- This report is the product
of a consultation process within the lesbian and bisexual community
in NI. LASI is an ad hoc group of lesbian women who are concerned
about the need for the voice of lesbian women to be heard in the current
- The consultation exercise
aimed to assess the current needs and services available within the
lesbian community in NI and to generate options/models for a potential
organisation to meet these needs.
- The consultation was conducted over a 5
month period, during which over 160 lesbian and bisexual women and
a number of gay men were interviewed, with 56 individual interviews
and 9 interviews conducted with groups and organisations.
- Despite minor changes in society, the experience
of work, leisure, family and education for many lesbians was a story
of vilification, isolation, ostracism and abuse.
- Homophobia manifests itself in NI in a
variety of ways, ranging from violent assaults through to verbal abuse
and discrimination at work. Approximately 20% of interviewees had
experienced violent assaults and none had reported these to the police.
Incidents of women being intimidated from their homes by harassment
were also noted.
- The interviews revealed that many women
are still not 'out' in the wider community due to the fear of the
repercussions including rejection, discrimination and harassment.
- There appear to be very few improvements
in the situation of young lesbian and bisexual women in exploring
and stating their sexual orientation. They continue to face rejection,
discrimination and harassment. The young women felt that the youth
services should take their needs into consideration.
- In the first instance, many women responded
in the negative when asked if they had experience of discrimination
due to their sexual orientation. Further discussion revealed that
women were either so closeted that their work colleagues and families
were not aware of their sexual orientation or that they had minimised
the discrimination they had experienced. Those who were 'out' had
mixed experiences, with 46% of those who were at work reporting discrimination
- 10% of the women interviewed were lesbian
parents of children ranging in age from 12 months to 25 years. Many
were concerned at the hostility towards the notion of lesbian parenting
and felt aggrieved that donor insemination services are not available
- Many had their children while married
and live in fear of losing custody of their children. Sympathetic
and experienced legal advice in relation to custody issues was difficult
- Homophobia was felt to have had an impact
on their health, with problems related to alcohol and drug abuse,
domestic violence and emotional problems remaining undocumented and
ignored by mainstream health services. GPs were largely seen to be
ignorant and unsympathetic to the health needs of lesbian and bisexual
- A number of interviewees emphasised the
need for free counselling.
- Lesbian relationships are not acknowledged
in relation to pension rights, housing, bereavement, custody of children,
tenancy agreements or family tickets for travel and leisure facilities.
- Lesbian women with a disability face a
double oppression in terms of discrimination. Few, if any, lesbian
social venues have disabled access and there are no services provided
by disability organisations. Also, the sexuality of disabled people
is regarded as a taboo subject.
- Racism and homophobia were reported as
a double burden for the small number of black lesbians interviewed.
- There is currently no organised lesbian
and bisexual women's group in a rural area; an issue of interest to
the interviewees in rural areas.
- The strength of family ties has served
to restrict the development of a lesbian identity and community, with
many women not wanting to hurt their family or limiting their involvement
in public campaigns. Young women were sympathetic to the reactions
of their straight parents and felt that information and support were
- Interviewees believed that the media and
political institutions do not actively tackle homophobic attitudes
that exist on the streets.
- Some felt that the community had maintained
cohesion despite the impact of the Troubles, while others felt that
the existence of a politicised community had exacerbated splits.
- Very few services are currently directed
at the lesbian and bisexual women's community, with the existing Lesbian
Line existing on a very small budget and no staff members.
- In anticipation of an increased need for
expert legal services following the implementation of proposed legislation,
interviewees expressed an urgent need for lesbian friendly legal advice.
- There was broad agreement on the need
for further research, particularly if policy and decision making are
to be influenced.
- Political support is vital if both attitudes
and legislation around sexual orientation are to change. There was
general agreement that, in the main, nationalist political parties
had better and more progressive policies on lesbian and bisexual issues
than the unionist parties. Interviewees did feel that policies were
not being implemented on the ground and were thus reduced to tokenism.
- The consultation exercise revealed that
there is clearly a need for an organisation to represent the voice
of lesbian and bisexual women. As in other areas of society, women's
voices tend to be subsumed in gender mixed organisations.
- The report ends with a series of recommendations
concerning: diversity and difference; accountability; support; level
of involvement; acting as a catalyst; development of leadership; and
Please see the report
on the LASI