LESBIAN YOUTH SUPPORT INFORMATION SERVICE/LESBIAN
MENTAL HEALTH FOUNDATION
Chapter 1: Background to
Chapter 2: Aims and Objectives of the Project
3: Timetable for Work
Chapter 4: Methods/Monitoring
Chapter 5: Outcome Results
Chapter 6: Implications for
Chapter 7: The Future
OBSERVATIONS OF WIDER
Work with LIS/LYSIS over the past two years strongly
* More and more young lesbians are coming out at younger
ages: many are highly vulnerable to mental health problems and in desperate need
* More older lesbians are coming out. Their experiences
confirm that there are enormous emotional consequences of suppressing
* There appears to be general acknowledgement of the
needs of, and support for, young gay men (emanating from HIV prevention work);
there is no understanding of the needs of young lesbians especially around
mental health issues and alcohol misuse, nor support.
* Section 28 of the
Local Government Act is stopping appropriate support being made
available/publicised by local authorities.
Young lesbians have featured in the work of
LIS since it was established in July 1987. Working with young lesbians revealed
that they were a vulnerable group in need of support but that little support was
available through mainstream services (health, social, youth,
In 1990 LIS began research into the needs and experiences of
young lesbians. The findings indicate that being an isolated young lesbian is
strongly associated with psychological vulnerability, self-damaging behaviour
and social rejection, as the following data underlines:-
14 of the 20 had
attempted suicide, this included 45 attempts
17 of the 20 experienced long
periods of depression
10 of the 20 abused themselves in other ways, e.g.
17 of the 20 used alcohol, 10 having serious drink problems
of the 20 had eating problems including anorexia and bulimia
11 of the 20 had
U.S. research and provision, which has been going on for
over 20 years, suggests that lesbian and gay youth are 2-6 times more likely to
attempt suicide than heterosexual youth and that they may comprise up to 30% of
completed youth suicides. It has also been discovered that lesbian and gay youth
are most vulnerable when they are trying to come to terms with their sexual
orientation and that, with access to accurate information, peer and adult
support and positive role models, many of the harmful coping behaviours can be
avoided or reduced.
In order to concentrate the work of LIS on young
lesbians, the two volunteers, Jan Bridget and Sandra Lucille, set up the project
LYSIS in 1991. Until the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) award of £30,000 over
two years in 1995, LIS/LYSIS had only managed to acquire small amounts of
There are no other national organisations whose work consists
primarily of supporting young lesbians. Indeed, there are only a few national
lesbian organisations and a handful of young lesbian groups scattered throughout
Britain. This contrasts sharply with the number of projects aimed at supporting
young gay men!
The aims of LYSIS are to provide
appropriate support to young lesbians, make visible their experiences and
establish and improve appropriate support services in order to prevent or modify
the development of harmful coping behaviours.
The support is directed at isolated young lesbians (mainly
those living in small towns and rural areas) who are just coming to terms with
their lesbianism. We have, therefore, developed long-distance methods of support
which include: targetted publicity (agony aunts in magazines, directories,
agencies); correspondence counselling; telephone counselling (helpline);
provision of accurate information (booklet 'i think i might be a lesbian .. now
what do i do?' Young Lesbian Coming Out Pack, books, videos); referrals (to
local support groups where they exist - these are usually only found in cities
and large towns and are often mixed (lesbian and gay) with the needs of young
men dominating, to supportive counsellors where we can find them); peer support
(Pen-Pal Scheme); and advocacy (with parents, doctors, social workers,
Establishing and Improving Appropriate Support
We aim to establish and improve appropriate support services
by publicising the issues which face young lesbians; providing information to
workers/agencies; producing publications; conducting training;
advocating/campaigning to get agencies to take on board the issues; conducting
research; and developing theory to understand the needs of young
There is a third, and somewhat
hidden, aim: to ensure the service continues to operate. This became even more
relevant after the first year of funding when one of the founders and volunteers
left the project. Thank you, Sandra, for the many years of hard work and support
you've given to young lesbians.
In order to achieve this the following
methods are being utilised:- development of a management structure with sub
groups for funding and employment; preparation of a business plan; applying for
charitable trust status; developing monitoring and evaluation procedures;
developing administrative procedures; acquiring funding for new staff, equipment
and larger premises.
Publicity has increased dramatically during this period, no
doubt due partly to increased visibility of lesbianism in the media. LIS/LYSIS
regularly appears in the 'agony aunt' columns of magazines (Chat, Mizz, Take a
Break, TV Times) and has also appeared in newspapers (The Sun, The Guardian), on
television (Agony Hour, Good Sex Guide), radio (Northamptonshire Radio, Radio 5
Live, Freedom FM), BBC Helpline for television and radio, gay media (Gay Times,
Pink Paper, Diva), youth service media (Young People Now, Youth Clubs UK),
directories (telephone, yellow pages, Thomson, NACAB, MIND, Samaritans,
Childline, Bournemouth Library Database, English Nursing and Midwifery Database,
Stockport Youth Service, Camden & Islington Young Peoples' Information
Booklet, the Women's Directory, to name but a few).
Support provided to
young lesbians - the majority isolated - has increased significantly: 1994-1995,
444; 1995-1996, 573; 1996-1997, 775. All of the young women who contact LYSIS
and who can receive post are sent a free copy of the booklet 'i think i might be
a lesbian ... now what do i do?' and information about any local support, the
Pen-Pal Scheme, the Helpline and the Coming Out Pack. The Pen-Pal Scheme
membership rose from c.30 in 1994-1995 to 150 in 1995-1996 to 221 in 1996-1997.
Many of the young lesbians write to thank LYSIS:
Thanks very much for
finding me a pen-pal. We have a lot in common and its comforting to talk to
people who understand how I feel. It means a lot to me to have that
Thanks also for the 'Coming Out' pack. I found myself agreeing
to a lot of the stuff said and thinking more positively about being a
My friends who have known I was a lesbian for a while say that
since writing to LYSIS and my penpal I've become a more cheerful person - more
like my old self. I'm glad.
Thanks for everything.
MHF funding has
enabled LYSIS to call many young lesbians back on the telephone (most are scared
their parents will see the number on their bills) as well as sending out free
copies of the Coming Out Pack to those who cannot afford them and to cover the
cost of postage and packing for loaning books and videos.
More recent use
of the Health Promotion Unit address list for England has enabled LYSIS to
access supportive counsellors for young lesbians - LYSIS is enabling service
providers to meet clients!
Negative outcomes during this period include
inability to conduct the survey of provision and establish a data-base due to
lack of funding and staff; homophobic responses of the parents of a young
lesbian and a social worker in the Midlands: the former putting pressure on
their daughter to become heterosexual and threatening LYSIS, the latter telling
a young lesbian we were supporting that she wasn't lesbian and should stop
contacting LYSIS. Not only does this sort of behaviour not succeed but it
significantly increases the mental health problems of young
Establishing and Improving Appropriate Support
Issues concerning young lesbians have been publicised in
articles (Lesbian Youth Support Information Service (LYSIS): Developing a
Distance Support Agency for Young Lesbians, Jan Bridget & Sandra Lucille,
Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, Vol 6, 386.1-10 (1996);
Hidden but not Forgotten: Lesbian and Gay Youth, in Getting it Together, Jan
Bridget, Good Practice in Mental Health, 1996); on television (Agony Hour, UK
Living), on the radio (All in the Mind, Radio 4, Freedom FM), in the gay press
(Pink Paper, Gay Times); at conferences/workshops/lectures (Association of
Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Psychologies - UK, Nottingham, MIND National
Conference, Blackpool, Hillcroft College, Surbiton, Women & Mental Health,
Leeds, Royal College of Nursing, London, Bradford University, MIND's Without
Prejudice...Awareness Training in Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Mental Health,
Manchester), and at training events (Homophobia Awareness Module,
Multi-Oppression Module - these have come about as a result of developing a
theoretical framework based on the activities of LIS, a framework which has been
transformed into a practical training course and which underpins the work of
LIS/LYSIS - University of Manchester).
Requests for information from
workers/agencies have also risen significantly during this period: 1994-1995,
705, 1995-1996, 987, 1996-1997, 917. This implies there is an increased interest
in young lesbians. Due to lack of staff, the Resource Lists have not been
up-dated this year (data searches, acquiring articles, computerising abstracts).
In the period 1995-1996, however, six new lists were published (Attitudes,
Religion, Butch/Fem, Discrimination & Law, Homophobia Awareness Training and
Etiology) while the remaining 12 were up-dated, as was the Coming Out Pack. The
Booklet 'i think i might be a lesbian ... now what do i do?' has been
professionally typset and printed with help from Calderdale Health Promotion
Centre and distributed to Health Promotion Units in England: the wider
distribution this booklet receives the wider LYSIS is publicised. Publications
are seen as a major way of disseminating information, encouraging both provision
and research; they also provide much needed income! Unfortunately, there is not
enough time, staff or equipment to promote them.
In the past we have
challenged/encouraged relevant agencies to take on board the needs of young
lesbians (e.g. National Youth Agency, Youth Clubs UK, Trust for the Study of
Adolescence, MIND, Samaritans, as well as local authorities - some with more
success than others). This aspect of our work has been placed on hold partly due
to lack of time but also because it is very demoralising experiencing homophobia
face-to-face from institutions who are supposed to be supportive.
LYSIS is in a perfect position to conduct research into the needs and
experiences of isolated young lesbians, due to reduction in staff and lack of
funding we have been unable to pursue this. We were instrumental in setting up
Esteem: The national advisory group on self-harm and related behaviours in young
lesbians and gays in 1995 but have been unable to attend any of the meetings for
some time; Esteem was unsuccessful in a Lottery bid and it seems likely that the
group has closed although the project has been instrumental in developing a
network of interested academics and practitioners.
framework which underpins the work of LIS/LYSIS has developed as a result of the
combination of providing support, conducting research, developing training and
publications. By multi-oppression we mean that young lesbians are made powerless
and become vulnerable because of their youth, gender and sexual orientation and
that many others are also minority ethnic, working class and disabled. When we
support young lesbians we take on board all aspects of their identity; the more
oppressed groups a young lesbian belongs to the more vulnerable she is likely to
A management group has been set up;
members include: the leader of the local council, a local vicar, representatives
from the education service, health promotion service, alcohol treatment agency,
young lesbian group and the Yorkshire Rural Development Commission. Sub-groups
need to be set up for funding and employment and training is being arranged. A
business plan is nearing completion; this will be used as the basis for future
funding applications. An application to become a charitable trust is currently
being submitted. Monitoring and evaluation forms as well as other administrative
procedures have been drawn up; we are waiting for more staff, larger premises
and new equipment to be able to implement them.
* There is an urgent need for a survey of support groups,
networking between groups, training and conferences for those who work with
lesbian/lesbian and gay youth.
* Projects/services must be given
appropriate funding, support and training. One part-time session a week is
totally insufficient to deal with the needs of young lesbians.
* The type
of support offered to young lesbians must be developed to suit their needs. As
well as support and social groups young lesbians need one-to-one counselling and
the support of adults. Many young lesbians are unable to attend groups and need
other types of support, such as those used by LYSIS.
* Agencies need to
ensure it is easy for potential users to contact them. All too often there is
only an ansaphone and lesbians who are just coming out are unlikely to leave a
message on an ansaphone. Similarly, only being available one night a week puts a
lot of lesbians off.
* Agencies need to set up procedures to support
lesbians to attend their services/group e.g. offering to write to them first,
meeting them (sometimes several times), introducing them to group members,
keeping a special watch on them to ensure they are settling in and follow-up if
the person doesn't come back - losing one young lesbian could mean losing a
* It can, and often does, take a long time to set up a support
group for young lesbians - publicity and networking for referrals is
* A great amount of patience is required in supporting young
lesbians, especially in the early stages of coming out.
* Lesbians often
contact agencies for general information; what the caller usually needs is
support in coming out/dealing with isolation.
* Supporting young
lesbians is a long process: it often takes a long time to deal with internalised
homophobia and develop a positive self identity.
* The model which LYSIS
has developed could be utilised for similar projects, e.g. for older lesbians,
parents of lesbians, ex-partners of lesbians, children of lesbians - both across
the country and across counties.
Lesbian Information Service celebrates
its 10th anniversary in July 1997. We have supprted 1,000's of young lesbians
during this period. Success means that demand is outstripping our capacity to
cope. Without major core funding in the very near future LIS/LYSIS will have to
CHAPTER 1: BACKGROUND TO THE PROJECT
From the moment Lesbian Information Service was set up in
July 1987 young lesbians have featured in our work. We discovered that a) young
lesbians, in particular, were vulnerable and in need of support and b) there was
very little support available to them through mainstream services (e.g. health,
youth, education, social services and the voluntary sector); what little existed
was usually provided by voluntary gay helplines.
On-going data searches
reveal that research, in particular from the U.S.A. where this sort of work has
been going on for over 20 years - we are only just beginning in Britain,
suggests that lesbian and gay youth are between 2 and 6 times more likely to
attempt suicide than heterosexual youth and may comprise up to 30% of completed
youth suicides. Because Britain is 20 years behind the U.S.A. with regard to
both research and provision it is likely that the situation will be worse
We conducted research into the needs and experiences of young
lesbians (1990-1993). The findings confirmed our concern and suggested that
being a young lesbian is strongly associated with psychological vulnerability,
self-damaging behaviours and social rejection and isolation, as the following
* 17 of the 20 experienced long periods of
* 8 of the 20 experienced periods of anxiety.
* 14 of
the 20 attempted suicide; this includes 45 attempts.
* 10 of the 20 had
seen a psychiatrist.
* 10 out of 20 abused themselves in other ways, e.g.
cutting up with razor blades, banging fist against the wall/putting through
window; biting chunks out of self; throwing self against wall and down
* 17 of the 20 used alcohol, 10 having serious problems i.e.
passing out, getting arrested for being drunk and disorderly, being hospitalised
for drink problem, attempting suicide whilst under the influence of
* 10 of the 20 had used illegal drugs.
* 11 of the 20
had eating problems - over-eating, under-eating, anorexia, bulimia.
of the 20 had been homeless.
* 10 of the 20 had been sexually abused or
raped, two having been both sexually abused and raped.
The research is
unusual for several reasons:- a) the majority of the participants were
multi-oppressed, i.e. 13 were working class, 3 were black, 4 were disabled; b)
17 were aged 25 and below and most had identified as 'different' (i.e. falling
for the same sex) from an early age; c) most (17) grew up - and most remained -
in small towns/isolated areas (parts of Lancashire, Cheshire, Cumbria and
Yorkshire) where there was no lesbian visibility or support apart from the
negative images of gay pubs. These are the sort of lesbians who usually slip
through the research net.
An examination of early research suggests that
lesbians are more likely to attempt suicide than gay men as
Saghir et al
Homosexual females showed an overall prevalence of
psychiatric disorders greater than homosexual males. Comparing homosexual women
and men for individual disorders, the women showed a trend to higher prevalence,
even for excessive drinking. They attempted suicide significantly more often
than the men.
While there has been a significant rise in the number of
research projects concerning young gay men and suicide, little has been
conducted regarding young lesbians. Antholny R. D'Augelli, Professor of Human
Development, Pennsylvania State University and expert on young gay men and
suicide acknowledges (personal correspondence, 1996):
I wish you much
luck in establishing a research project on lesbian youth. The need is
tremendous, as you know, and all the data I know of that concerns young women
suggests that their lives are even more distressed than young men's.
research suggests (see Working with Lesbian and Gay Youth Resource List, LIS,
1996) that it is when lesbian and gay youth are first coming to terms with their
sexual orientation that they are most vulnerable to developing mental health
problems (depression, anxiety, attempted and completed suicide, self-harming
behaviours, eating problems) and harmful coping strategies (alcohol and drug
misuse, promiscuity, enforced heterosexuality - unwanted pregnancies, HIV
infection). With appropriate support - accurate information, positive role
models, peer and adult support - these effects of homophobia and heterosexism
can be avoided or reduced.
As part of the
research project in 1990 we contacted over 80 national and regional
organisations to seek their support, the response was extremely disappointing.
However, of the few who did respond their comments were supportive and stressed
the need for such research, as the following quote from Neil Marsland, General
Secretary, NAYPCAS (now Youth Access), shows:
The research project you
are planning to undertake into the needs of young lesbians is urgently required.
Despite the abundance of material referring to the behaviour of young people
from many standpoints, there is very little evidence on young lesbians and an
almost total absence of any policy and provision to support them.
recent report, 'Youth Counselling Services,' published by the Department of
Education and Science following a survey carried out in 1987-8 noted the concern
felt by youth workers for homosexual young people. Young people were afraid of
rejection and attack, felt isolated and unable to discuss their feelings. Many
went through periods of severe depression and contemplated suicide. Set against
the background of a 38% increase in the number of under 25's suicides in the
last 10 years and a dramatic increase in para suicide (non-fatal deliberate
self-injury) there is indeed cause for immediate concern and constructive
action. Existing provision has been developed on the basis of a smattering of
information and personal initiatives. Current circumstances dictate that
systematic research should be conducted to outline the issues and recommend
appropriate services ...
NAYPCAS agencies are well aware of the many
concerns about sexuality which beset young persons and would welcome the
guidance which would be forthcoming from your investigations. The Association
fully supports the proposal ...
Section 28 of the Local Government Act,
introduced in 1988, and in the case of young gay men the age of consent, is a
major legal impediment to services providing support. Whilst aimed at local
authority maintained schools it has been highly successful in preventing
mainstream voluntary and statutory support for lesbian and gay youth. Lesbian
Information Service has had funding refused, Section 28 being quoted as the
reason; we have also had individual workers expressing their concern that by
even ringing us they are breaking the law! Section 28 and media attacks on
provision has also had the effect of ensuring that the little provision which
exists (especially mainstream) keeps a low profile and thereby excludes many
In July 1992 the Government produced The Health of
the Nation White Paper which identified five key areas of concern; these
included mental health and HIV/Aids and sexual health. One aim is to reduce
suicides by 15% by the year 2000, as well as reducing pregnancies in young women
and preventing HIV infection. The Health of the Young Nation initiative was
launched in July 1995. It aims to equip young people to make responsible,
informed choices about their health and lifestyles. Alcohol and drug use were
highlighted as areas needing attention.
Lesbian Information Service has
worked hard over the years to encourage mainstream services to acknowledge the
vulnerability of lesbian and gay youth. We have given workshops, lectures and
provided evidence to many organisations including, for example, MIND, the
Samaritans, the National Youth Agency, Youth Clubs UK, to name but a few.
There are no other national agencies which
are aimed specifically at supporting young lesbians (indeed, there are few
national lesbian organisations!) There are a handful of young lesbian groups
around Britain with many more mixed, lesbian and gay youth groups; these are
usually dominated by young gay men and are mainly found in cities. There are
more support groups and one-to-one counselling services aimed at young gay men
which come under HIV/AIDS prevention.
Many of these youth groups
seem to be aimed at providing (much needed) social support but with
little one-to-one counselling or support in the coming out process. Many groups
are run on a voluntary, part-time, basis; volunteers, and qualified workers (be
they youth, social or health workers), rarely (if ever) receive training -
either basic or in-service - on the issues facing lesbian and gay youth and how
to provide appropriate support. Similarly, there is little support and
understanding from management. The response (by some mainstream services) to a
perceived need is often to persuade a local lesbian or gay man to set up a
group; it is expected that they will have the knowledge and skills on how to run
a group. These groups are often doomed to fail for a variety of reasons, not
least the lack of understanding of the needs of lesbian and gay youth, but also
lack of appropriate management support and lack of funding. Research into this
area would be useful.
Research conducted by Lesbian Information Service
since 1990 consistently shows a lack of understanding, and support, for young
lesbians on the part of local, mainstream, statutory and voluntary
In 1990 LIS contacted over 40 agencies in East Lancashire,
where the research into the needs of young lesbians began, to find that not one
of the agencies provided support specific to the needs of young lesbians. (See
Report Project into the Needs of Young Lesbians, Stage I, LIS, 1991,
As part of the LYSIS Vox Pop Project in 1993, youth
services in North West England were surveyed to find out if any made provision
specifically for young lesbians, only one made such provision (and this has
since closed), a couple provided mixed, lesbian and gay, youth groups. (For
further information see Vox Pop Report, LIS, 1993).
As part of the
Lesbians and Alcohol Project (LAP), LIS surveyed 38 alcohol treatment agencies
in North West England; there was no special provision for lesbians within
mainstream services; only a handful of workers had received training and
supervision in relation to lesbian clients. (See Treatment of Lesbians with
Alcohol Problems in Alcohol Services in North West England, LIS,
The response, in 1996-1997, to a project aimed at providing free
training to highlight the needs of lesbian and gay youth (specifically in
relation to mental health) to agencies who work with young people in Calderdale
suggests that few of the voluntary and statutory agencies in Calderdale are
interested in providing appropriate support for lesbian and gay youth. Indeed,
LYSIS is the only support for young lesbians in Calderdale and there is nothing
for young gay men!
LYSIS is innovative in
several ways, including:
1. it aims support at isolated, multi-oppressed,
young lesbians around Britain;
2. it has developed a variety of long
distance support methods to try and meet the needs of isolated young
3. it is part of Lesbian Information Service whose other
activities include research, publications, training, campaigning, developing
theory and providing information and support to older lesbians, agencies,
workers and families. These activities inter-relate and influence the
development of each component as well as the direction of the agency as a
Other Similar Initiatives in the UK
Funding for this
sort of work has always been difficult to acquire because there has been little
acknowledgement of the vulnerability of lesbian and gay youth but especially
young lesbians. By contrast funding, often under the aegis of HIV prevention
work, is more easily available for projects aimed at supporting young gay men -
a glance at job advertisements in the gay media easily substantiates this.
LIS/LYSIS has been pioneering in this field, encouraging - and campaigning for -
recognition of the needs of both lesbian and gay youth by mainstream and
voluntary agencies and society in general.
Many groups around the
country have contacted LIS/LYSIS for information, evidence of need, statistics,
etc., to help them acquire funding to set up support groups. The climate has
begun to change with more local groups receiving funding from local authorities
and new groups being set up/existing provision expanded thanks to the National
Lottery. Having said this, the funding system in general seems to be set up for
local groups and it is more difficult for a small national organisation to
acquire funding; it is also much more difficult to acquire funding for projects
which are aimed specifically at young lesbians.
Apart from the handful of
young lesbian groups, who usually only meet once a week or fortnight or month,
there appears to be no similar initiatives in the UK aimed specifically at young
lesbians, let alone those who live in small towns and rural areas. Those few
which do exist tend to be mixed and are local- or area-based. For example, 42nd
Street (mental health) in Manchester, the Albert Kennedy Trust (homelessness -
Manchester and London), Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Peer Support (Manchester),
Stonewall Housing Association (London), North London Line (London).
Relationship of LYSIS to other Similar Initiatives
provide information (statistics, publications) and refer young lesbians to the
various young lesbian and lesbian and gay youth groups and organisations named
above. Some of these projects are afffiliated to LYSIS/LIS (see Chapter 4,
Affiliation Scheme). Occasionally we provide training/consultancy and meet
workers from these projects at workshops given by LIS/LYSIS at national
Lesbian Information Service did make some attempts in the
past to try and bring together a forum in Manchester but there appeared to be
Our closest work has been with North London Line who
were established in 1987 about the same time as Lesbian Information Service.
Until recently, when the lesbian worker left, workers from both projects
provided support for each other, made referrals, met at training events and
publicised each other's work and publications.
How LYSIS is Different
to other, Similar, Initiatives
The main way in which LYSIS is
different to other initiatives is that we are national, long-distance and aim
our support specifically at young lesbians, especially those who are isolated
and live in rural areas and small towns.
LYSIS is a gateway for the most
vulnerable young lesbians: because it is anonymous and can remain relatively
anonymous (as opposed to face-to-face support groups or counselling) it appeals
to those young lesbians who are just coming out and are terrified of making
contact with groups; it is especially geared to enabling young lesbians to take
their first step in the coming out process and is also appealing to
multi-oppressed young lesbians (those who experience several layers of
oppression due to ethnicity, disability, class, age - i.e. very young lesbians)
who are less likely to find groups or the 'scene' (pubs and clubs) supportive or
accessible or, indeed, appropriate!
LYSIS is also different because it is
part of a more diverse lesbian organisation (Lesbian Information Service) whose
other activites support and inform the work of LYSIS. We are also usually
available most days as well as Wednesday evening, unlike other provision which
is often one night a week and extremely difficult to
Other Funders/Agencies Involved
In the past it
has been very difficult to obtain funding, because we are a national lesbian
organisation - local organisations seem more likely to acquire funding from
local authorities; funding has been more readily available for gay male
organisations (or mixed organisations) because there is more acknowledgement
about the needs of gay men as well as funding being available for HIV
prevention. The organisation has received small amounts of funding in the past
(see Chapter 4, aim 3).
During this period Calderdale Health Promotion
Unit have been particularly supportive and provided type-setting services, along
with a £500 grant, to re-issue the booklet "i think i might be a lesbian ... now
what do i do?"
We received a grant of £2,500 from Calderdale Community
Foundation (CCF) to provide training for agencies who work with young people in
Calderdale. The response was particularly disappointing We are hopeful of
receiving further funding from CCF. One possible positive outcome of this
project is that Calderdale MBC might adopt the multi-oppression framework to
tackle social injustice in Calderdale.
We have also received £2,196 from
Calderdale MBC (Youth Service) to provide support for local young
LIS have been awarded £7,500 from Charity Projects to complete
Stage II of LAP (Lesbians and Alcohol Project) which entails producing a booklet
on lesbians and alcohol aimed at alcohol agencies and distributing this,
together with a copy of the Resource List and the Report of the survey to
alcohol agencies in England and conducting a short survey of those alcohol
agencies in England who say they welcome lesbians and gays. We are working on
this with the Piccadilly Project in Bradford and Calderdale Health Promotion
Unit. Charity Projects have invited us to apply for further funding to work with
a group of young lesbians and produce a leaflet about alcohol misuse aimed at
We are currently discussing grant aid with the West
Yorkshire Rural Development Commission and are hopeful of future
Other, national, organisations (Save The Children, Childline,
MIND) have been involved with LYSIS via the Advisory Group.
CHAPTER 2: AIMS AND OBJECTIVES OF THE
Aims and Objectives
The aims of LYSIS
are to provide appropriate support to young lesbians, make visible their
experiences and establish and improve appropriate support services in order to
prevent or modify the development of maladaptive behaviours.
objectives of LYSIS are, therefore,
1. To challenge the isolation of
2. To help young lesbians develop self-esteem.
To encourage the development of positive ways of dealing with external and
4. To conduct research into the needs of young
5. To encourage other agencies, and parents, to develop their
knowledge and provide appropriate support to young lesbians.
aim and objectives remained the same throughout the two years of funding with
the exception of replacing the word 'maladaptive' with 'harmful coping'. This
was in response to suggestions from young lesbians and representatives of other
organisations. It was felt that the term 'maladaptive' was too clinical and
would put young lesbians off.
YEAR 1: August 1995 - July 1996
1. Continue level of
service as it is, i.e. helpline, correspondence, referrals, etc.
3. Develop a short questionnaire to ask clients to:
ascertain what help is needed/course of action;
b. to inform
c. utilise findings for annual report and LIS
4. Develop LYSIS Group:
b. devise training programme to include
a pen-pal system
Develop network (on computer) of supportive agencies, individuals, groups,
6. Develop affiliation scheme to encourage
all Young Lesbian Groups and Lesbian and Gay Youth Groups to join as well as
other interested groups, organisations and individuals. Possible survey of youth
groups to ascertain support for young lesbians.
7. Retain level of
publicity to sustain current level of enquiries.
8. Annual evaluation of
service (Annual Report).
9. Personal training - skills needed and
continued development of knowledge about issues.
YEAR 2 1995 - 1996
1. Expand publicity to
increase demand in service.
2. Evaluate questionnaire and amend if
needed; evaluate service - annual report; feed back information to LIS for
3. Continue to support LYSIS Group, training and
training to deal
in telephone counselling
4. Continue to expand and keep up-to-date
network on computer.
5. Continue to develop affiliation scheme and
expand; possible survey of affiliates.
6. Plan, execute, evaluate and
write report of the National Conference for those working with young lesbians
(in conjunction with LIS and maybe other agencies).
7. Personal training
YEAR 3 1996-1997
1. Continue to
expand/adapt service along with development of LYSIS group.
funding to continue LYSIS.
3. Evaluate questionnaire and project for
Annual Report, etc.
4. Continue to support, train and supervise LYSIS
5. Continue to expand network.
6. Continue to expand
7. Plan, execute, evaluate and write report for
Second National Conference for those working with young lesbians.
Personal training needs.
Performance Targets in view of shortfall in funding (i.e. £30,000 over two
1. Correspondence with young lesbians
2. Provision of relevant information about
3. Provision of local information and contacts for young
4. On-going correspondence with young lesbians who need it -
advice, support, information.
