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FAQs Myths ... and the Facts
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1 Who are the lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Britain today? 2 What particular issues do lesbian, gay and bisexual people face in Britain today? 3 What are the keys laws protecting LGB people’s rights? 4 Lesbian, gay and bisexual people in families and relationships 5 Contacts and further information
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This booklet is one in a series of guides to equalities issues produced by Bristol City Council. It is part of our commitment to promoting inclusion through tackling myths and prejudice. Previous booklets provide information on asylum seekers and refugees, Gypsies and travellers and Muslims. All resources are also available online at www.bristol.gov.uk/equality.
Research from the British social attitudes survey over the last 20 years has demonstrated how the general population’s attitude towards lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people is becoming more positive. Although crime statistics, records of legal cases and individuals’ personal experiences continue to provide evidence of significant discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual people, there is a growing acceptance of diversity in modern society. The research shows how prejudice and discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual people is directly linked to stereotypes, myths and ignorance about the reality of LGB people’s lives and experiences. This booklet addresses frequently asked questions (FAQs) and provides the facts behind some common myths and misconceptions. This booklet focuses on sexual orientation and does not set out to address transgender myths; we plan to cover these in the future. “As a council we are committed to equality for everyone within the City of Bristol. We want lesbian, gay and bisexual people to see and feel the impact of that commitment in their daily lives. This mythbusting booklet helps put our equalities policies and action plans into context and provides useful information for Bristol residents, policy developers and service providers alike. It does not aim to provide all of the solutions in itself but is part of our wider equalities strategy that will ensure Bristol’s status as an inclusive, fair and forward-looking city.”
Helen Holland – