becoming complete human beings. This plays a crucial role in helping us to cope with everyday discrimination.

We realise that being separate from the rest of society means we are limited in what we can do, what we can achieve, that we must engage in society to fulfill all of our needs and to challenge the system. We become aware that oppression follows a similar pattern for all minority groups. We make links between oppressions and want to eliminate all forms of oppression.


One major difference between homosexuals and other oppressed groups is that we have to come out. Coming out is a process which is never ending. (Some people - especially lesbians - never come out). It begins with admitting, and accepting, to ourselves that we are homosexual, telling others - especially our families and friends, work colleagues and, ultimately, telling the world (i.e. being in the media). Each time we tell someone we face rejection and discrimination. The early stage of the coming out process is a vulnerable period for all homosexuals at whatever age but especially youth.

Being able to 'pass' as heterosexual is sometimes seen as an advantage by other oppressed groups. However, passing creates deep psychological problems and means we are more vulnerable to depression, alcohol and drug misuse: we are less likely to develop positive identities and self-esteem; we face the constant threat of being discovered and are open to extortion; we are unlikely to get appropriate support; and, in any case, many homosexuals cannot pass! Whilst those who can pass benefit by escaping external oppression, the toll on internal oppression is likely to be great.

In summary, because of internal and external oppression lesbian and gay youth, especially those who are multi-oppressed, are likely to be vulnerable to depression, suicide, alcohol or drug misuse, HIV infection (gay youth). The origins of this vulnerability lie in the negative messages they internalise, especially when they are young and during adolescence when many become aware of their stigmatised identity. The coming out period is a particularly vulnerable time.


Education is one of the seven main institutions which perpetuates homophobia, the others being religion, medicine, the media, law, the family and language.

Education, and school in particular, is an important element in the perpetuation of homophobia because a) it is the obvious place to provide accurate information which challenges the lies that abound about homosexuality and b) school years are a crucial time for lesbian and gay youth because many are just coming to terms with their sexuality, are isolated and without support and experience bullying, verbal and physical abuse and pressure to conform to heterosexuality from their peers.


Rarely is homosexuality formally mentioned in school and, when it is, it is usually in a negative context (Trenchard & Warren, 1984; Camden 1991). In the L.I.S. study only one of the participants said lesbianism had been formally mentioned and she attended a public school. She said: "We had a whole day on sex education. It was mentioned that there were women who slept with women, but not a lot was said; no depth. It was mentioned and then they carried on with heterosexual sex."

As part of the National Youth Agency's Vox Pop (a project set up to give young people from around the country an opportunity to voice their opinions about matters which concern them), Lesbian Information Service and Lancashire County Council ran a weekend residential for young lesbians. Education was identified as an important issue and the following comments came up as a result of a brainstorm concerning homosexuality and 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.

Personal experiences: "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." "Peer pressure." "Not allowed to be seen as normal." "Treated as a novelty." "No posters." "No books in libraries." "Isolation." "No opportunities for self-expression."

Recommendations: "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."

The London Gay Teenage Group research (Trenchard & Warren, 1984) highlights the different experiences of lesbian and gay youth in school, resulting on the one hand from the higher visibility of young gay men (i.e. gay men are more out) and on the other, the invisibility (i.e. lesbians are less out) of lesbians. For example, 27% of the lesbians felt isolated at school compared with 24% of the young gay men (61% of the participants in the L.I.S. study who knew about their sexual orientation at school - 18 out of 20 - felt isolated because of it); 7.7% of the lesbians and 25% of the gays in the London study experienced verbal abuse (22% of the L.I.S. study); 2.6% of the lesbians and 16% of the gays in the London study were beaten up (5% in the L.I.S. survey); 15% of the lesbians and 4.3% of the gays felt pressure to conform (33% of the L.I.S. study); and 13% of the lesbians, 13% of the gays from the London survey experienced teasing (65% of the participants in the L.I.S. study either witnessed or personally experienced taunting).

The Camden (1991) study shows that there are more teachers who are out in London (22% of the under 25's knew teachers who were out compared with none in the L.I.S. study). It confirms that there has been an increase in abuse and name-calling, no doubt due to the greater visibility of homosexuality. The Camden study also found that white students were more able than the black students to confide in their teachers about their sexuality and that young men (60% of the young gay men) were more likely to talk about homosexuality than were young women (36% of the young lesbians).


There are no school projects in the U.K. we are aware of that we could recommend (Rotherham Education Officer's attempts to introduce anti-discriminatory measures around homophobia were quashed - see Times Education Supplement Review: Out in the cold, Wendy Wallace, March 11, 1994, Yorkshire Post, 19th July 1993 and The Pink Paper, 6th August 1993). The trend in Britain has been to reverse progress. For example, 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, in 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).

Mr Patton dropped clause 25 as a result of responses to the draft guidelines. Nevertheless, he still maintains that teachers should tell pupils that heterosexuality is better than homosexuality and marriage is better than single parenthood. (Capital Gay, 10th December 1993).

This is despite the fact that other governmental departments have begun to acknowledge the needs of lesbians and gays. For example, the Department of the Environment issued guidelines to local authorities instructing them to treat same sex couples the same as heterosexuals (Pink Paper, 9th April 1993); The Children Act, 1991, acknowledges the special needs of lesbian and gay youth in care (Para 9.50, para 9.53, Volume 3 - Guidance and Regulations on Family Placements); the Department of Health acknowledged the high risk of suicide for lesbian and gay youth (Mental Illness, Sometimes I think I can't go on any more ... The Health of the Nation, 1993) as well as the lack of access to health care, (para 3.14, Health of the Nation, Mental Illness Key Area Handbook). Reducing suicide, teenage pregnancies and HIV infection are three of the major objectives of the Health of the Nation. Even earlier Department of Education and Science reports referred to the needs of lesbian and gay youth (HMI Report on "Youth Counselling Services," 1988; National Advisory Council for the Youth Service report "Youth Work with Girls and Young Women, 1989). The government are clearly giving confusing and mixed messages with the Department for Education being out-of-step with other Departments.


The situation is very different in the U.S.A. which is probably a result of over 20 years of research, most of which is available in this country through the Library Service. There are several projects in the U.S.A. The Harvey Milk School and Project 10 (see Uribe & Harbeck, 1992, Rofes, 1989, Project 10 Handbook) are two. The Harvey Milk School is one of the projects at the Hetrick Martin Institute in New York which employs over 100 full-time staff as well as part-time and voluntary staff. The school was founded in 1985 following the realisation that many of the HMI clients were chronic truants or drop outs. It operates in conjunction with the City's Board of Education (it is a unique public/private partnership). The goals of the Harvey Milk Programme are:

1. To provide educational opportunity for those youngsters who, for whatever reason, are unable to obtain it elsewhere;

2. To provide a support system through the Hetrick Martin Institute and other agencies that will meet the other needs of these youngsters;

3. To provide a support system that will, when possible, address and correct the problems that forced the young person out of the regular school programme;

4. To return the young person to a regular high school programme whenever possible;

5. If that cannot be done immediately, to maintain the young person in a school programme while offering support and counselling that will enable them to return to a regular school setting if possible;

6. In all cases, to do everything possible to see that these youngsters receive a high school education, to help them enter either job programmes or institutions of higher learning, and otherwise help them to become valuable, contributing members of society.

Project 10 is an on-campus counselling programme organised in 1984 in response to the unmet needs of lesbian and gay youth in the educational system. It started at Fairfax High School but is now used in schools across Los Angeles and other school districts. The focus of the model is education, reduction of verbal and physical abuse, suicide prevention and accurate AIDS information. Project 10 is committed to retaining students in school, off drugs and sexually responsible. As research has long identitifed the connection between low self-esteem and high risk behaviour, Project 10 attempts to improve self esteem among lesbian and gay youth by providing accurate information and non-judgemental counselling.

Making Schools Safe for Gay and Lesbian Youth, Breaking the Silence in Schools and in Families, is the result of a Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth set up in the State of Massachusetts following the publication of Paul Gibson's paper (1989); it is the first in a series of reports and one of its recommendations has already been accepted: in December 1993 the Senate passed a bill which will allow the victims of homophobic harassment and violence on campus to sue their schools. The law also means that lesbian and gay youth will be able to take their partners to the school prom, to participate in sport without fear of discrimination and to form social groups at school which would be legally protected.

It is hoped that this pape]\\\\0r will enable you, in your capacity as educationalists, to give support to lesbian and gay youth and challege homophobia and other oppressions within the education system in Britain.


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© Lesbian Information Service/Jan Bridget/Sandra Lucille 1994