5. Maintenance of the national penfriend
service for young lesbians under 25 years.
6. Maintenance of the national
telephone helpline run on Wednesday evenings.
7. Establishment of a fund
to cover the cost of calls when young lesbians cannot afford to pay.
Development of this work by:
a. publicity - television, radio, magazines,
b. making and re-affirming links with other youth
organisations, voluntary and statutory and other lesbian and gay
c. development of a data base for easy access to local
information (will need to acquire a computer)
d. greater involvement of
young lesbians in the project - young lesbians are currently involved in
face-to-face support, letter-writing, meeting prior to attendance at groups.
This could be more formalised and provision of expenses for young lesbians where
1. Maintain service at current
2. Complete Development/Business Plan for use in:
- giving a clearer direction
- developing other aspects to enable LIS to be more
self-sufficient, e.g. training, publications
- deal with outstanding
3. Continue to apply for funding from
relevant trusts, specifically for:
a. staff (administrator, LYSIS
development worker, information officer, manager)
equipment - computer, software, programmes, training, photocopier, collator,
4. Premises: When acquired funding complete conversion (or,
failing this, acquisition of other appropriate premises) move office.
When funding is acquired for computer equipment, programmes and training and for
new staff (especially the administrator), complete tasks, e.g.
acquire computer, software, programmes, training
b. conduct survey of
provision, set up network database
c. set up data-base for pen-pal
d. implement new monitoring and evaluation procedures
produce annual report/review
f. establish user group (see below, Advisory
g. conduct various feasibility studies e.g. affiliation scheme,
publications, training, etc.
6. Develop both the Advisory and Management
Groups to include young lesbians and expand membership of Management
7. Continue to publicise services.
8. Continue to be
involved with Esteem to acquire funding for a national research project about
lesbian and gay youth and mental health issues, especially attempted
9. Continue other LIS/related projects,
a. Lesbians and Alcohol Project (LAP)
Calderdale Community Foundation
c. Calderdale Young Lesbian
d. Provision of Information Service
e. Provision of Support
for older lesbians
f. Research - acquiring articles, books
h. Developing and conducting
i. Campaigning on behalf of young lesbians
CHAPTER 3: TIMETABLE FOR WORK
As can be seen from the Aims and Objectives above,
the original performance targets and time-table for work were amended due to the
shortfall in funding.
Difficulties Encountered in Remaining to New
Targets 1 - 7 (1995-1996) were met, as was 8 a. and b. (see
Chapter 4). 8 c. was not met due to lack of funding and unsuccessful funding
applications although the survey questionnaire was developed (see Interim
Report). 8 d. was only partially met: through the development of national and
local work, two young lesbians joined the Advisory group and two joined the
For the year 1996-1997 targets 1, 2 (almost complete),
7 and 9 were met (see Chapter 4).
We have not been successful in
applying for further funding apart from small amounts to pursue local work and
£7,500 from Charity Projects for the Lesbians and Alcohol Project. This has
meant that we have been unable to employ further staff, move premises or acquire
better equipment with the result that none of the targets set out in 3, 4 and 5
have been completed.
We are currently employing a part-time youth worker
(one session per week) to run the LYSIS Pen-pal scheme as well as a casual
worker to do photocopying. This has helped a little but we desperately need more
funding for staff.
In 1996 we were able to move the office out of the
home of the two volunteers to a small, inaccessible, office in the centre of
Todmorden. Whilst this has improved access - the number of visitors has
increased significantly - the office remains inaccessible to wheel-chair users
and is very cramped: it is almost impossible to counsel on the telephone when
there is someone else in the office.
Negotiations are continuing with
Todmorden College to convert space to create a suite for LIS but this is
dependent on us acquiring funding - there seems little action/support from
Calderdale despite Committee approval (See Interim Report).
to use the equipment we have access to (most of which is on loan to the
organisation from the original two volunteers). However, this equipment is well
over-due for replacement and it has meant that we have not been able to meet the
* establishment of data-bases for the pen-pal scheme,
* introduction of the new monitoring and evaluation systems,
conducting survey and setting up a data-base network for referrals,
setting up an accountancy programme on computer,
* faster and better
production of publications.
The Advisory group remained small (in fact it
reduced in numbers) whilst the Management group doubled and now has 9 members.
At the beginning of the project there was confusion with regard to the role of
the Advisory group and Management group; this came about because of lack of
clarity as to the purpose of the Advisory group and was made worse because the
initial training/introduction to the work of LYSIS was given to both groups at
the same time. This took a while to sort out.
Increased demand for the
service due to increased publicity, together with the greater visibility of
lesbian issues in the media, and reduction of staff (Sandra, the other
volunteer, left the organisation in September 1996), has meant that we have been
unable to meet many of the targets set for this period, as well as having to put
on hold many of the other LIS activities. We have been unable to:
Produce an annual report, although the MHF Interim and Final Reports are
extensive and can be viewed as the equivalent of annual reports.
* Set up
a LYSIS User Group.
* Conduct feasibility studies e.g. affiliation
scheme, publications, training.
* Produce Quarterly Mailings for
* Continue involvement with Esteem.
activities which have been affected include:
* Delayed start to
* Unable to conduct searches, acquire articles, up-date Resource
* Unable to scan gay media and keep files up-to-date.
Unable to develop Publications.
Other LIS/LYSIS activities we were able
to continue, some in a limited form, include:
* Calderdale Community
* Setting up Calderdale Young Lesbian Group.
Provision of Information Service.
* Provision of Support for older
* Conducting (but not developing) Training.
Campaigning on behalf of young lesbians.
* Developing Theory.
further information on all of these activities see Chapter 4.
ways of Avoiding Problems
Developing a Management group for a small,
national, organisation based in a small, semi-rural, town, has been extremely
difficult. It might have been easier had we relocated to a city but the
organisation would then have lost its grounding i.e. being able to keep in touch
more with the experiences of our client-group who mainly come from small towns
and rural areas. Greater involvement with local activities has helped to expand
the Management group.
Because we were unable to acquire funding in the
past there has only been two, voluntary, workers. Management has been kept to a
minimum, as has administration. Changing LIS/LYSIS from a 'two-person' voluntary
organisation to an organisation with a management group, administrative
structures, etc., has been difficult. Developing a management structure,
policies, administrative procedures continues to take up a significant amount of
worker time - most organisations would have established structures, policies,
management groups, etc., before applying for funding and before setting up and
running a project.
It has been extremely difficult establishing these
new procedures whilst, at the same time, keeping the organisation running and,
furthermore, dealing with an increased demand for the service.
been almost impossible to keep the activities of LIS/LYSIS separate, not least
because they interconnect. With more members on the Management Group we are now
able to pursue Charity Trust status (there were too few members before) which we
will be doing under the name Lesbian Information Service of which LYSIS is just
one of the activities (albeit a significant one).
It maybe that
the activities of LIS/LYSIS are too diverse but to drop any of the main
activities (SUPPORT, TRAINING, PUBLICATIONS, RESEARCH) would affect the
uniqueness of the service and, in any case, some of these activities may
possibly hold the key to the future for LIS i.e. providing income to enable the
service to continue.
Setting fewer, more realistic, targets would help to
avoid some of the problems. However, because of the particular circumstances of
this unique organisation it would have been difficult to avoid many of the
CHAPTER 4: METHODS/MONITORING
Methods Used to Implement Aims and
Aim 1: Providing appropriate support to young lesbians to
prevent the development of harmful coping
to challenge the isolation of young
to help young lesbians develop self-esteem.
the development of positive ways of dealing with external and internal
Young lesbians need to develop the skills all young people
develop during adolescence, including: a sense of who they are and how they fit
into the world; how to relate to parents, friends, peers; planning their future;
social skills such as dealing with anger (their own and others), sadness; coming
to terms with adulthood e.g. making their own decisions - leaving school,
qualifications, employment, leaving home, when to have sex (when all their
friends seem to be having heterosexual sex!); dealing with changes in their own
bodies, emotions; how to deal with their volatile emotions - happy one minute,
depressed the next; how to cope with their intense relationships be they
friendships or love affairs.
It is difficult enough having to deal with
all this as a young heterosexual. Imagine what it must be like having to deal
with it when you are a young lesbian, when you know that what you are is thought
of as a sickness, a perversion, a sin; when the password is conformity, yet your
feelings and emotions won't go away - they can and often do take over your whole
U.S. research has identified levels of outness/acceptance of
homosexuality with self-esteem and self-identity i.e. the more one denies or
hides one's sexual orientation the more likely one is to have a low self-esteem,
poor self identity. This has serious implications for lesbians as lesbians are
more likely to be closetted than gay men! One method, therefore, of helping
young lesbians develop their self-esteem/self-identity is to enable them to
accept their sexual orientation and 'come out' to significant others (friends,
We also know that minority groups internalise
negative messages about their minority status which emanates from institutions
such as law, religion, medicine, media, family, language, education. It is,
therefore, crucial to provide accurate information about lesbianism in order to
counteract these negative messages and enable young lesbians to develop a more
accurate perspective of what it means to be lesbian.
peers is a major problem for young lesbians in particular. When young women
first come out they think they are the only one. It is very important that young
lesbians are able to interact - like heterosexual young women and men - with
other young lesbians not only for friendship and to challenge the desperate
sense of isolation but also to enable them to develop relationship and
In order to provide support to
isolated young lesbians we must first make contact with them. Acquiring
publicity has always been a problem; this is one way in which the
media/institutions have perpetuated the isolation of young lesbians, by making
them, and any support for them, invisible (see Annual Report, 1987-1988 and
section 28, page 3). The media have recently reversed this trend giving
significant publicity to some lesbian issues. We do not advertise our services
in the gay media because, to some extent, those young lesbians who have access
to the gay media have already achieved some level of outness or connection with
the lesbian/gay 'community.' (In any event, we can only cope with limited demand
at the moment). We target publicity at isolated young lesbians via the following
Mainstream 'Agony Aunts'
We have the support of one
agony aunt in particular, Tricia Kreitman, who writes for "Chat" and "Mizz"
magazines. However, other agony aunts also pick up our telephone number and
address from these sources and we often don't know where we are publicised until
we ask young lesbians who contact us where they learnt of our service.
Again, there are lots of directories that
include information about LIS/LYSIS that we are unaware of. We do know that we
are in the following:-
Local telephone directory
Local Social Services directory
Regional Fax Pack
for young people leaving school.
Stockport Youth Service Directory
Camden & Islington Young
People's Information Booklet
Young People's Directory, Derby
a new book on
sex education aimed at teenagers
The Women's Directory
Avert booklet -
Young Gay Men Talking. (This booklet is widely distributed; it advertises 'i
think i might be a lesbian...' which has resulted in many agencies contacting
Wider distribution of the booklet 'i think i might be a lesbian
...,' which includes details about LYSIS, is going to increase publicity
significantly: we have been contacted by Brook Advisory Centres who are to
include the booklet in a leaflet on sex education which is about to be
circulated to all schools).
Agencies who refer
young lesbians to us
Of course, it
depends on branch policy as to whether they refer; for example, some volunteers
at the Calderdale Samaritans refuse to make referrals to LYSIS. Referrals
depend, to a great extent, on the homophobia of the agency and individual
We also receive referrals from individuals
including: teachers, doctors, nurses, health workers, counsellors,
psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, youth workers, parents
of young lesbians.
More and more we are
receiving referrals from other lesbian/gay organisations, including: Lesbian and
Gay Switchboards (especially London), Gemma, Kenric, North London Line, FFLAG
(Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), Acceptance (Parents of Lesbians and
Other sources of publicity not mentioned above
Television - "The Good Sex Guide," Radio 1 (we are frequently
included in the BBC Helpline for both radio and television programmes); London
Weekend Young People's programme.
appropriate support? Perhaps it is best to begin to answer this question by
saying what inappropriate support includes. It is inappropriate to simply give
just information, e.g. about the local scene, groups, magazines, etc; it is
inappropriate to encourage callers/writers to go on the 'scene' (gay pubs and
clubs); it is inappropriate to leave everything up to the caller/writer i.e. not
to encourage them to talk or write about themselves; it is inappropriate to
assume the person contacting you is already out and knowledgeable about lesbian
When we have given support to older lesbians who are coming out
several have told us that they had tried to come out earlier but did not receive
the kind of support they needed (complementing us on the support we offer). They
contacted lesbian and lesbian and gay lines either to be told to go to such and
such a pub or read such and such a book or, in the case of mixed helplines, gay
men have answered the telephone and been unable to help whatsoever. It may be
that information is what the caller/writer wants but it is likely that this is
just an excuse for contacting the agency and that what the caller/writer really
wants is support in coming to terms with their sexual orientation. It is not
enough to just give information about a local support/youth group. For many of
the people who contact LIS/LYSIS it has taken them years to acknowledge that
they are lesbian, let alone get the courage to actually contact a lesbian
The majority of lesbians who contact LIS/LYSIS are
terrified. There is little chance that they will have the courage to go to a
support group without help. Most need encouragement which could take the form of
meeting other members before going to the group or even writing to members to
get to know them first. Once in the group it is crucial that there are
procedures for befriending and introducing newcomers to other members -
sometimes this takes a few visits.
For some lesbians it takes months and
even years before they feel brave enough to go to a group. For others, going to
a group is just not possible; these lesbians still need support which can be
made available through more anonymous methods such as letters, telephone calls,
Appropriate support is accepting who the client says they
are i.e. not questioning - because they are, say, fourteen years old, how they
know they are lesbian. Appropriate support will consist of a range of support
methods which include accurate and accessible information ('i think i might be a
lesbian ... now what do i do?' Young Lesbian Coming Out Pack, books, videos),
peer support (pen-pal scheme, youth groups), adult support (helpline,
correspondence counselling, one-to-one counselling when available) and positive
role models (out lesbian workers, LYSIS pen-pals; for example, we encourage
young lesbians who have been out for some time to write to those who are just
A basic principle in offering support is to understand that
it is probably the first time the client has contacted a lesbian organisation
and to try and remember/understand how that feels - it may even be the first
time that she has told anyone! The majority of young lesbians (and many of the
older ones too) are frightened. For some it takes several silent calls before
they are even able to speak. Others prefer to write (sometimes using a false
name and address). It is crucial, therefore, to encourage the caller/writer to
talk about their situation because, for most, it is the first time they've
spoken about it. Some have kept their sexual orientation a secret for years and
are desperate to talk. Some have tried to ignore their feelings, hoping that it
is just 'a phase' that they will grow out of - they get married and have
children only to be faced with the hurt and pain of having to deal with their
sexual orientation years later when it now includes partners and children. The
caller/writer is usually at a crisis point, they: can't hold onto their secret
any longer, have been found out, have fallen in love, are doing exams and cannot
concentrate for thinking about their lesbianism or the person they have fallen
for. Coming to terms with one's sexual orientation often takes over one's life
and it is difficult to concentrate on anything else.
Most of the callers
have high levels of internalised homophobia, but with the support we offer they
can replace the negative images they have internalised with positive ones and
develop more positive self-identities and build up their self-esteem. Some,
however, have already developed harmful coping behaviours such as cutting up,
other self-harming behaviours, eating problems, alcohol and drug misuse. This
usually happens when they have had a negative experience coming out or their
parents are particularly homophobic, or they have had a negative experience with
their doctor, mental health worker, social worker or their situations have been
compounded by, for example, sexual abuse, or they have existed in a state of
conflict (trying to suppress their lesbianism) for long periods. Others have
become depressed, anxious and suicidal at the thought of being lesbian or of
being found out. Very few of the callers/writers are confident and just want
We try and put the caller at ease by asking a series
of questions: where did they get our number from? how old are they? what part of
the country are they ringing from? what can we do to help? If the caller is just
coming out we then ask further questions like, for example, if they have told
anyone else, what their reaction was; have they read anything about being
lesbian? how long have they had these feelings? have they had any relationships?
do their parents know? what do their parents think about lesbians/gays? do they
have any siblings? what do they think about lesbians/gays? do they know of any
support groups for lesbians/gays in their area? have they ever been?
generally encourage the caller to talk and find out what their situation is then
what we can do to help; we encourage those who write to us to write-up their
experiences. We offer to send them the booklet 'i think i might be a
lesbian...now what do i do?' free, in a plain, brown, envelope (we often ask
them to send a stamped, addressed, envelope). Sometimes this is not possible
because they are unable to receive post; at other times they come back with a
friend's address. We offer them the Coming Out Pack (free if they cannot afford
the £3 it costs). We facilitate them to contact any local support
groups/individuals and sometimes advocate on their behalf (with their
permission) with counsellors, doctors, social workers, etc. Sometimes we lend
books. One book in particular is very good: "The Journey Out, a guide for and
about lesbian, gay, and bisexual teens," Rachel Pollack and Cheryl Schwartz,
Puffin, 1996. We have compiled a selection of appropriate videos about young
lesbians and gays coming out and loan this when possible.
We send them
information about the LYSIS Pen-Pal scheme, which now includes a monitoring
form, and put them in contact with other, similar, young lesbians in their area
(if possible). We now have nearly 230 young lesbians on the scheme. When
appropriate we put young lesbians with similar backgrounds in touch with each
other. For example, we did this with a couple of young lesbians who experienced
anorexia; the one whom we had been giving support to for a couple of years and
was getting over her anorexia (which she acknowledged was related to her not
accepting her lesbianism) was able to offer encouragement to another sufferer
which, together with acceptance and support for her lesbianism, resulted in her
We put together information for specific topics, e.g.
young Asian lesbians, disability issues, being a mother, etc., and refer on to
other, relevant agencies, sometimes offering help when it is needed for them to
contact such agencies. We encourage young lesbians to keep in touch and let us
know how they are getting on.
We encourage young lesbians to build up a
support network of lesbian and heterosexual friends and, gradually, when they
are ready and it is appropriate, we help them to come out to their parents,
offering support to parents as well in the form of telephone counselling,
information, referral to the nearest parent's group.
includes responding to letters within, say, one week; we often receive
complaints from lesbians about other lesbian or gay organisations who either
never respond to their letters or take ages. It has usually taken a lesbian a
long time to write to a lesbian organisation and the anguish created from having
to wait for a response (which they fear someone else might discover) should be
Sometimes support can be quite extensive, especially if the
young lesbian is depressed and suicidal or has developed harmful coping
behaviours, and can go on for months and even years.
Sometimes we can
offer face-to-face support when the young lesbian lives near Todmorden. We have
been gradually building up a young lesbian group in Calderdale and now meet
monthly although much of the work is one-to-one and goes on outside of the group
meetings; there are eight members.
Numbers of Sessions
Helpline is run every Wednesday evening, 7 - 9 p.m. (from beginning of July 1996
to the end of June 1997 we have only missed four sessions). But we often receive
many calls during the day time. We are usually here Monday - Friday, 9/9.30 -
12.30/1 p.m. This is a significant reduction in opening hours due to shortage of
staff. It is important to keep the Wednesday evenings going, however, because
young lesbians know that we are always (usually) available then. It is important
that helplines are staffed when they say they will be; young/older lesbians
complain bitterly when they are unable to get through to a line because there is
no-one there: it takes a lot of courage to telephone and the disappointment can
Numbers of Cases
We have dealt with a total
of 299 telephone calls and 476 letters from young lesbians (aged 25 years and
below) during the period 1st July 1997 to 30th June 1997.
The level of
letter writing was discussed at our last Advisory group meeting. The
representative from Childline North West pointed out that the number of letters
we had to respond to in the course of two weeks (34 young lesbians, 12 older
lesbians) was the equivalent to what five full-time workers (who also staffed
the telephone lines) at her organisation would deal with over the same
Improvements to Methods
During the two years of the
Mental Health Foundation Funding the Pen-pal scheme has expanded enormously
rising from 150 in July 1995 to 221 in June 1997. New methods of support we have
introduced include lending books and videos. Whilst this can be time consuming
and expensive (postage and packing) and we run the risk of losing books and
videos, nevertheless we feel that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages,
especially in relation to a young lesbian who is completely isolated. This kind
of support sometimes involves liaising with other agencies. For example, we are
currently supporting a young Asian lesbian in the Midlands and have been
liaising with another voluntary organisation there to enable her to watch the
We have also linked up more with other agencies by
acting as advocates. For example, we have been able to put one young lesbian who
lives in a rural area and who has developed a drink problem in touch with a gay
alcohol counsellor; so far this is proving very successful. We hope to be able
to expand on this sort of advocacy/referral through the development of
For a long time now we have needed to be able to refer some young
lesbians to a local, gay affirmative, counsellor. It is only recently that we
have had access to a list of Health Promotion Unit telephone numbers (which came
from the Calderdale Health Promotion Unit) to make contact with such people. We
have used this process three times recently, all of which have been successful:
we have been able to put needy young lesbians in touch with local support (which
should be accessible to them anyway). This clearly has fantastic possibilities
for the future i.e. limited publicity (often the result of section 28 of the
Local Government Act) means that young lesbians are unaware of local support
and/or they do not know whether they will be able to trust local agencies;
referrals of this sort can be a way forward for the future which enables the
needs of young lesbians to connect with the needs of local service
Similarly we have recently made contact with GLADD (Gay and
Lesbian Doctors and Dentists) who have a list of 400 members around the country.
We are currently negotiating with them regarding possible referrals.
the employment of a part-time youth worker (one session a week) we have been
able to introduce the monitoring form to the Pen-Pal scheme. As far as we know,
the form does not appear to be putting any young lesbians off joining the
Scheme. We do not have time at the moment to analyse this data nor put it onto
computer (we need a new computer and programmes).
The following is a list of places where young lesbians that have
contacted us come from; this does not represent all of the young lesbians who
have contacted us because several come from the same
Support for Local Young Lesbians
Most of the support we give to lesbians, their families
and workers, is long distance. We do, however, offer a limited face-to-face
counselling/advice service to lesbians, especially young lesbians, their
families and workers in Calderdale and surrounding areas.
Apart from LIS,
there are no statutory/voluntary services which meet the needs of young lesbians
in Calderdale and only a little in the surrounding area.
Todmorden is a
small, semi-rural, town (pop. 14,000) situated on the Lancashire/West Yorkshire
border and is within a short distance from three other local authorities, i.e.
Rossendale, Rochdale and Burnley. We have supported young lesbians and workers
from all of these local authorities, as well as from other authorities in the
region such as Manchester, Blackburn, Bradford, Leeds, Kirklees (we can refer
young lesbians to the Young Lesbian Groups in Manchester, Bradford and Leeds).
The Youth Service in Rochdale are in the process of setting up a Lesbian and Gay
Youth Group (we have spent several years encouraging them to do so). Rossendale
Youth & Community Service have made attempts in the past at running a Young
Lesbian Group and have been affiliated to LYSIS for several years, we have also
done training with some of their workers. Kirklees are affiliated and we have
provided evidence to argue the case for the establishment of a Lesbian and Gay
Youth Group as well as writing letters to initiate such a group; they are
currently setting one up. There are also Lesbian and Gay Switchboards in
Burnley, Kirklees and Rochdale/Oldham. Because of greater visibility of young
gay men and the isolation of young lesbians, the majority of mixed (lesbian and
gay) youth groups are male dominated; this usually means that a young lesbian
might attend the group once then never returns. Voluntary youth groups are
usually very poorly funded and supported and the part-time workers rarely - if
ever - have training on how to support lesbian and gay youth.
We have not
encouraged local use of our Service because a) we are funded as a national
organisation and do not receive funding to develop local support (indeed, we
have been trying to get support and/or funding from local authorities for
several years but without success until recently) and b) we do not have the
staff to provide local support. We have, therefore, purposefully limited local
publicity. Nevertheless we have received a steady stream of 'phone calls over
the years from lesbians, their families and professional workers,
A 13 year-old young lesbian from Todmorden:
this included telephone calls, providing information and one
Individual support of six young lesbians from Calderdale and
Kirklees leading to the establishment, for a short time, of a Young Lesbian
Group. This folded due to lack of support from Calderdale Youth Service and our
inability to cope with the pressure of running the Service and running a local
group without extra help.
Intensive support, over a period of about six
months, of an Asian young lesbian from Kirklees; intensive support, over a
period of two years, of a young lesbian from Calderdale with mental health
We have also supported one older lesbian (58 years old); a
married lesbian in her 40's and a mother in her 30's.
* intensive support of a 16 year old disabled young lesbian and
her supportive mother, Calderdale. This
meetings at accessible venue in
access to National
resources through the
regular telephone calls
provision of support
information on a wide range of
attendance at official
* two young gay men. One came to us through referral from a
housing agency in Calderdale. We provide counselling, resources and information
* six young lesbians from Calderdale - provision of
telephone and correspondence counselling, meetings, resources.
* a 53
year-old lesbian from Calderdale - resources and counselling.
responded to the Calderdale Core Values document, provided information and
advice for the new Young People's Information Centre and gave evidence at a
panel investigation on the mental health needs of young people in Calderdale and
Kirklees, the report of which has recently been published and reveals even more
evidence of the need for homophobia awareness training in Calderdale and
We liaise with and have developed a professional relationship
HAGS: Halifax Area Gay Society
Calderdale Health Promotion
Calderdale Community Foundation
As a result of increased support from
local agencies and the local authority we are now encouraging visits from local
workers. We were awarded £2,500 from Calderdale Community Foundation (Comic
Relief) see below, Projects.
To attract volunteers to LYSIS/LIS a flyer
regarding a training day for lesbians was circulated at the local lesbian disco
(attended by about 100 lesbians); 8 lesbians attended the
Attempts are currently being made to form a Young Lesbian Group,
using the local Youth Centre to meet. The group has met several times but as
most of the participants come from Halifax we are currently looking at the
possibility of using premises there. In order to develop this work we need
further staff and are currently holding meetings with the local HIV Prevention
project MSM and Health Promotion Unit with a view to acquiring funding for a
full time worker (two half-time posts - one female, one male) to develop work
with lesbian and gay youth in Calderdale.
Because of our extensive
publicity, and no doubt also as a result of the greater visibility and
acceptance of lesbianism in the media, we are being contacted more and more by
older, isolated, women who are just coming out as lesbian. Many of these women
have been trying to suppress their sexual orientation for years. A lot are
married and have children. Some knew that they were lesbian in their youth but
hoped that it was a phase they would grow out of, others vaguely knew there was
something not quite right and it wasn't until years later that they discovered
they were attracted to women. Some had bad marriages, others good ones - they
still cared very much about their husbands but they were in love with someone
else - a woman!
Most of the married women who contact LIS are terrified
of losing their children, homes, family and friends. Some leave their husbands
to start a new life and risk losing their children; others decide they cannot do
anything about their newly discovered lesbianism until their children have grown
up. Remaining in a conflictual situation usually causes immense psychological
damage with some women developing harmful coping strategies such as alcohol
misuse or leading a double life or suppressing their sexual orientation. This
can, and often does, result in depression, anxiety and sometimes emotional
breakdowns, personality disorders and suicides.
It seems possible that
suppressed lesbianism/internalised homophobia is the likely cause of many of the
mental health problems of women. Indeed, one woman said that suppressing her
lesbianism was the cause of her post-natal depression.
The fact that
there appears to be two-thirds more gay men than lesbians suggests that there
are an awful lot of women who are either closetted or suppressing their
lesbianism or are simply unaware of it. This whole issue warrants serious
Older lesbians learnt about LIS through
the same avenues as young lesbians plus the following:
Sexual Abuse Agency, London
Gay to Z Internet
Hereford & Worcester Helpline
We have received
87 letters and 152 telephone calls from older lesbians during this period. The
areas these women come from
The methods used to support older
lesbians are similar to those LYSIS use e.g. telephone and correspondence
counselling, information specific to their needs (usually in relation to dealing
with their lesbianism, children, ex-husbands, and local support/social groups),
referrals to local lesbian mother's groups, local gay-affirmative counsellors
and/or the Lesbian Custody Project at Rights of Women. With a recent spate of
enquiries we have begun to put some of these older lesbians in touch with each
other and are hoping that a group of them will set up a support system for older
lesbians based on the LYSIS model.
An offshoot of this work is that we
have given some limited support to ex-husbands and have been able to put a few
in contact with each other (we received a donation of £100 from one such
grateful couple). Coming out as a lesbian affects all of the family and whilst
it will never be an easy process it can be made easier with appropriate support
i.e. not only for the lesbian concerned but also for her ex-partner, parents
and, where appropriate, children.
Aim 2: To establish and improve
appropriate support agencies for young lesbians.
make visible the experiences of young lesbians,
to encourage other
agencies, and parents, to develop their knowledge and provide appropriate
support to young lesbians, and
to conduct research into the needs of
Methods Used to Implement Aim and
Most of the agencies
and parents learn of the organisation through the same medium that young
lesbians learn about us. However, we are also advertised on the National Youth
Agency wall planning chart, as well as several professional directories, for
example the English Nursing and Midwifery Training Board, GLADD (Gay, Lesbian
Association of Doctors and Dentists) website.
We are regularly contacted by the media and help whenever we can,
especially when it concerns young lesbians and is likely to publicise issues
concerning them. It is impossible to keep a track of everything that we appear
in. However, we have been contacted by the following media during this
"The Pink Paper" (lesbian and gay youth and suicide)
Good Sex Guide,"
BBC Radio "All in the Mind," (lesbian and gay youth and
Radio 5 Live
BBC2 Room with Two Views (lesbian mothers)
& Nick (coming out)
ITV (lesbian mothers)
ITV (lesbian and gay
The Independent on Sunday
Channel 4 (People's Parliament)
BBC Radio Manchester
BBC (parents of
Sunday Times (lesbian mothers)
The Big Issue (lesbian and gay
youth and homelessness)
BBC Radio World Service
An article "Lesbian
Youth Support Information Service (LYSIS): Developing a Distance Support Agency
for Young lesbians, Jan Bridget & Sandra Lucille, appeared in the Journal
of Community & Applied Social Psychology, Vol 6, p355-364 (December
1996) (see Interim Report). There have been several requests for off-prints from
universities in the USA (none from Britain!) See, also, Theory, page
In the past we have aimed campaigns at organisations
who work with young people to encourage them to take on board issues concerning
lesbian and gay youth (in particular, young lesbians because they are always
ignored whereas there is significantly more awareness about young gay men).
Agencies have included, for example, the Samaritans, National Youth Agency,
Youth Clubs UK, Trust for the Study of Adolescence. However, we find this work
extremely demoralising because of the level of homophobia (and different
excuses) we come up against. For the second year running we have boycotted the
MIND Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Mental Health Conference. On both occasions
we have been asked to run workshops and both times have refused. We have said
that we will run a workshop when they include a plenary speech on lesbian and
gay youth and suicide, as we believe that this is one of the most pressing
issues concerning lesbians, gays, bisexuals and mental health. We have suggested
that the next conference concentrates on the effects of homophobia and
heterosexism on the mental well being of lesbians, gays and
We have had to cut down on the number of
workshops we have been able to conduct this year. Workshops have
Royal College of Nursing, Cafe Royal, London, 19th October
"Young lesbians and suicide - a major problem hidden by feminist
and gay research" and
"Developing a multi-oppression framework to explain
high levels of attempted suicide among lesbian, gay and bisexual
As a result of the RCN workshops Jan was invited by Bradford
University to give a lecture to nursing tutors on lesbian, gay and bisexual
youth and suicide, this went down very well and following on from it, a large
order for publications was placed by the University of Hull; she has been
invited to give a lecture in July.
We are contacted by
many agencies around Britain who want to know what we offer or want to acquire
some of our publications, or want something more specific, like statistics to
help them acquire funding or training.
During the period beginning of
July 1996 and end of June 1997 we were contacted by 907 agencies. It must be
noted that there would have been more contacts had the office been staffed from
9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday as it was last year!
Agencies who have
contacted LIS/LYSIS include:
Accrington & Rossendale
Albert Kennedy Trust
Alcohol Recovery Project
Arlington Housing Association
Association of Lesbian, Gay &
Bisexual Psychologies - UK
Barnsley Social Services
Birmingham City Council
Blackpool Youth Service
Bolton Health Promotion
Bradford Lesbian & Gay Youth Group
Bridgend Gay Youth
BBC Radio Helpline
Calderdale Health Promotion Unit
Kirklees Health Authority
Calderdale Social Services
Camden Youth Service
Camden & Islington Young People's
CHIN (Challenge Homophobic Injustice Now)
Castlecomb Youth Centre,
Centre 33, Cambridge
Cheetham Hill Youth Project
Cheshunt Drop In
Children's Society, York
City of Hackney NHT
Clwyd Health Promotion
Coventry Godiva Youth Group
Crawley Information Centre
Derbyshire Resource Centre
Dorset County Council
& Gay Helpline
Dudley Education Service
Dundee Women's Aid
East Lancs Lesbian and Gay Switchboard
East London &
City Health Promotion
East Herts Youth Group
East Riding of Yorkshire
Youth Council Unit
East Surrey Health Promotion
East Sussex County
East Sussex Youth Service
End House, Durham
Exeter Health Promotion Unit
Family and Friends of Lesbians and
Freedom Youth, Bristol
Grimsby Health Service
Hartlepool East Durham Drug & Alcohol Service
Health Promotion, Dumfries & Galloway
Promotion, Selly Oak
Health Shop, Nottingham
Helpful Health Trust
Hillcroft College, Surbiton
Hitchinborough Health Care Trust
Island Women's Refuge,
Lancaster Youth Service
Leicester City Council Health
Lesbian & Gay
Lesbian and Gay Employment Rights
Llantwit Youth Information Centre, S. Glamorgan
Manchester City Council
Manchester Gay Centre
Lesbian & Gay Switchboard
Mastrick Youth Unemployment Project, Aberdeen
Medical Research Council
Mersey & Dee Support Group
Mid Anglia Child Health Centre
Milton Keynes Lesbian &
MIND - several branches
National Women's Directory
National Youth Agency
North Hertfordshire Students
North Cheshire Health Authority
North West Health Promotion
Nottingham Gay and Lesbian Youth
One in Ten, Skelmersdale
Penarth Youth Project
Peterborough Health Care Trust
Alcohol Project, Bradford
Portsmouth Social Services
Rhyadam Youth Information
Rhyl Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Youth Group
Rochdale Voluntary Action
Rossendale Mental Health Information
Rotherham Borough Council
Royal College of Nursing
RC 6th Form College, Cardiff
Salford Law Centre
Scottish Women's Aid
Sheffield Young Lesbian
Shropshire Mental Health NHST
Shropshire Rape Crisis
South Derbyshire Health Authority
South Devon Women's
South Hertfordshire Lesbian Gay Youth Group
Staying Out, Hackney
Stevenage & Herts Women's Resource
Stonewall Youth Project
Swanage Women's Resource Centre
Telephone Helplines Association
University of Birmingham Students Union
University of Lampeter
University of Sheffield
University of Warwick
Waltham Forest Youth
Waltham Forest Young Lesbian Group
West Rhyl Young People's
West Yorkshire Police
Women's Information and Resource Centre,
Women Making a Difference (Directory)
Women's Advice Centre,
Women's Alcohol Centre, London
Women's Safety Centre,
Women's Therapy Centre, London
Young People's Health
Young Women Together
Youth Enquiry Service, High
Youth Fax, Calderdale
Youth Information Service,
Youth Shop Information, Preston
YLGB Peer Support, Manchester
Enquiries from agencies
over the last two years reveals a significant interest in our
work/publications/needs of young lesbians. It is a pity we did not have enough
staff and equipment to survey these agencies as part of setting up a network of
support. (n.b. London Lesbian & Gay Switchboard have produced a database of
agencies which could be useful, this needs further investigation).
This year we had 208 contacts with the media (this includes
receiving gay media), 102 contacts concerning Esteem, 57 requests for
information from students or researchers, and 177 contacts regarding
training/workshops (most of these involved the CCF - Training
Other enquiries have risen steadily since 1992-1993. As noted
elsewhere, due to staff shortages the office has not been staffed as long as in
the past; this, therefore, suggests either a rise in enquiries or, at least,
enquiries have remained level.
We normally send
four mailings a year to affiliates. However, we have not been able to send any
mailings during this period due to shortage of staff. Instead, we are sending a
copy of our Interim Report/Final Report. Affiliates include:
Aberdeen University Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual
Birmingham Lesbian Gay and Bisexual Youth Group
Lesbian and Gay Switchboard
The Harbour Centre, Plymouth
Lesbians Organsing Together
National Children's Bureau
National Foster Care
North London Line
Rossendale Youth & Community
Salford Law Centre
Stevenage and North Herts Women's Resource
Waltham Forest Young Lesbian Group
Women's Safety Centre, Glasgow
Young Lesbian Gay and Bisexual Peer
Support Project, Manchester
Individuals - 5
We have liaised with several agencies during this period,
including Health Promotion Units, and PACE, a London-based counselling and
education project which is conducting research about lesbians, gays, bisexuals
and mental health. Jan has attended a meeting in London with other researchers
and the researcher from PACE has visited LYSIS/LIS and interviewed Jan for the
We have had visits from:
Calderdale Health Promotion
Calderdale Community Education
Students from Manchester
Students from Ilkley College
Student from Rochdale
Tameside Youth and Community Service
Whilst we have several examples of good co-operation between
LIS/LYSIS and other agencies (in particular, Health Promotion Units), there are
also several extremely negative ones. These include, for example, one social
services department in the Midlands.
We have been supporting a young
lesbian who is having extreme difficulties with her parents. We made contact
with several local agencies, one of which has been particularly supportive. We
also contacted social services because the young lesbian was wanting to leave
home (she is sixteen years old) due to physical abuse from her parents and
because she knows that they will not accept her lesbianism. The social worker
allocated to this young lesbian has been telling her that she isn't lesbian,
that she only thinks she's lesbian because of her family background and that she
should not contact LYSIS again. The young lesbian has been pretending to go to
school in order to get out of the home and make telephone calls. The social
worker has told her to go home and tell her parents that school has finished for
the summer. It is obvious that this social worker is not listening to the young
lesbian and is being driven by her homophobic beliefs.
Some of the most
difficult cases of internalised homophobia (resulting in severe mental health
problems) are created and/or perpetuated by ignorant (meaningful)
'professionals' and parents who try to encourage young lesbians to suppress
Other Telephone Requests for
We have been contacted by five parents of lesbians.
We do not target our publicity at parents because there are parents
organisations around Britain. We provide some, limited, support and information
and usually refer mothers to the nearest parents group.
Jan has given
talks to the Manchester Parents group and has been invited as one of the key
speakers to the FFLAG (Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) conference in
Cambridge in September. After counselling one mother of a young lesbian the idea
came up that space was made available at the conference for the mothers/parents
(it is usually mothers, rarely do fathers attend groups) of lesbians to come
together. Most of the parents groups are attended by mothers of gay sons with
very few mothers of lesbians - like lesbians, mothers of lesbians are isolated.
The idea is to promote a new branch of FFLAG using LYSIS as a model for mothers
of lesbians to give each other support. This could be an exciting new venture
which LIS would support 100%.
We did have one very bad experience this
year; it concerned the extremely homophobic parents of a young lesbian we were
supporting. Her father contacted us and threatened to contact the parents of
four pen-pals who had written to their daughter (he had intercepted her post and
stopped her receiving these letters). He ordered Jan not to give the young
lesbian any more pen-pals, nor to tell her that he had contacted LYSIS. He and
his wife believe that they can make their daughter heterosexual by putting
pressure on her i.e. forcing her to wear dresses, making negative comments about
lesbians and gays, constantly asking when she is going to get a boyfriend, etc.
They encouraged her to go and see a doctor friend who specialised in child
development. He suggested to the young lesbian that it was the family who needed
counselling. With the permission of the young lesbian concerned Jan contacted
the doctor to liaise with him over the needs of the young lesbian and left a
message for him (he was unavailable), stressing the confidential nature of the
call. He did not get back to us. Instead, he contacted the parents of the young
lesbian (who, by the way, is 16 years old) to tell them of the call. Because of
this she then experienced harassment from her mother. We have since been
informed by another doctor that what this doctor did was illegal and that he
could be struck off the register. Because of the circumstances, however, we are
unable to pursue the matter!
This year there were 43
silent telephone calls.
Young Gay Men
We have received 12
telephone calls from young gay men. One young man, from the Midlands, has kept
in contact with us for the past three years since he first contacted us for
information and support when coming out. We have been in contact with him
through coming out to his friends, attending a youth group, his first and second
relationship and coming out to his parents. This shows how important it is for a
lesbian/gay young person to have access to an adult so that they share their
One of the other calls was from an isolated and suicidal young
gay man - a fourteen year-old from
Receiving telephone calls/giving
support to ex-husbands/partners is a significantly new venture for LIS. They (or
their wives) have been referred to us by FFLAG (Family and Friends of Lesbians
and Gays). There used to be a national organisation which supported ex-spouses
but this no longer exists. We have been able to put some of these husbands in
touch with each other and are hopeful that a new network may well have been
We have also had telephone calls from two
trans-sexual lesbians and one bisexual
Publications are a major method we utilise to
meet our second aim and objectives. During the two years of Mental Health
Foundation funding we have produced the following new and/or up-dated
publications; the number of copies sold appears in brackets after each
Over 20 years of research has been
conducted about homosexuality in the U.S.A., much of which is male dominated but
more recently projects have been lesbian specific. In comparison there is hardly
any research in Britain. Most of the U.S. research is available in this
country through the Library Service. In order to make this research more
widely available, to encourage research in this country, and to encourage the
establishment of appropriate support projects, we have published a series of
Resource Lists. The Lists are aimed at social workers, teachers, youth workers,
doctors, nurses, probation officers, counsellors, etc., as well as students but
lesbians/gays, their parents and friends, will also find them
ATTITUDES TOWARDS HOMOSEXUALITY - RESOURCE LIST (1996), £4.50
Homophobia is the root cause of discrimination against lesbians
and gays. In order to challenge it we need to know more about it. The attitudes
of people towards lesbians and gays is a well researched area having been
studied for over 20 years in the U.S.A. This List includes over 70 references to
LESBIANS, GAYS & RELIGION - RESOURCE LIST (1996),
The origins of homophobia are found in religion. To
challenge homophobia we have to challenge religion/religious leaders. This List
contains over 40 references to relevant papers and books concerning
homosexuality and religion.
LESBIANS, GAYS, DISCRIMINATION & LAW -
RESOURCE LIST (1996), £8 (5)
Discrimination against homosexuals
occurs in every aspect of life in Britain today, including education, the
family, the media, religion, medicine, employment, law, housing, language, local
authority services and H.M. Forces. This List includes references to over 180
relevant papers and books and is divided into 7 sections including:
discrimination, employment, forces, housing, law, the media and medicine. Other
examples of discrimination are included in other relevant Lists (e.g. Education,
HOMOPHOBIA AWARENESS TRAINING - RESOURCE LIST (1996),
Includes abstracts of articles and books (99% USA) which
discuss homophobia awareness training within the settings of health - especially
mental health, education, counselling and social work.
