LESBIAN INFORMATION SERVICE
MARCH - DECEMBER 1999
Lesbian Information Service (LIS) was established in July 1987, about 9 months before section 28 of the Local Government Act (1988) was passed in parliament. The effects of this law have severely restricted funding the work of LIS.
Until March 1998 LIS was primarily a national voluntary agency providing support to isolated lesbians around Britain and responding to enquiries from virtually anyone, this included agencies (youth, health, social services, voluntary, statutory) individuals (researchers, parents, spouses, workers) and the media. At the beginning LIS was a local agency supporting lesbians in Leicester and ran several local support groups. With the introduction of section 28 funding was no longer forth-coming and a local newsletter was developed into a national and ultimately international newsletter; production of this ceased in early 1990, not long after LIS had been relocated to Todmorden, West Yorkshire, along with the founders, Jan Bridget and Sandra Lucille.
Funding was acquired from Lancashire County Council to conduct research into the needs and experiences of young lesbians in Lancashire which was extended to include 20 in-depth interviews with young lesbians (17 aged 25 and below, 3 who were lesbian from youth) from Cheshire, Cumbria and Yorkshire. The findings were shocking: 70% had attempted suicide, many several times; 50% had experienced serious alcohol problems; 40% had been homeless. At the same time, a survey of agencies was conducted which revealed that there was no support available for young lesbians in East Lancashire at that time.
As a result of the research LYSIS (Lesbian Youth Support Information Service) was established in 1991 and in the same year received a Bronze Certificate signed by H.M. the Queen as part of the 40th Accession Celebrations. The purpose of LYSIS was to provide support and information for isolated young lesbians around Britain. Funding from the Mental Health Foundation was acquired for two years (1995-1997) during which LYSIS rapidly developed; by the time LYSIS was handed over to another voluntary youth organisation in 1998, there were over 300 young lesbians on the pen-pal scheme and 1,000's of young lesbians from around Britain had received support either by telephone, correspondence, information or via the pen-pal scheme.
The research also identified alcohol misuse as a serious problem among lesbians. Funding was acquired from the Alcohol Education and Research Council which resulted in publication of the Lesbians, Gay Men and Alcohol Resource List and a survey of alcohol treatment agencies in north west England. It was always intended to produce booklets to raise awareness of this issue but the money ran out. Comic Relief provided further funding to complete the project and this resulted in the publication of 'Lesbians and Alcohol Misuse: A Guide to Alcohol Workers,' up-dating the Alcohol Resource List, re-printing the 'Treatment of Lesbians with Alcohol Problems in Alcohol Agencies in North West England' and circulation of these three publications to all alcohol treatment agencies in England.
As well as providing support to lesbians and information to workers, LIS has also developed over 30 publications ranging from Resource Lists to Packs, Booklets, Research Reports and Annual Reports. Hundreds of these publications have been sold to individuals and agencies around Britain; perhaps the most popular publication being the booklet 'i think i might be a lesbian ... now what do i do?'
Utilising the publications, research and experience from the one-to-one support, LIS developed a training programme and inputs have been given to many local, regional and national conferences, in particular around issues concerning youth, mental health and alcohol; this experience has culminated in the development of a module entitled Homophobia from a Multi-Oppression Perspective which has been taught for several years to community and youth workers at the University of Manchester.
Several articles have been published in journals and magazines and LIS has appeared in many directories. LIS have developed probably one of the best research libraries in Britain and has given support to many researchers as well as providing statistical data to organisations, in particular youth services, concerning the mental health needs (attempted suicide) of lesbian and gay youth and has gone some way to getting this issue on the national agenda.
When funding ran out in 1998 Calderdale and Kirklees Health Authority offered a rescue package of a half-time salary for the then worker with the understanding that the work had to be conducted under the auspices of Calderdale and Kirklees HIV/AIDS Link, and should include a significant amount of local work. During this period, the Homophobia Awareness from a Multi-Oppression course was adapted to a Coming Out course which was attended by ten lesbians of differing ages and a great deal of work was done on ACTION for lesbian and gay youth in Calderdale. It should be noted, however, that the work of LIS and of its worker was totally undermined by the CKHAL manager and management committee.
REPORT MARCH 1999 - DECEMBER 1999
Despite most of the work of LIS for this period being involved in local issues in Calderdale, LIS still responded to significant requests for information by telephone and letter. It is worth noting that there were many (100's) of telephone calls where people did not leave a message; these were probably from lesbians (young and old) who wanted support in coming out and requests for information from agencies, researchers and the media. However, without funding it is impossible to respond to these enquiries.
Several attempts have now been made to estabish a Steering/Management Group for LIS. None of these, however, have proved successful. Whilst it was hoped to up-date the constitution and policies and apply for Lottery funding, this has not happened.
Thanks go to those people who have been involved in the Steering Group over the last year: Phil, Liz, Amanda, Maggie, Annette, Lola, Quibilah, Tony, Ruth, Carole.
There is still a small Steering Group and it is hoped that, as most of the work is taking place in Calderdale, more local people will be encouraged to get involved.
Thanks go to Lyn for the non-management supervision she has provided for the LIS worker.
LESBIANS AND ALCOHOL PROJECT
A separate Report has been compiled and distributed by Alcohol Concern. With funding earmarked for a new computer for LIS, in response to requests from the field, a request to use the money to organise a national conference on lesbians, gay men and alcohol was agreed by Comic Relief. Nearly fifty participants from around Britain attended this hugely successful conference held at the University of Manchester in June. Alcohol Concern and Dashline took part in a Steering Group but the Conference was planned and executed by Lesbian Information Service. As well as having speakers talking about ground-breaking projects (particularly in London), workshops included: work with lesbians, work with gay men, work in isolated areas, multi-oppression, developing a network. Utlising the Conference as a springboard, Alcohol Concern have set up a national Network for those who work with lesbians and gay men around alcohol issues. Details about the Conference were included in national lesbian/gay media and an interview took place with GM Radio, which also formed the basis for an article in Eve's Back.
Building on the success of the Conference, a request for funding for a residential training course, to enable alcohol workers from around Britain, was submitted to the Alcohol Education and Research Council but no response has been received.
This is the fourth time the Homophobia Awareness from a Multi-Oppression course has been given to Community and Youth Workers on the Diploma course at the University of Manchester; first and second year students. Excellent evaluation.
Gay and Lesbian Doctors and Dentists
Keynote speaker at the AGM of GLADD in London. Very good feedback.
Oldham Social Services
This was the second time a whole day's training event has been run by LIS for Mental Health Workers at Oldham Social Services.
Calderdale Community Education (Youth Service) - Part-time workers
LIS was active in a weekend course on awareness of race, gender, disability and homophobia as part of the basic training for part-time youth workers in Calderdale. Both this, and the training at Oldham, however, were affected by the loss of the trainer's brother.
LIS was very much involved in planning a regional Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Mental Health Conference held in Rotherham. This involved organising the contents and format of day and recommending other speakers; LIS gave a keynote speech as well as a workshop. The conference was attended by about 80 people, both workers and users. Feedback: Excellent.
Calderdale Community Education (Youth Service) - Full-time workers
A one day training event on Homophobia from a Multi-Oppression Perspective was given to c. 25 full-time youth workers in Calderdale, including the Head and Deputy Head of the Service. Feedback: Excellent.
One session was given to post-graduate nurses and midwives; c.18. Feedback: Excellent.
As a result of LIS giving a paper at the Royal College of Nursing Conference in London, LIS was invited to give an input on a sexuality module at Bradford University. This was the fifth time this session has been given to post-graduate nurses and midwives; About 15 people attended the session. Feedback: Excellent.
Calderdale NHS Trust
Discussions have been held with Calderdale NHS Trust regarding awareness training and an outline plan has been submitted.
East Lancashire Lesbian and Gay Switchboard
A one day's training event was run with members of ELLGAS; about 8 members attended (mostly gay men). Feedback: Excellent.
ACTION was a multi-agency group consisting of Calderdale Health Promotion, Lesbian Information Service and Calderdale Community Education. It was established in 1997 by a worker from Calderdale Health Promotion. Funding was acquired from Calderdale and Kirklees Health Authority, Calderdale Community Foundation and the Rural Development Commission to conduct research into the needs and experiences of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people in Calderdale as well as a survey of provision available to this group. Most of the groundwork for this Project, and the interviews and agency survey, were conducted during the period March 1998-February 1999. Young people were involved in the from the start and throughout the Project.
