JULY 1997



Chapter 1: Background to the Project

Chapter 2: Aims and Objectives of the Project

Chapter 3: Timetable for Work

Chapter 4: Methods/Monitoring Statistics

Chapter 5: Outcome Results

Chapter 6: Implications for Practice

Chapter 7: The Future



Work with LIS/LYSIS over the past two years strongly suggests:

* More and more young lesbians are coming out at younger ages: many are highly vulnerable to mental health problems and in desperate need of support.

* More older lesbians are coming out. Their experiences confirm that there are enormous emotional consequences of suppressing lesbianism.

* 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, education).

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. cutting up
17 of the 20 used alcohol, 10 having serious drink problems
11 of the 20 had eating problems including anorexia and bulimia
11 of the 20 had been homeless.

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 funding.

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.

Providing Appropriate Support

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, counsellors).

Establishing and Improving Appropriate Support Services

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 lesbians.

Continuing Service

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.


Providing Appropriate Support

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 support.

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 lesbian.

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 lesbians.

Establishing and Improving Appropriate Support Services

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.

Whilst 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.

The multi-oppression 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 be.

Continuing Service

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 life.

* 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.

* 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 close.


Idea for 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 here.

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 data underlines:

* 17 of the 20 experienced long periods of depression.

* 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 stairs.

* 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 alcohol.

* 10 of the 20 had used illegal drugs.

* 11 of the 20 had eating problems - over-eating, under-eating, anorexia, bulimia.

* 11 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 (1970) conclude:

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.

U.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.

National Context

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.

A 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 possible participants.

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.

Local Context

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 agencies.

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, unpublished).

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, 1994).

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 lesbians;

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 whole.

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

We 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 conferences.

Lesbian Information Service did make some attempts in the past to try and bring together a forum in Manchester but there appeared to be little interest.

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 contact.

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 lesbians.

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 young lesbians.

We are currently discussing grant aid with the West Yorkshire Rural Development Commission and are hopeful of future funding.

Other, national, organisations (Save The Children, Childline, MIND) have been involved with LYSIS via the Advisory Group.


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.

The objectives of LYSIS are, therefore,

1. To challenge the isolation of young lesbians.

2. To help young lesbians develop self-esteem.

3. To encourage the development of positive ways of dealing with external and internal homophobia.

4. To conduct research into the needs of young lesbians.

5. To encourage other agencies, and parents, to develop their knowledge and provide appropriate support to young lesbians.

The 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.

Quantitative Performance Targets

YEAR 1: August 1995 - July 1996

1. Continue level of service as it is, i.e. helpline, correspondence, referrals, etc.

2. Move office.

3. Develop a short questionnaire to ask clients to:

a. ascertain what help is needed/course of action;

b. to inform work;

c. utilise findings for annual report and LIS publications.

4. Develop LYSIS Group:

a. contact members;

b. devise training programme to include following:

        use of equipment
        preparing newsletter
        issues facing young lesbians
        use of information system
        developing a pen-pal system
5. Develop network (on computer) of supportive agencies, individuals, groups, within areas/counties/cities.

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.

10. Supervision.

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 publications.

3. Continue to support LYSIS Group, training and supervision, to include:

        training to deal with correspondence
        training 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 needs.

8. Supervision.

YEAR 3 1996-1997

1. Continue to expand/adapt service along with development of LYSIS group.

2. Acquire funding to continue LYSIS.

3. Evaluate questionnaire and project for Annual Report, etc.

4. Continue to support, train and supervise LYSIS group.

5. Continue to expand network.

6. Continue to expand affiliation scheme.

7. Plan, execute, evaluate and write report for Second National Conference for those working with young lesbians.

8. Personal training needs.

9. Supervision.

Amended Quantitative Performance Targets in view of shortfall in funding (i.e. £30,000 over two years)


1. Correspondence with young lesbians nationwide.

2. Provision of relevant information about lesbianism.

3. Provision of local information and contacts for young lesbians.

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.