LESBIANISM - RESOURCE LIST (1995), £8 (6)
The perennial question of
nature (essentialism) verses nurture (constructionism) is again raging, not
least because of recent medical research (Bailey & Pillard, 1992; Hamer
1993; LeVay, 1991) which suggests that some people, in particular male
homosexuals, are pre-disposed to homosexuality. This has prompted a response by
constructionists (Kitzinger & Wilkinson, 1995). Any research into the
origins of homosexuality/lesbianism must acknowledge the role of medicine and
research in oppressing homosexuals. This new resource list includes an
introduction paper which puts modern research within this historical context and
includes 72 abstracts as well as references to books and several unpublished
papers in relation to the origins of lesbiansim.
LESBIANS AND HEALTH
CARE: RESOURCE LIST (1995), £3.50. (12)
This List includes abstracts,
mainly from the U.S.A., concerning Lesbians and AIDS/STD'S; Lesbians and health
care in general including articles which outline the needs and experiences of
Lesbians and health care, as well as homophobia within the system. There are
also references to articles about Lesbians who are Disabled and a book
LESBIANS, GAYS AND EDUCATION RESOURCE LIST (1995), £9.
Education is one of the six main institutions which perpetuates
homophobia, the other five being religion, law, medicine, the media and the
family. The effects of homophobia on lesbian and gay youth include a higher risk
for depression, suicide, HIV infection (gay men), alcohol & drug abuse,
truancy and school drop out, homelessness and prostitution, running away from
home, relationship problems, misuse and exploitation by lesbian and gay adults,
promiscuity and unwanted pregnancies. The last government sent out mixed
messages. On the one hand, under Health of the Nation, they said they wanted to
reduce suicides, teenage pregnancies and HIV infection yet the Department for
Education, in particular the then Minister for Education, Mr. Patton, insisted
that children be taught that homosexuality is less than heterosexuality. There
has been little research in this country compared to over 20 years of research
in the U.S.A. The Resource List makes this research known and highlights several
school projects. It also includes book lists and useful
LESBIANS, GAYS AND SOCIAL WORK RESOURCE LIST (1995), £3.50.
Social services in the U.S. have been supporting Lesbians and
in a variety of settings for years yet this rarely happens in
The List includes an introduction about the need for Social
to challenge their Homophobia and includes abstracts from
papers dating back to 1977, including: social work intervention
models, Lesbian families, Homophobia, Young Lesbians and Gays, Old Lesbians and
Gays, Lesbian and Gay couples, 'alcoholism,' health care needs, parents of
Lesbians and Gays, Gay Youth and AIDS, training, etc. Invaluable resource for
all social work agencies.
OLD LESBIANS: RESOURCE LIST (1995), £3.
Includes Pensioner's Link Report on Old Lesbians featured in the
Lesbians and Housing Pack which contrasts sharply with the brief report of the
U.S. Old Lesbians Conference, which is also included. There are also abstracts
from U.S. research which gives some idea of what the needs of Old Lesbians are
and what sort of projects exist in the U.S.A. There is also a
LESBIANS WHO ARE MOTHERS: A RESOURCE LIST (1995), £3.50.
About one-fifth of Lesbians are mothers, many of whom
come out as Lesbians later in life, often after having been married and having
had children. There has been a great deal of research in the U.S.A. about
Lesbians who are mothers and the implications of homophobia on them and their
children. The List includes abstracts and summaries of U.S. research articles
and papers from English publications and a book list.
OUT AND IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT - RESOURCE LIST (1995), £5.50.
Coming out and developing a positive Lesbian identity can
sometimes take years but is crucial for emotional well-being. There has been
much research carried out in the USA which helps us to understand the process
and identifies the issues involved. The List contains a brief introduction to
the subject and abstracts of 48 articles as well as references to books, and
helpful telephone numbers and addresses. The List will be useful for individual
Lesbians, counsellors and parents of Lesbians.
LESBIANS, MENTAL HEALTH
AND THERAPY - RESOURCE LIST (1995), £9. (13)
Mental health has long
been used to incarcerate and oppress Lesbians: for centuries we have been told
that we are mentally ill. Despite the removal of homosexuality from the World
Health Organisation classified list of illnesses, (it was de-medicalised by the
American Psychiatric Association in 1973) there are still many people who
believe Lesbianism to be a sickness. Lesbians are oppressed as women and as
homosexuals. We experience sexism and homophobia and internalise the negative
images which abound about both women and homosexuals. This results in low self
esteem and consequently depression or other emotional illnesses or alcohol/drug
misuse or both. Lesbians are invisible and isolated which usually results in our
concerns being ignored. This List makes these issues visible. It contains
references and abstracts of over 100 articles about Lesbians and mental
health/therapy (most from the USA). The List will be extremely useful for all
mental health professionals as well as Lesbians.
RESOURCE LIST (1995), £4 (7)
As Lesbians living in a homophobic
society we are not taught relationship skills. We do not have the legal back-up
of marriage nor - in many cases - the acceptance of families. This puts
tremendous strain on our relationships. The Lesbian Relationship Resource List
identifies several research articles on this topic as well as a booklist. This
List will be useful for Lesbians and for counsellors alike.
LESBIANS AND GAYS: A RESOURCE LIST (1995), £2.50. (8)
There is much
ignorance about Homosexuality in Britain. When parents are told about their
child's Homosexuality, they usually react with disgust or shock, and this is at
a time when their children are most vulnerable and most in need of their help.
Parents, like Homosexuals, go through their own process of coming to terms with
this knowledge. We have produced the List to help this process along, to
counteract the ignorance surrounding Homosexuality, and to help
parents/guardians give effective support to their children. The List includes
abstracts and summaries of U.S. research papers, a book list and parents
WORKING WITH LESBIAN AND GAY YOUTH - RESOURCE LIST
(1995), £8. (18)
The List includes over 70 abstracts of mainly U.S.
research. The purpose of the List is to make the issues facing Lesbian and Gay
Youth visible, to challenge statutory and voluntary services to stop ignoring an
incredibly vulnerable group of Young people, to encourage all those who are
interested in finding out more about the issues and to give ideas for
appropriate support. If you are interested in reducing suicide and parasuicide,
alcohol and drug misuse, homelessness and prostitution, HIV/AIDS, unwanted
pregnancies, truancy and school drop out then you should have a copy of this
BLACK & MINORITY ETHNIC LESBIANS RESOURCE LIST
(1995), £4. (7)
As well as academic papers the List includes
references to articles
in books and British publications, a short booklist
and Black and
Minority Ethnic Lesbian (and Gay) organisations. Extracts are
included from papers about growing up Lesbian in a multicultural context,
Lesbianism in Hong Kong, Africa, North America, Brazil; Homophobia in Black
communities; individual stories; Latina Lesbians; multi-racial relationships;
mothers; Racism; equal opportunities.
LESBIANS, GAYS AND ALCOHOL
RESOURCE LIST (1995), £4.50. (3)
The List begins with an article
outlining why Lesbians and Gays are
vulnerable to alcohol misuse and includes
nearly 100 references and research abstracts (mainly from the
BUTCH/FEM RESOURCE LIST (1995), £4. (2)
references or abstracts related to butch/fem lesbians including articles about
attitudes towards lesbians, butch lesbians being more visible and more prone to
homophobic attacks, gender non-conformity in childhood, questions of sex-role
identities and expectations, transexualism, therapy, gender roles and
relationships, butch/fem and feminism.
i think i might be a lesbian ...
now what do i do? (1997), .75p each, 5 for £3, 10 for £6; shortened version
(without helplines, booklist, addresses) 25p each. (512)
is aimed at young women who think they are, or know they are, Lesbian and want
to know what to do about it. There are quotes from Young Lesbians and sections
on: What does it mean to be a Lesbian? How do I know if I'm a Lesbian? Am I
normal? What is it like to be Young and Lesbian? Who should I tell? What about
sex? Do I have to worry about AIDS? How do we learn to like ourselves? How can I
meet other Lesbians? And other useful information like Lesbian Lines,
organisations, books to read, bookshops. The pamphlet was written by a Young
Lesbian Group in the U.S.A. and has been adapted and reproduced with the
permission of the Campaign to End Homophobia.
HOMOPHOBIA (1992) (88)
COMING OUT - YOUNG LESBIAN PACK
(1996), £3 Young Lesbians, £5.50. (20)
Coming out to oneself and to
other people who are important is a distressing and dangerous time for Young
Lesbians: It is one of the most vulnerable times in a Lesbian's life when
support is usually not available, especially for those Young Lesbians who do not
live in cities or areas where there are Lesbian Lines and other support groups.
In response to isolated Young Lesbians contacting us we have produced a Pack of
information concerning coming out. The Pack includes various articles about
being a Young Lesbian, the pamphlet "i think i might be a lesbian ... now what
do i do?'' a booklist and individual stories by Young Lesbians from Britain, the
U.S.A. and Nicaragua. Whilst reflecting some of the problems Young Lesbians
face, the stories also show how resilient Young Lesbians are.
HOUSING PACK (1995), £7.50. (1)
The purpose of the Pack is to bring
together some of the material
and experiences of groups of Lesbians and
Lesbians and Gays involved in housing, in order that other groups and
individuals can benefit from their experiences, and to use the material to
substantiate the need for special housing provision for Lesbians. Contains 13
articles, some of which have been previously published but are now difficult to
get hold of, dating from 1984 to 1992.
TREATMENT OF LESBIANS WITH ALCOHOL
PROBLEMS IN ALCOHOL SERVICES IN NORTH WEST ENGLAND (1994)
L.Y.S.I.S. REPORT (1995), £3. (4)
To coincide with the
award of funding from the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) we have compiled a
special report about LYSIS - Lesbian Youth Support Information Service. The
report includes the background to the need for LYSIS; statistics from our
various research projects as well as a comprehensive list of research data
(mainly from the U.S.A.) concerning the level of suicide attempts among lesbian
and gay youth. We discuss why young lesbians are vulnerable to suicide, what
LYSIS offers, the relationship between LIS and LYSIS as well as our future
plans. The appendices include examples of media attacks and the more recent,
supportive, local media coverage concerning the MHF funding. A useful document
if you need arguments to set up a Young Lesbian Group.
YOUNG LESBIAN VOX
POP REPORT (1993) (3)
LESBIANS AND HOUSING IN LEICESTER (1988)
L.I.S. ANNUAL REVIEW 1993-1994 (1995), £5.50.
In-depth review of our work during 1993-1994. Includes: Aim,
Objectives, Methods, Background, Overview of 1993-1994, LYSIS, Enquiries and
Referrals, Publicity/Media, Publications, Conferences/Training, Research,
Liaison with other Agencies, Volunteers, Funding, Lesbians and Alcohol Project,
Campaigns, Articles which have featured LIS, Extracts from Funding Application,
Age of Consent article, A Brief History of Support for Work with Lesbian and Gay
Youth in the Youth Service.
L.I.S. ANNUAL REVIEW 1992-1993 (1994)
L.I.S. ANNUAL REPORT 1991-1992 (1994) (1)
L.I.S. ANNUAL REPORT
1990-1991 (1992) (2)
L.I.S. ANNUAL REPORT 1989-1990 (1991)
L.I.S. ANNUAL REPORT 1988-1989 (1990) (0)
L.I.S. ANNUAL REPORT
1987-1988 (1988) (0)
We have not been able to up-date most of the
Resource Lists since 1995 due to staff shortage. We have, however, with the help
of Calderdale Health Promotion Unit, been able to have the booklet 'i think i
might be a lesbian ... now what do i do?' typeset and printed. This has been
widely distributed around Calderdale and Kirklees and is being sent to all
Health Promotion Units in England.
We are currently working with
Calderdale Health Promotion Unit, and hopefully with funding from the Rural
Development Commission, to get the Young Lesbians Coming Out Pack typeset and
Whilst training has been identified as an
important means of income for the organisation, due to lack of staff we have not
been able to pursue this avenue.
In a private capacity, Jan Bridget has
been working with the University of Manchester (Community and Youth Work Course)
to develop courses and has delivered one module on Multi-oppression and work
with young people and another on Homophobia and work with lesbian, gay and
She has also done some training with MIND's Jackie
Golding as part of their "Without Prejudice ... Awareness Training in Lesbian,
Gay and Bisexual Mental Health."
See, also, Calderdale Community
Foundation - Training Project.
Part of research into the
needs of young lesbians involved data-searches - at Manchester University - to
identify similar studies. There has been little research done in Britain but
much has been carried out in the USA over the last twenty years. We acquired
copies of the research and set up a Research Library.
Abstracts of the
articles are put on computer. To keep this up-to-date we search articles and
books and continue to conduct/have conducted data-searches. New articles are
then ordered, computerised and the process continues. We also acquire books,
mainly from alternative bookshops who import them from the USA. There are now 58
sections to the Research Library, from Adolescents, AIDS, Alcohol to Therapy,
Training, Trans-sexuals, Youth Service.
This information is disseminated
through the Resource Lists. There is clearly potential for further Lists. We
also provide print outs of abstracts/books for researchers. We provided
information to 57 students/researchers during this period.
and provision has been influential not only in aiding us to develop a
theoretical framework which helps us to understand the experiences and needs of
young lesbians but also in deciding how to support them.
We utilise the
Research Library to respond to enquiries. Due to lack of staff, we have been
unable to conduct any data searches this last year or to acquire any articles.
We have, however, added several books to the library, as well as videos to the
Due to shortage of staff we have had to put our
involvement with Esteem on hold. Whilst the group no longer appears to meet,
nevertheless, there is now a network of like-minded researchers and some work is
being pursued at the University of Surrey.
combining our activities (support, research, publications, training) we have
been able to develop a Multi-Oppression framework which underpins all of our
work. We have not yet submitted this paper for publication but it forms the
basis of many of the lectures we give, as well as the more extensive modules on
An article entitled "Young Lesbians and Attempted Suicide - A
Hidden Problem," Jan Bridget, (Appendix A) was submitted to
Feminist Psychology but was rejected. It is hoped that this will be
further submitted to the Journal of Homosexuality.
Aim 3: To
ensure the work of LIS/LYSIS continues.
to expand the
to produce a business plan
to apply for
charitable trust status
to build on and develop the monitoring and
to develop administrative procedures
to acquire larger, accessible, premises
to employ/train more
Lesbian Information Service was set up in July
1987 by Jan Bridget (ex Foster) and Sandra Lucille. Jan went on the government's
Enterprise Allowance Scheme, Sandra became a full-time volunteer. The
theoretical framework which underpinned the organisation at this time was a
combination of liberal feminism (Jan, who had identified as lesbian in her
youth) and radical feminism (Sandra, who had come out as a lesbian as a result
The Service was set up in Leicester and, with the help of
small amounts of funding from Leicester City Council in the first year,
concentrated on providing services to local lesbians including a coffee bar,
newsletter, library, young lesbian group, lesbians with phobias group and a
telephone helpline. During this period the government introduced section 28 of
the Local Government Act and we became actively involved in a campaign to 'stop
At the end of the first year, Leicester City Council
refused further funding - no doubt due to attacks in the local media (Leicester
City Council was severely criticised for funding work with young lesbians),
section 28 of the Local Government Act plus the fact that local authorities seem
to prefer to fund mixed - lesbian and gay - projects (there is a general
acceptance that gay men have specific needs, this rarely extends to lesbians).