Despite funding running out for the ACTION Project at the end of February 1999, the work has continued and developed extremely well. A funding application to Comic Relief (by LIS) to develop the Recommendations was unsuccessful. It should be noted that a Youth Service Support Group has met regularly during this period and have given a great deal of support to this work.
With help from Calderdale Community Education and Health Promotion, a one-day seminar was organised in Halifax to present and discuss the findings of the research project. This took place in March and was attended by around 38 individuals from different voluntary and statutory agencies as well as young people who participated in the research. An article and picture appeared in the Halifax Courier. Feedback: Very Good.
Lesbian Information Service produced a 140-page report on the results of the literature review, in-depth interviews with 15 young lesbian, gay and bisexual people who either live or grew up in Calderdale (all conducted by the LIS worker) and the survey of c.40 agencies in Calderdale. The Report was distributed to the majority of agencies who took part in the survey and attended the Seminar as well as the young people who participated in the research. Copies were also sent to Calderdale MBC Cabinet, the funders, the Health Care Trust, and the local MP, Alice Mahon, as well as several government departments (Health, Employment and Education, Environment). Information about the report was published in the Halifax Courier, Hebden Bridge Times and an excellent article appeared in the Todmorden News. The Report was also reviewed in Young People Now and several copies have been sold to agencies around Britain.
A meeting was held with Jed Fitzgerald, Chief Executive's Department, which resulted in copies of the report being sent to all the Directors with a request for a response. To date, no response has been received from the Chief Executive's Department regarding the responses of the Directors. However, Calderdale MBC have agreed to distribute the forth-coming Booklet, information about the Module and about the Youth Group (GALYIC).
The Research Report contained a series of Recommendations which, despite consistent funding, are being pursued by Lesbian Information Service and others.
Youth Support Group
GALYIC (Gay and Lesbian Youth in Calderdale) was set up in July as a result of a meeting with several participants of the research to discuss the Report. Calderdale Community Education have been very supportive and provided a venue, set-up grant (£50 per term), resources grant (£100 for books, videos), and provided two part-time youth work sessions per week. The LIS worker applied for the job and is the senior worker; it is hoped to appoint a second worker (male) in the near future. GALYIC applied for money to publicise the group (posters, cards, letter headed note-paper) to Calderdale Community Foundation and has recently been awarded £650 for this purpose. The Group are also applying to the Princes' Trust M-Power Millenium fund for money to acquire a computer, set up a website, produce a video and visit schools and youth groups throughout Calderdale presenting the video and running workshops to discuss the content.
The Group have been meeting every Tuesday evening and alternative Sunday afternoons and have worked extremely hard to develop a constitution and funding applications. As well as this, the Group visited the Pink Picnic, attended (and gave an excellent impromptu presentation at) the Calderdale Youth Forum and the launch of a video by the Leeds Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Youth Group on mental health. Members are hoping to attend the Christmas Party to be held by BLAGY (Bradford Lesbian and Gay Youth) at which other local lesbian and gay youth groups will be present. A new programme is being developed which will include weekly alternate discussions and, if successful, development of the M-Power Project, with visits to/from other youth groups on Sundays, as well as other outings. However, January will be a busy month creating and distributing publicity about GALYIC; Calderdale MBC have agreed to circulate the posters to relevant agencies.
Members who live in the Upper Valley have been given lifts to attend most of the Group meetings by the worker, thus temporarily resolving the problem of the group meeting in Halifax (where most members live) but also making it accessible to those who live at the furthest point to the East. It is envisaged, however, that transport is going to be a problem for those members who live in rural areas.
A significant amount of one-to-one work has also been conducted with individual members of the Group and referrals to other agencies, e.g Mental Health Services, Jigsaw, which have come about primarily as a result of Inter-Agency work via the Module (see below).
Mental Health Group
Again, partly as a result of linking up with Mental Health Services via the Module, as well as previous links with the Sexual Health Counsellor, a small working party has met several times to pursue the possibility of further research into the mental health needs of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people, especially around the issue of attempting suicide. It is hoped that questions concerning sexual orientation will be included in a new edition of the mental health assessment questionnaire. It is also hoped to enlarge the group by inviting appropriate people to discuss the possibility of conducting further research, in particular around attempted suicide by all young people in Calderdale (possibly via schools) which would include questions about sexual orientation.