8. Development of this work by:

a. publicity - television, radio, magazines, newspapers

b. making and re-affirming links with other youth organisations, voluntary and statutory and other lesbian and gay organisations

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 appropriate.


1. Maintain service at current level.

2. Complete Development/Business Plan for use in:

- funding applications

- giving a clearer direction

- bringing LIS/LYSIS closer

- developing other aspects to enable LIS to be more self-sufficient, e.g. training, publications

- deal with outstanding administration/management tasks.

3. Continue to apply for funding from relevant trusts, specifically for:

a. staff (administrator, LYSIS development worker, information officer, manager)

b. premises

c. equipment - computer, software, programmes, training, photocopier, collator, etc.

4. Premises: When acquired funding complete conversion (or, failing this, acquisition of other appropriate premises) move office.

5. When funding is acquired for computer equipment, programmes and training and for new staff (especially the administrator), complete tasks, e.g.

a. acquire computer, software, programmes, training

b. conduct survey of provision, set up network database

c. set up data-base for pen-pal scheme

d. implement new monitoring and evaluation procedures

e. produce annual report/review

f. establish user group (see below, Advisory Group)

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 Group.

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 suicide.

9. Continue other LIS/related projects, including:

a. Lesbians and Alcohol Project (LAP)

b. Calderdale Community Foundation

c. Calderdale Young Lesbian Group

d. Provision of Information Service

e. Provision of Support for older lesbians

f. Research - acquiring articles, books

g. Developing/expanding Publications

h. Developing and conducting Training

i. Campaigning on behalf of young lesbians

j. Developing Theory.


Time-table for Action/Amendment

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 Schedule

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 Management group.

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).

We continue 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 following targets:

* 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 Affiliation Scheme.

* Continue involvement with Esteem.

Other, LIS activities which have been affected include:

* Delayed start to LAP.

* Unable to conduct searches, acquire articles, up-date Resource Lists.

* 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 Foundation project.

* Setting up Calderdale Young Lesbian Group.

* Provision of Information Service.

* Provision of Support for older lesbians.

* Conducting (but not developing) Training.

* Campaigning on behalf of young lesbians.

* Developing Theory.

For further information on all of these activities see Chapter 4.

Possible 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.

It has 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 problems encountered.


Methods Used to Implement Aims and Objectives

Aim 1: Providing appropriate support to young lesbians to prevent the development of harmful coping behaviours.


to challenge the isolation of young lesbians.

to help young lesbians develop self-esteem.

to encourage the development of positive ways of dealing with external and internal homophobia.

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 being.

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, siblings, parents).

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.

Isolation from 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 communication skills.


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 sources:-

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.

Mainstream Directories

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 Yellow Pages
Local Tompson
Local Social Services directory
Regional Fax Pack for young people leaving school.
NACAB Directory
Bournemouth Library Database
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 LYSIS).

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).

Mainstream Agencies

Agencies who refer young lesbians to us include:


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 volunteers.


We also receive referrals from individuals including: teachers, doctors, nurses, health workers, counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, youth workers, parents
friends of young lesbians.

Lesbian/Gay Organisations

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 Gays, Kent).

Other sources of publicity not mentioned above include:

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

What is 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 issues.

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 organisation.

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, information.

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 coming out).

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 some 'information.'

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?

We 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 getting better.

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.

Appropriate support 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 avoided.

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

The 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 be phenomenal.

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 period.

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 video compilation.

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 LAP.

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 providers.

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.

With 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).

Geographical Area

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 county/areas.

County Antrim
County Durham
HM Forces
HM Prison
Northern Ireland
North Shields
North Yorkshire
St Albans
St Annes
South Croydon
South Glamorgan
South Wales
South Wirral
Sowerby Bridge
Tyne & Wear
Wellwyn Garden City
West Lothian
West Midlands
West Sussex
West Yorkshire

Other, Related, Activities

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, including:


A 13 year-old young lesbian from Todmorden: this included telephone calls, providing information and one meeting.

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 problems.