This meant that we had to stop all of our local activities (but continued
informally to support lesbians) and concentrated our efforts on training and the
At this stage training never really took off: we had been
awarded funding by the Workers Education Authority to run a Lesbian Studies
Course but this was withdrawn, section 28 of the Local Government Act being
cited as the reason. In an attempt to develop the newsletter we applied to the
Equal Opportunities Commission for funding but were turned down: someone had
written on our application form 'we have no remit to fund lesbians.' Neither
could we acquire funding from lesbian/gay trusts (again, because we were a
The newsletter became self-sufficient: it
developed from a local to a national and, ultimately, international publication.
It was as a result of in-fighting (we were attacked by both feminists and gays
for being an out, lesbian-only, organisation) that we became a
At the end of 1989 we moved to
Todmorden and, in June 1990, stopped publishing the newsletter. Jan was employed
by Lancashire County Council on part-time youth work sessions to conduct
research into the needs of young lesbians. The findings of this (and other)
research made us question the political basis of Lesbian Information Service
Radical feminists are interested in issues which
concern 'women,' they are not interested in the needs of young lesbians.
Lesbian-separatist politics is unsupportive of lesbians who have children
(especially boy children) yet research suggests that lesbians who are minority
ethnic and/or working class are more likely to have children through previous
heterosexual relationships. Furthermore, lesbian-separatists are not interested
in the needs of isolated young (and older) lesbians who are just coming out.
(This is also true for many feminist-based organisations). Yet it is precisely
these lesbians who are most vulnerable and most in need of support!
result of the research, on acquiring and reading other theories, developing
homophobia awareness training courses and our day-to-day experience of running
the organisation (in particular, supporting isolated young lesbians) we began to
develop the multi-oppression framework which now underpins our work. This
description of our change in theoretical perspectives is included because, we
believe, the fact that we were once a radical feminist and later
lesbian-separatist organisation has seriously influenced the way people/agencies
have responded to our work - both in terms of lack of support and lack of
funding. Whilst we are no longer a feminist nor separatist organisation we do
believe that it is important to remain a lesbian organisation to ensure the
focus remains on lesbians. When organisations are mixed (lesbian and gay),
because gay men outnumber lesbians and because issues concerning gay men are
acknowledged/understood more, emphasis is always placed on gay men.
had hoped to extend the research to Lancashire and, ultimately, England.
However, attacks in the local media, which criticised Lancashire County Council
for funding work with young lesbians, led to withdrawal of their support.
In 1991 Jan Bridget and Sandra Lucille set up LYSIS (Lesbian Youth
Support Information Service). We applied to/made enquiries with approximately 80
funding bodies to continue the research and/or fund our work but received
rejections from them all except the following:
* £1,500 from Save The
Children Fund to help with equipment and the Young Lesbian Vox Pop Project.
* £7,500 from the Alcohol Education Research Council for the Lesbians
and Alcohol Project (see Projects - LAP).
It was not until 1995 that the
Mental Health Foundation (MHF) awarded us £30,000 over two years to develop the
work of LYSIS.
Whilst we had a draft consititution, because we had never
been able to receive significant amounts of funding, we had never developed a
management group, nor applied for charitable status which, at that time, was not
available to lesbian or gay organisations. Similarly, administration/management
was kept to an absolute minimum although we did have aims and objectives, kept
statistics, produced Annual Reports and quarterly mailings. The organisation was
run from the home of the two volunteers until 1996 when the MHF grant enabled us
to move to a small office. Most of the equipment is on loan to the organisation
from the two volunteers (this is an outstanding debt).
As a result of the
MHF funding, and in order to acquire further funding, we have had to develop the
management and administrative side of the organisation.
Being a national organisation based in a
small, semi-rural, town has meant that developing the Management group has been
extremely difficult. This was not helped, at the beginning of the MHF funding
period, because we were unclear about the role of the Advisory group as opposed
to the Management group. Initially effort was put into making the Advisory group
work but it eventually became clear that we needed to develop the Management
We now have nine members on the Management group but we still have
to undergo training and set up sub-groups for funding and
With the help of Calderdale Community
Foundation we have almost completed an extensive Business Plan which includes
chapters on Executive Summary, Background and History, Defining Direction,
Current Practice, Development, Action Plan, Marketing Strategy, Operations and
Systems, Monitoring and Evaluation, Staffing and Management, Finance. Sections
still to develop include: Staffing, Finances, Action Plan and Executive Summary.
Once completed the Plan needs to be reduced to a size which can be submitted to
After much deliberation it was agreed
that we would apply for Charitable Trust status for Lesbian Information Service
(LYSIS being a part of LIS). However, until the management group expanded there
were not enough people able to become Trustees. This situation has now changed
and we are about to submit an application to register for Charitable status with
the help of Rochdale CVS. (See Interim Report).
After attending the Mental Health Foundation training day on
monitoring and evaluation a series of appropriate forms were developed (see
Interim Report). Unfortunately, due to staff shortage, we have not been able to
Due to lack of funding,
reduction in staff, increased demand and the added work involved in the above,
we have not been able to achieve any of the other objectives, this has been
discussed in Timetable for Work.
CHAPTER 5: OUTCOME RESULTS
In view of the reduction
in funding (i.e. from that applied for - £68,000 over three years to the sum
awarded - £30,000 over two years) the new targets for 1995-1996 were to continue
to provide the support service to young lesbians as it stood, i.e.
correspondence, information, referrals, telephone line and the penpal scheme,
with some development through:
1. greater publicity
establishing a fund to cover cost of phoning back young lesbians
networking with other similar agencies for referral
4. developing a
data-base for referral (conducting survey)
5. greater involvement of
young lesbians in LYSIS.
We were very successful in acquiring greater
publicity which resulted in significantly increased demand for the service not
just from young lesbians but also from older lesbians and from agencies and
workers. As a result of the MHF funding we were able to call many young lesbians
on the telelphone, we were also able to send out free copies of the Young
Lesbian Coming Out Pack to those who could not afford the £3 cost, as well as
cover the postage of sending books and the video compilation. Whilst developing
the network of agencies and workers to refer young lesbians to, we were unable
to acquire funding for a computer, programmes and training, to conduct a survey
of support agencies and set up a data-base. Young lesbians became involved in
both the Advisory and Management Groups and there are, currently, young lesbians
on the Management Group.
As a result of this, the emphasis in the period
1996-1997 was to keep the support service at current levels but develop the
administration and management of the organisation in order to help cope with the
increased demand and to apply for funding.
What, in effect, happened is
1. Again we were unable to acquire any further funding for
equipment, in particular for a new computer, software, programmes and training
which would have enabled us to set up better administrative procedures e.g.
referral network, monitoring and evaluation, etc.
2. One of the
volunteers left, leaving just a half-time worker.
3. We were unable to
control the level of demand for the service: instead of keeping at current
levels, demand rose significantly.
4. We had to concentrate on the
business plan and develop the management group (to get more trustees so that we
could apply for Charitable Status and to help with future funding
Because of the foregoing we were unable to introduce the
new monitoring and evaluation forms which means that we are now unable to
respond to this section of the report as suggested in the Guidelines for Mental
Health Foundation Reports. We are aware that this sort of data is important in
evaluating work and hope that, at some point in the future, funding will enable
us to monitor and evaluate the work of LIS/LYSIS more effectively,
using/adapting the forms developed for this purpose. This sort of monitoring
cannot, however, take place until there are more staff, better equipment and
In order to evaluate the work of the organisation during
this period we will return to the original anticipated
Original Anticipated Outcomes
1. Increased use of service by young lesbians.
number of young lesbian contacts with LYSIS rose from 444 in the period
1994-1995 to 573 during 1995-1996 and 775 for 1996-1997.
publicity for the Service.
The increase in demand, from both individual
young lesbians (see above), older lesbians (1994-1995, 183; 1995-1996, 159;
1996-1997, 259) and agencies (1994-1995, 705; 1995-1996, 987; 1996-1997, 917),
clearly reveals that there has been significantly greater publicity for the
service (see, also, Chapter 4, page 17 & 18 and Interim Report).
LYSIS Group established.
This outcome was dropped as a result of the
reduction in funding. There is, however, a clear need for opportunities for
young lesbians around Britain who use LYSIS to become more involved, especially
through use of residential training courses. Without extra staff and funding
this is impossible but we know that many of the young lesbians who contact LYSIS
would welcome such an opportunity.
4. Production of a
This was also dropped because of reduced funding.
Establishment of a Pen-Pal System.
When the Mental Health Foundation
funding began in July 1995 there were about 30 Pen-pal members, this rose to 150
during the period 1995-1996 and now stands at 221.
6. Up-to-date Network
of supportive organisations/people.
We have clearly developed a network
as a result of contacting agencies, agencies contacting us. However, it is
regretful that we were not able to conduct the survey and set up the data-base
as this would have significantly helped us to make referrals.
Affiliation/membership Scheme in operation with most Young Lesbian Groups and
Lesbian and Gay Youth Groups being members.
We were able to continue the
Affiliation Scheme during the first year but we have not been able to send
out mailings this last year, neither have we been able to develop the Scheme to
include more youth groups or conduct a feasibility study.
Conferences and Reports established.
This was dropped because of the
reduction in funding. Experience suggests, however, that an annual
conference/training event is desperately needed.
We were able to move to a small office in the town centre but
have now outgrown the space and desperately need larger premises (see
page 13 and Interim Report).
10. Questionnaire devised and
utilised to improve records, improve support to clients and develop awareness of
Questionnaires were devised (see Interim Report) but, because
of lack of funding, equipment and reduction in staff, were not
ii. anticipated benefit to users
opportunity to acquire appropriate support
For those young lesbians who
contacted LYSIS there has clearly been a better opportunity to acquire
appropriate support (see Chapter 4). It was originally envisaged that the
questionnaire would enable us to be more clear about the support needed. Because
we were unable to introduce the questionnaire, this outcome has only partially
At a basic level each young lesbian who contacts LYSIS will be
sent the booklet 'i think i might be a lesbian ... now what do i do?'
information about the Coming Out Pack, information about the Pen-Pal Scheme and
information about any local youth group or helpline.
Between January 1996
and the end of June 1996 of the young women who contacted LYSIS and were sent
the above information, 22 did not contact LYSIS again. For the period July 1996
to end May 1997 43 young women did not contact us again.
There could be
several reasons for this:
* they might not have received the
* they made contact with local support
* they felt too
scared to join the Pen-Pal Scheme or to acquire any further information
they decided not to take the issue any further.
Sometimes we are
contacted by young lesbians many months later.
We are hoping to introduce
a new system whereby if after a month of sending the information we do not have
a response we will send her a letter asking if she has received the information,
if it was useful and if we can be of any further help.
The next level of
support we offer is via the Pen-Pal Scheme, further information (Coming Out
Pack), help to attend a local group or referral to a local
The final level is on-going telephone and/or correspondence
counselling, information (books, videos), advocacy with parents/professionals.
2. More likely to be referred to supportive person/group
use of the Health Promotion Unit address list has meant that we are better able
to refer young lesbians to supportive counsellors. However, without the survey
being conducted and the network data-base being set up we have not been able to
meet this outcome to the extent that we had hoped. We need to make contact with
all young lesbian groups and lesbian and gay youth groups to agree supportive
ways of referring young lesbians to them.
3. Better contact with other
This outcome has been met through the Pen-Pal Scheme and
referral to groups. Obviously offering residential courses would provide better
opportunities for contact with those young lesbians who are isolated.
Opportunity to acquire information and share experiences
has been met through the Pen-Pal Scheme and our publications (booklet, pack,
books, videos). If funding had been available for staff and publication costs a
newsletter would have provided better opportunities.
5. Opportunity to
We believe that we have enabled those young lesbians
who contacted LYSIS to develop their self-esteem through counselling (telephone
and correspondence), information (booklet, pack, books, videos), positive role
models (workers and Pen-Pal members), peer support (Pen-Pal Scheme).
Because we were unable to introduce the questionnaire we are now unable
to provide quantitative data to substantiate this claim. We were shocked to
learn recently that a young lesbian we knew of had killed herself by jumping off
a multi-storey car park. We had tried to make contact with this young woman
about two years before she killed herself: a friend had told us about her, we
tried to encourage the friend to encourage the young woman to contact LYSIS but
she didn't. We believe that her death could have been avoided had she made
contact with us.
6. Opportunity to develop more positive ways of dealing
with internal and external homophobia.
7. Better support
for Young Lesbian Groups
Whilst this outcome was met through our usual
channels, i.e. providing information, publications and the Affiliation Scheme,
it is regretful that we were not able to develop the Affiliation Scheme nor
introduce an Annual Conference; this is needed.
information/material for workers
This outcome was partially met via our
publications. Again, development of the Affiliation Scheme and Annual
Conferences would have facilitated greater success. (See, also, Interim Report
for copies of published articles).
iii. addition to body of
1. Information from questionnaires.
We were unable to
introduce the questionnaires. However, we do have an enormous amount of added
knowledge acquired during this period but do not have the time to collate
it. It is hoped that at some point in the near future funding will be available
to collect and publish this data, possibly in book form.
Development and evaluation of long-distance support methods.
staffing levels has meant that we have been unable to evaluate the development
of long-distance support methods. Having said this, the number of thank-you
letters we receive (see back cover) and the young lesbians who are still in
contact with us and utilising the service strongly suggests that the system is
working very well.
We desperately need more staff to ensure that the
systems of support set up are working as well as is possible: at the moment,
because of the increased level of demand for support, we are only able to touch
the surface, i.e. sending the booklet, local information, Pen-Pal Scheme
details, Pack details; we are not able to enter into correspondence counselling
with many of the young lesbians who contact us whilst their letters clearly
reveal a need for this.
1. Anne is white, working
class and comes from a large town in the North West. She is now aged 25 years
but was 23 years old when she first contacted LYSIS. Anne had been aware of her
lesbianism for 6 - 7 years but had not told anyone.
wrote to yourselves last month because I had admitted to myself that I was a
lesbian and that I was in love with my best friend and didn't know what to do.