Interviews with Young People
Five further interviews have been conducted with new members of GALYIC, bringing the total to 20. The purpose of these interviews is to 1) acquire further data for use in funding applications/service provision and 2) identify the needs of the individual members. One of the interviews has been transcribed onto computer, the other four have yet to be transcribed. Administrative help is required in this process. It is hoped that, if the M-Power application is successful, the Group will have its own computer and the system that was set up during the research project can be transferred to the new computer and data be continually up-dated. The results of these interviews need analysing and adding to those from the original research.
Building on previous links, again through work on the Module, it is hoped that Dashline will be adapting their assessment forms to include questions on sexual orientation which should, in time give some idea of the numbers of clients who are lesbian/gay/bisexual. Of course, it is never likely that a true picture will be revealed as most lesbian, gay and bisexual people are not out about their sexual orientation. The need for agencies to be accessible and relevant to lesbian, gay and bisexual clients is a significant part of the Module (see below).
As suggested in the Recommendations, an appropriate article about the health care needs of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people was provided by LIS and distributed by Calderdale Health Promotion to all GPs and school nurses in Calderdale. There has not been any feedback on this.
Funding has been acquired (Joint - Calderdale MBC and Calderdale and Kirklees Health Authority) to produce a 24-page booklet which will contain issues concerning lesbian, gay and bisexual young people and address some of the barriers preventing work with this group. Copies will be distributed to all workers in Calderdale who work face-to-face with young people - Calderdale MBC have agreed to utilise their distribution network for this. It is hoped that the Booklet will be put on the agendas of every team meeting to ensure that it is read by everyone and discussed by the various teams. The first meeting of the Inter-Aency Group (se below) met in November and ideas for the contents of the booklet were discussed. The LIS worker will now write a draft copy which, it is hoped, will be ready by the end of January. The Project is hoped to be completed by April 2000.
Several workers have visited the LIS library and worker concerning research, each going away with information, books and articles: a member of the Youth Service who is conducting research into the attitudes of the Asian community in Halifax towards homosexuality; a counsellor from DART who is conducting research into counsellor training and inputs concerning homosexuality; a volunteer who is setting up a Lesbians and Alcohol Group in Leeds; Dashline concerning training inputs; (also a visit from Liverpool Youth Service).
The extensive LIS library has also been made accessible to those attending the Module (see below).
First Stop Shop
The LIS worker attended the launch of the First Stop Shop and has held discussions with their worker to ensure that the Shop is accessible to and includes information and support for lesbian, gay and bisexual young people.
A separate report has been produced for this unique event. £500 was acquired from Calderdale and Kirklees Health Authority (HIV/AIDs small grants). The ten-session module, Homophobia from a Multi-Oppression Perspective, was adapted to meet the needs of local agencies. This was a very successful course with participants from Community Education, Mental Health Service, MSM, Dashline, Calderdale Youth in Partnership, Family Planning, Jigsaw, West Yorkshire Police. The results of the course, as one of the participants pointed out, include not only developed knowledge, awareness and confidence of individuals but there is also the possibility (and in some instances this has actually been happening) that the whole culture of agencies have been challenged as a result of workers attending the course. The actual costs of the course came to £880, LIS/the worker taking the loss.
It is hoped to repeat the course every term until every agency in Calderdale, voluntary and statutory, have sent a representative; this individual then becomes the 'expert' within their organisation on lesbian, gay and bisexual issues and can provide information and advice to users and colleagues, as well as, it is hoped, help the agency develop its policies and procedures. Participants will then be invited to attend the Inter-Agency Group.
It cannot be stressed how successful this Module has been in helping to develop appropriate work with lesbian, gay and bisexual young people in Calderdale as well as REAL inter-agency work.