We have also supported one older lesbian (58 years old); a married lesbian in her 40's and a mother in her 30's.

Current support includes:

* intensive support of a 16 year old disabled young lesbian and her supportive mother, Calderdale. This includes:
        social meetings at accessible venue in Halifax
        access to National Penpal scheme
        providing resources through the post
        regular telephone calls and counselling
        liaison with statutory agencies
        provision of support information on a wide range of issues
        attendance at official meetings

* two young gay men. One came to us through referral from a housing agency in Calderdale. We provide counselling, resources and information when requested.

* six young lesbians from Calderdale - provision of telephone and correspondence counselling, meetings, resources.

* a 53 year-old lesbian from Calderdale - resources and counselling.

We 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 Kirklees.

We liaise with and have developed a professional relationship with:

HAGS: Halifax Area Gay Society
CAB Todmorden
Calderdale Health Promotion
Calderdale Youth Service
Calderdale Community Foundation
Rape Crisis, Kirklees        
Todmorden Community College
Todmorden Library

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 course.

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.

Older Lesbians

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 investigation.


Older lesbians learnt about LIS through the same avenues as young lesbians plus the following:

Health Link
Sexual Abuse Agency, London
Gay to Z Internet
"The Sun"
Hereford & Worcester Helpline
"TV Times."

We have received 87 letters and 152 telephone calls from older lesbians during this period. The areas these women come from include:-

East Sussex
East Yorkshire
Isle of Wight
Northern Ireland
Tyne & Wear

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.


to 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 young lesbians.

Methods Used to Implement Aim and Objectives


a. Agencies

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.

b. Publicising Issues

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 period:

"The Pink Paper" (lesbian and gay youth and suicide)
ITV: "The Good Sex Guide,"
BBC Radio "All in the Mind," (lesbian and gay youth and suicide)
Radio 5 Live
BBC2 Room with Two Views (lesbian mothers)
Ann & Nick (coming out)
ITV (lesbian mothers)
ITV (lesbian and gay parenting)
The Independent on Sunday
The Observer
BBC Radio Helpline
Channel 4 (People's Parliament)
BBC Radio Manchester
London Weekend Television
Kilroy (bisexuality)
BBC (parents of lesbians)
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 44.


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 bisexuals


We have had to cut down on the number of workshops we have been able to conduct this year. Workshops have included:

Royal College of Nursing, Cafe Royal, London, 19th October 1996:

"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 youth."

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:

Access 24
Accrington & Rossendale College
Albert Kennedy Trust
Alcohol Recovery Project
Anglia University
Arlington Housing Association
Association of Lesbian, Gay & Bisexual Psychologies - UK
Barnsley Social Services
Bangor Network
Barnardos, Midlands
Birmingham City Council
Birmingham Social Services
Blackpool Youth Service
Bolton Health Promotion
Bradford & Ilkley College
Bradford Lesbian & Gay Youth Group
Bradford University
Bridgend Gay Youth
BBC Radio Helpline
Calderdale Community Education Service
Calderdale Health Promotion Unit
Calderdale & Kirklees Health Authority
Calderdale Social Services
Cambridgeshire Proud Parents
Camden Youth Service
Camden & Islington Young People's Booklet
CHIN (Challenge Homophobic Injustice Now)
Castlecomb Youth Centre, London
Centre 33, Cambridge
Cheetham Hill Youth Project
Cheshire Youth Advice/Information
Cheshunt Drop In
Children's Society, York
Children's Society, Wales
City of Hackney NHT
Clwyd Health Promotion
Counselling Collective, Manchester
Coventry Godiva Youth Group
Coventry Housing Association
Crawley BC
Crawley Information Centre
Crescent Project, Woking
Derbyshire Resource Centre
Dorset County Council
Dorset Lesbian & Gay Helpline
Dudley Education Service
Dundee Women's Aid
Durham Education Service
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 Council
East Sussex Youth Service
End House, Durham
Essex Youth Service
Exeter Health Promotion Unit
Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays
Fife Men
Freedom Youth, Bristol
Grimsby Health Service
Gwynedd Health Promotion
Hartlepool East Durham Drug & Alcohol Service
Health Education Authority
Health Promotion, Dumfries & Galloway
Health Promotion, Selly Oak
Health Shop, Nottingham
Healthwise North West
Helpful Health Trust
Hereford GUM
Hertfordshire Drop In
Hillcroft College, Surbiton
Hitchinborough Health Care Trust
HIV Coventry
Holborn Library
Hull University
Island Women's Refuge, IOW
Islington Library
Kirklees CDS
Lancaster Youth Service
Leeds Health Promotion
Leeds University
Leicester City Council Health Promotion
LesBiGay, Kirklees
LesBeWell, Birmingham
Lesbian & Gay Drama Project
Lesbian and Gay Employment Rights
Lifestyle Health Promotion, Swindon
Llantwit Youth Information Centre, S. Glamorgan
Luton University
Manchester City Council
Manchester Gay Centre
Manchester Lesbian & Gay Switchboard
Manchester University
Manchester Youth Service
Mastrick Youth Unemployment Project, Aberdeen
Marylybone Youth Project
Medical Research Council
Mersey & Dee Support Group
Metro Centre, London
Mid Anglia Child Health Centre
Milton Keynes Lesbian & Gay Switchboard
MIND - several branches
Minsthorpe Community College
National Women's Directory
National Youth Agency
Network S, Tameside
Northampton College
North Hertfordshire Students Union
Northumberland NHS
North Cheshire Health Authority
North London Line
North West Health Promotion
Nottingham Gay and Lesbian Youth Project
Nottingham University
Oasis, Ipswich
Older Lesbian Network
One in Ten, Skelmersdale
Oxford Friend
Pendle Women's Centre
Penarth Youth Project
Peterborough Health Care Trust
Piccadilly Alcohol Project, Bradford
Portsmouth Social Services
Reachout, Inverness
Redcar MIND
Redditch YMCA
Rhyadam Youth Information Shop
Rhyl Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Youth Group
Richmond Social Services
Rochdale Voluntary Action
Rossendale Mental Health Information Service
Rotherham Borough Council
Royal College of Nursing
St David's RC 6th Form College, Cardiff
Salford Law Centre
Samaritans (HQ)
Sandown Women's Refuge
Scottish Women's Aid
Sheffield Young Lesbian Group
Shropshire Mental Health NHST
Shropshire Rape Crisis
Shropshire Youth Service
South Derbyshire Health Authority
South Devon Women's Aid
South Hertfordshire Lesbian Gay Youth Group
South Sefton HPS
Staying Out, Hackney
Stevenage & Herts Women's Resource Centre
Stonewall Youth Project
Suffolk Social Services
Swanage Women's Resource Centre
Tameside Information Shop
Telephone Helplines Association
Triangles, Birmingham
Triangles, Cardiff
University of Birmingham Students Union
University of Kent
University of Lampeter
University of Sheffield
University of Wales
University of Warwick
Wakefield MBC
Waltham Forest Youth Service
Waltham Forest Young Lesbian Group
West Rhyl Young People's Project
West Yorkshire Police
Women's Information and Resource Centre, Twickenham
Women Making a Difference (Directory)
Women's Advice Centre, Birmingham
Women's Alcohol Centre, London
Women's Safety Centre, Glasgow
Women's Therapy Centre, London
Young People's Health Network
Young Women Together
Youth Access
Youth Enquiry Service, High Wycombe
Youth Fax, Calderdale
Youth Information Service, Chester
Youthreach, Bradford
Youth Shop Information, Preston
Youthwise, Milton Keynes
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).

Other Enquiries

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 Project).

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.

Affiliation Scheme

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 Women's Centre
Aberdeen University Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Society
Birmingham Lesbian Gay and Bisexual Youth Group
East Lancashire Lesbian and Gay Switchboard
The Harbour Centre, Plymouth
Hillcroft College
Kirklees CDS
Lesbians Organsing Together
Manchester Young Lesbian Group
National Children's Bureau
National Foster Care Association
North London Line
Rossendale Youth & Community Service
Salford Law Centre
Stevenage and North Herts Women's Resource Centre
Waltham Forest Young Lesbian Group
Women's Alcohol Centre
Women's Safety Centre, Glasgow
Young Lesbian Gay and Bisexual Peer Support Project, Manchester

Individuals - 5

Liaison with Agencies

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 research.

We have had visits from:

Calderdale Health Promotion Unit
Calderdale Community Education
Students from Manchester University
Students from Ilkley College
Student from Rochdale College
Tameside Youth and Community Service
Piccaddilly Project, Bradford.

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 their lesbianism.

Other Telephone Requests for Help


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!

Silent Calls

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 progress.

One of the other calls was from an isolated and suicidal young gay man - a fourteen year-old from Bradford.


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 launched.


We have also had telephone calls from two trans-sexual lesbians and one bisexual man.


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 title:


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 useful.


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 relevant papers.


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.


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, Religion, etc).


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.


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.


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 list.


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 addresses.


Social services in the U.S. have been supporting Lesbians and Gays
in a variety of settings for years yet this rarely happens in Britain.
The List includes an introduction about the need for Social Services
to challenge their Homophobia and includes abstracts from research
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.


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 booklist.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 organisations.


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 Resource List.


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.


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 U.S.A.).


Over 60 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)

This booklet 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.

LESBIAN 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.



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.



L.I.S. ANNUAL REVIEW 1993-1994 (1995), £5.50. (2)

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) (1)

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) (0)

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 printed.


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 bisexual youth.

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.

U.S. research 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 video library.

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.


Through 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 homophobia.

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 management group

to produce a business plan

to apply for charitable trust status

to build on and develop the monitoring and evaluation procedures

to develop administrative procedures

to acquire funding

to acquire larger, accessible, premises

to acquire better equipment

to employ/train more staff.


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 of feminism).

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 the clause.'

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 newsletter.

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 lesbian organisation).

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 lesbian-separatist organisation.

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 (lesbian-separatism).

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!

As a 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.

We 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 group!

We now have nine members on the Management group but we still have to undergo training and set up sub-groups for funding and employment.

Business Plan

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 potential funders.


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).

Monitoring and Evaluation

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 implement these.

Other Objectives

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.


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

2. establishing a fund to cover cost of phoning back young lesbians

3. 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 that

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 applications).

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 larger premises.

In order to evaluate the work of the organisation during this period we will return to the original anticipated outcomes.

Original Anticipated Outcomes

i. measurable improvements

1. Increased use of service by young lesbians.

The 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.

2. Greater 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).

3. 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 Newsletter.

This was also dropped because of reduced funding.

5. 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.

7. 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.

8. Annual 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.

9. Secured offices.

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 needs.

Questionnaires were devised (see Interim Report) but, because of lack of funding, equipment and reduction in staff, were not introduced.

ii. anticipated benefit to users

1. Better 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 been met.

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 information

* 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 counsellor.

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

Recent 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 young lesbians

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.

4. Opportunity to acquire information and share experiences

This outcome 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 develop self-esteem.

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.

As above.

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.

8. Better 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 knowledge

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.

2. Development and evaluation of long-distance support methods.

Insufficient 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.

Case Studies

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.

Letter 2:

I 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 better already.

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 Scheme.

2. Yolanda is 16, Black, working class and lives in London.

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:

Thank 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.

The religion 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 'queer.'

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.

With 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 boyfriend.

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 intentions!

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 it.

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 deceipt.

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.


Experience of running LYSIS/LIS over the past two years strongly suggests:

* Young 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 policies.

* 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 disciplines.

* 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 emotional damage.

* 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 back.

* 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.

* A 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 towns/cities.

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 made.

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?


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 July 1997.

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 close.

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 employment.

5. Submit application to Charity Commission.

6. Apply 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 1997
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