First of all, many thanks for writing back to me and for taking the time to read
my letter and secondy for your confidentiality.
Your letter did help me
to realise that I am not on my own with my fears, but unfortunately you
suggested that I meet other gay people. I am very sorry, but I don't feel I am
ready for that yet as I am a shy person anyway and would be too frightened in a
crowd of other gay people. What I do need is someone to talk to who will
understand how I feel in which writing this letter to you makes me feel a little
I have just arrived back home from spending all yesterday
and last night at my best friend's house. I had a great time but now I feel so
down. Every time I leave I leave my heart there and I long for her to say "I
don't want you to go." I know I will see her at work tomorrow but it's never the
same as we have to pretend we are not friends as she is my boss and it makes
things difficult with the other girls. ... I don't know what to do when I feel
this down and wish someone would come up to me and say "I know what you're
secret is and I understand. Do you want to talk about it?" [Anne was in love
with her best friend who was heterosexual].
I am sorry to put my troubles
onto you, Sandra, but so far you are the only person I can trust. Can you
suggest any way of getting me out of this depression without meeting a group of
lesbian or gay people? ...
Once again, Sandra, I'm sorry to burden you
but I have so many fears and I spend every day being a smiling, friendly girl,
covering it all up and I don't know how much longer it will last. Please help me
to find a way.
Thank you for listening.
We were able to write back
to Anne, eventually meet her face-to-face, enable her to meet Philippa, another
young lesbian of a similar age and background (they became and are still good
friends), lend her books, watched videos with her and Philippa; discussed coming
out, relationships, love, etc., etc., etc. We were there when she felt down and
needed to talk about her feelings, both via letter and on the telephone. Over a
period of two years Anne has gone from a depressed, lonely and suicidal young
woman who was terrified of accepting her lesbianism to a happy young lesbian who
is now in a committed relationship, who has several lesbian and gay friends, who
has successfully come out to her parents (we offered a lot of support around
this, discussing all the possible scenarios and practising through role-plays,
lending relevant books, offering to speak to her parents, giving the contact for
the nearest parent's group, and so on.) Anne has helped other young lesbians
come to accept their sexual orientation with peer support through the Pen-Pal
2. Yolanda is 16, Black, working class and lives in
Yolanda wrote to us in March 1996. She said she thought she was
lesbian and wanted to contact other young lesbians. Yolanda was given several
pen-pals and encouraged to attend a Young Lesbian Group in London. She borrowed
"The Journey Out" and made the following comments on reading it:
you very much for letting me borrow your book. I found it very interesting and
it has helped me quite a lot on various things such as I had wanted to have sex
with a woman just to prove that I was really and truely a lesbian until I read
the book. It tells me that you do not have to sleep with a woman to prove you
are gay which makes me realise that being gay has nothing to do with proving
that I am as I will know when I have met the right person.
and spirituality part has helped me a lot as well as I had believed that god had
hated me because I was gay but ever since I read about this in the book I have
come to realise that god will always love me regardless of what/who I am. All he
wants is for me to be heppy.
3. Kath is white, working class, 24 and
lives in a small town in Wales.
Kath contacted us in January 1997. She
got our number from a friend she met in a night club when she was drowning her
sorrows and talking about her new found lesbianism. In her first letter she
referred to her 'drinking problem.' We sent Kath a pen-pal and a copy of the
draft booklet 'Lesbians and Alcohol' and asked her for her comments and her
'story.' This is what she said:
Thanks for the draft booklet, yes I did
read it back to front in fact, what did I think? I was surprised with the
statistics for a start, I didn't realise that so many lesbians drink so much! I
thought it was just people like myself hiding or trying to run away from their
sexuality that turned to the bottle.
My first lesbian experience (that I
can remember) was when I was in junior school. I had a crush on a girl who sat
opposite me. I was only ten years old and thought everything was fine then.
Time progressed with my family and heterosexual, homophobic, friends I
started seeing boys. I had a boyfriend from the age of 14 till 17 who I actually
thought I loved but I knew always something was amiss.
We split up and I
moved away. I started to get depressed. Often I had friends that were drinking
heavy and thus I started on the road of alcohol. I'd go out and drink maybe 5-6
pints of lager, my only purpose was to get drunk. I needed to be drunk to say or
act completely different to how I felt; I sensed then that perhaps I was
Time progressed and I was sleeping with men to satisfy myself,
family, friends, that everything was (that dreaded word) 'NORMAL.'! At the age
of 21 I met a boy who was a friend of the family. He pestered me for a date
which I kept refusing. Then when my mother sensed my repulsion she questioned me
why? I couldn't tell her. My father's feelings are quite well felt in his own
words 'line all these queer b....ds up against the wall and shoot them.' So I
eventually went out with this boy because there was actually nothing wrong with
him only me!
I suppose I'd be wrong if I said I hated his company. I
felt sorry for him, he'd had a rough time in life himself, I'd listen to him for
hours and offer advice. Before I knew it he had fallen madly in love with me. He
started cornering me, telling me things, asking me others, etc. In the end I
cracked up. The only time I could bear being next to him was after 6-8 pints.
He said I needed help that I had a problem. Little did he know at the
time of going out to avoid him I'd spotted somebody working in a local bar, her
name was Jean and it was her that turned my feelings all the way around. I just
couldn't deny it anymore. I never felt feelings like it before. I was so scared,
terrified, horrified, etc. My head was bursting. I was in a relationship I
didn't want to be in, yet I hadn't set out to hurt my boyfriend.
feelings like this I just couldn't cope. My drinking increased - now when I was
on my own, I'd go to bed early with a bottle or cans and just dream about
different things. The more I felt like this the more pathetic I became. I hated
lying and I had to lie to my family saying the cause was my
Eventually we split (tearfully) and I was free. I went
paranoid so no-one would find out; my homophobic society would just cripple me
... [my town] isn't exactly city lights.
I followed Jean home, I followed
her from work. I asked questions, all stupid, irresponsible things, I felt like
14 again. Then came the bombshell. She was known to be gay!! I couldn't believe
it, all my friends knew, it was like an electric shock. How did I know? There
was no way I could get to know her now because everybody would get to know my
The alcohol took over. I was isolated, alone, I didn't know
one solitary gay person, no numbers, no addresses, nothing. I began to believe I
was the only gay person out there. I felt things like this only happens to the
rich and famous or on the television, not in real life like me. I've been in the
closet for seven years and its so claustrophobic, it's killing me. I've sat
awake making plans for the future like when I'm kicked out of home within one
hour where do I go? My work is from home too, so my job is gone that I've worked
five years for. I have a horse, dog and other committments to think about.
They'd obviously have to be sold or something. I wake up in the morning with
'OUT' on my mind then I see my family, friends and I just can't do
Since being in touch with LYSIS I did pluck up courage to go out on
the 'scene' for the very first time. I went to .... I got talking to a gay man
who was so nice, nobody had horns or large fangs, nobody stared or acted odd,
they just acted 'normal.' I felt ok until I recognised somebody from my town who
I knew was gay but she didn't know I was. I freaked out and my alcohol
consumption went mad. I staggered out and went to a club, I don't remember much
about it only sleeping in my friend's car coming home...
I just sometimes
wish I could handle it without the need for drink- related confidence. I think
it's the fear of my life changing for the worst overnight when my family find
out. I didn't start out with the intention of hurting anybody but it seems
inevitable that's what's going to happen. I hate the lies and the
I'm a very different person now. My goal now is to get back to
... and pace myself on lager shandy all night to try and be myself when I'm
showing the 'inner' me.
Kath now has several pen-friends. We have linked
her up with other lesbians who have/have had drink problems and a small network
is beginning to form.
In her last letter Kath said that her drinking had
levelled out: "I'm building my confidence up gradually, I'm beginning to get my
head around this 'lesbian' thing." Kath has come out to her two best friends and
they haven't deserted her; she is about to change her job.
CHAPTER 6: IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE
running LYSIS/LIS over the past two years strongly suggests:
lesbians are in desperate need of support.
* With the greater visibility
of lesbianism in the media alongside a greater tolerance/acceptance of
lesbianism, there has been (and continues to be) an explosion in the number of
lesbians of all ages coming out.
* Experiences of many of the older
lesbians contacting LIS who are coming out suggests not only there needs to be
support for them but that there are enormous emotional consequences of
suppressing lesbianism. This urgently needs further investigation, see pages
35-36 (It also strengthens the need for support for young lesbians).
There seems to be general acknowledgement of the needs of young gay men and
support; there is no equivalent acknowledgement of the needs of young lesbians
and no equivalent support.
* Agencies need to ensure it is easy for
potential users to contact them. All too often there is only an ansaphone and
lesbians who are just coming out are unlikely to leave a message on an
ansaphone. Similarly, only being available one night a week puts a lot of
lesbians off. This needs further investigation i.e. what ways are there to make
contact as simple as possible?
* LYSIS needs to develop links with all
lesbian youth groups and lesbian and gay youth groups to agree referral
* There is an almost total lack of acknowledgement of the needs
of young lesbians by mainstream services. Training appears to be non-existant.
There needs to be research into what training is provided for all of the
* There are several examples of 'professionals' persuading
young lesbians to suppress their sexual orientation - the consequent result of
this is further emotional conflict and the strong possibility of lasting
* Section 28 of the Local Government Act is stopping
appropriate support being made available/publicised by local authorities. This
must be repealed.
* There is a desperate need for a survey of support
groups, networking between groups, training and conferences for those who work
with lesbian/lesbian and gay youth.
* Projects/services must be given
appropriate funding, support and training. One session a week is totally
insufficient to deal with the needs of young lesbians.
* It can, and
often does, take a long time to set up a support group for young lesbians -
publicity and networking for referrals is crucial.
* The type of support
offered to young lesbians must be developed to suit their needs. As well as
support and social groups young lesbians need one-to-one counselling and the
support of adults. Many young lesbians are unable to attend groups and need
other types of support (e.g. long-distance support methods like those used by
LYSIS). Funders, as well as providers, need to take this on board.
Agencies need to set up procedures to encourage/support lesbians to attend their
services/group e.g. offering to write to them first, meeting them (sometimes
several times), introducing them to group members, keeping a special watch on
them to ensure they are settling in and follow-up if the person doesn't come
* Contacting an agency for general information is often an excuse -
what the caller usually needs is support in coming out/dealing with isolation.
It is important to check this out by asking the caller questions.
great amount of patience is required in supporting young lesbians, especially in
the early stages of coming out.
* Supporting young lesbians is a long
process: it often takes a long time to deal with internalised homophobia and
develop a positive self identity.
* We need to introduce better
monitoring, including ways to follow-up the progress of those young lesbians who
only contact our organisations once: why do they not come back? Losing one young
lesbian could mean losing a life.
* Until more lesbians come out those
living in small towns and rural areas will continue to be isolated. The model
which LYSIS has developed could be utilised for similar projects, e.g. for older
lesbians, parents of lesbians, ex-partners of lesbians, children of lesbians -
both across the country and across counties. For example, to incorporate LYSIS
methods to support isolated young lesbians alongside young lesbian groups in
If lesbian and gay youth account for a high percentage
(about 30%) of all young people who are depressed, anxious, attempt and complete
suicide, self-harm, experience eating problems, abuse alcohol and drugs, acquire
STDs, including HIV, produce unwanted pregnancies and force themselves to be
heterosexual (which usually results in a life of depression and painful divorces
later in life - painful for themselves, their spouses, their children and their
parents), become homeless and drop out of school, then homophobia and
heterosexism is wasting a lot of lives and costing the nation an awful lot of
money. Some of these young people will be lost forever through suicide, others
will grow into adulthood taking the problems created by homophobia and
heterosexism with them and thus a high percentage of the adult population with
these problems will be lesbian/gay, whilst others - those who receive
appropriate support and those who have managed to surmount the difficulties -
will grow into healthy human beings.
Given the invisibility of
lesbianism (probably two-thirds of lesbians are not open about their sexual
orientation) it is likely that a high proportion (maybe even 50%) of young
women/women who attempt suicide will be lesbian (and young women are three times
more likely to attempt suicide than young men and that a high proportion of
women with mental health problems (again, there are significantly higher
proportions of women with mental health problems than men) will be lesbian with
their problems emanating from suppression of their sexual
orientation/internalised homophobia (see pages 25-26).
The more recent
visibility of lesbianism/homosexuality in the British media has resulted in
larger numbers of younger and older women coming out as lesbian (with the
greater demand for support). At the same time, another effect of greater
visibility is that lesbian and gay youth in particular are being harassed in
schools; links between attempted suicide and bullying in school have been
If the situation can be changed by providing adequate support and
ultimately eliminated by challenging the root causes of homophobia/heterosexism
(religion, law, medicine, the family, media, language and education) how can the
nation afford not to challenge homophobia/heterosexism and continue to ignore
the needs and experiences of lesbian youth?
CHAPTER 7: THE FUTURE
It is quite simple, if
we do not get any funding for core activities in the very near future the work
of LIS/LYSIS will stop. It is ironic that the organisation is ten years old in
Had the organisation remained small we could have continued to
run it in a voluntary capacity. As it stands, demand has far outstripped our
capacity to respond and without extensive funding for several new posts, new
equipment and larger premises the organisation will be forced to
Our immediate plans are
1. Complete the Final Report to
release the last quarter funding which will enable the organisation to continue
for another three months.
2. Complete the Business Plan for use as a
basis for funding applications.
3. Acquire interim funding to see us
through until core funding can be obtained.
4. Continue to develop the
Management group to include training and setting up sub-groups for funding and
5. Submit application to Charity Commission.
for core funding (to include Lottery).
7. Acquire better equipment,
larger premises, more staff.
8. Introduce new administrative procedures,
monitoring and evaluation, etc.
The Mental Health Foundation funding
period ends with a feeling of greater optimisim on the grand scale of things.
For example, we now have a government which says it is committed to repealing
section 28 of the Local Government Act and introducing, alongside European law,
anti-discrimination legislation which would include lesbians and gays. The
Church of England Senate is about to discuss homosexuality. Better sex education
is about to be introduced into schools which will include reference to lesbians
and gays (and maybe even, through the Brook Advisory Centres, reference to
LYSIS). Lottery awards have been given to lesbian and gay youth groups. Within
this climate, given that we continue to develop the Management structure, there
should be no reason why Lesbian Information Service should not receive
significant funding in the near future.
It certainly seems likely that
the explosion of lesbians of all ages coming out is likely to continue with the
need to support them growing.
© Jan Bridget & Sandra Lucille
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