The first meeting of this Group occurred in November; it was attended by representatives from Community Education, MIND, Relate, West Yorkshire Police, Smartmove. Other agencies have expressed an interest and apologies were sent. The purpose of the Group is to encourage agencies in Calderdale to become accessible and relevant to lesbian, gay and bisexual young people, to support workers who are pursuing this work and to help fulfill the Recommendations in the ACTION Report. Much of the first meeting was taken up discussing the contents of the Booklet, which will again be high on the agenda at the next meeting. Initially it is envisaged that meetings will take place once a month, at least whilst the Booklet Project is in progress.
Service Users' Network
The LIS worker attended several of these meetings to ensure that issues concerning lesbians and gays were included on the agenda. An input on Homophobia from a Multi-Oppression Perspective was given at one of the meetings.
LIS encourage the Service Users' Network Steering Group to include communication with lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Calderdale and submitted an outline to run a two-day conference on health concerns of this group. However, the Partnership Project rejected this plan and have replaced it with an afternoon meeting which has yet to take place.
Thanks to Elleanor Ross for all of her work over the past years. A new book-keeper is now employed by LIS and thanks go to Barbara for doing the PAYE and LIS accounts.
Lesbian Information Service
It has been decided to retain Lesbian Information Service on a skeleton level, continue to pursue training and conference work, concentrate on local work and, if funding is acquired for a computer (possibly through GALYIC), set up a Website for LIS, alongside GALYIC's website, and make all of the LIS publications/information available, free, via Internet.
Lesbians and Alcohol Project
Unless funding is made available, it is unlikely that further work will be pursued.
Training and conference work will continue as long as funding is provided for these events.
It is hoped that joint funding will be made available (Calderdale MBC and Calderdale & Kirklees Health Authority) for a full-time post so that the LIS worker can pursue the Recommendations from the ACTION Report with more vigour and support.
Meanwhile, it is hoped to repeat the Module each term; to expand and publicise GALYIC; and to continue to work towards making the voluntary and statutory sectors in Calderdale accessible to lesbian, gay and bisexual people, in particular those who are young.
There can be no question that attitudes of the British public are changing with regard to homosexuality and that the government is repealing much of the anti-homosexual legislation (as other, European and international countries are doing/have done). Devolution is having a significant impact on this with Scotland already well on the way to repealing section 28 of the Local Government Act (1988), conducting research into the needs of lesbians and gays and setting up provision to meet their needs (Glasgow City Council produced an excellent poster concerning lesbian and gay rights); northern Ireland have also now got very good policies in position as a result of the Good Friday Agreement and many significant changes are occurring. Eire, along with South Africa, are world leaders with regard to consitutional matters concerning lesbians, gays and bisexuals. England, however, seems to be slow at making these changes and sometimes it is European law which is enforcing the change.
Calderdale belongs to one of the more backward areas. For example, all of the surrounding councils have been providing support for young lesbians, gays and bisexuals for several years; Kirklees, Bradford and East Lancashire all have Switchboards who receive funding from their local authorities. The work of LIS within Calderdale is, therefore, ground-breaking. It is bringing Calderdale into the present. Some of the voluntary and statutory agencies are now very supportive, in particular Community Education and Health Promotion. However, not everyone is supportive, as the local media has recently revealed with a campaign being set up by mainly fundamentalist religions to challenge reduction of the Age of Consent for gay men and the repeal of section 28 of the Local Government Act (1988). It is worth noting that few of the Anglican churches are a part of this campaign and past training with local vicars suggests that there is support for the work of LIS (this includes an invitation by the Vicar of Halifax to meet the Bishop of Wakefield earlier this year).
Schools are a particular concern as none have sent representatives to the training or Inter Agency Group. It is likely that before there is a significant improvement in schools in Calderdale, Section 28 will have to be repealed; even then there little evidence that support will be forth-coming, hence the need for legislation which makes it a law for schools to provide support for lesbian, gay and bisexual young people (along with all other pupilsl).
The media plays a significant role in the attitudes of the public and, although publicising this religious campaign and printing letters from their group, the Halifax Evening Courier, as well as the Hebden Bridge Times and Todmorden News, have been very supportive of the work of LIS and it is hoped that this support will continue.
It is hoped that the new Millenium will continue to bring significant changes in attitudes towards homosexuality in Britain and Calderdale and that the dreadful effects of homophobia on the lives of many young lesbians, gays and bisexuals can be stopped.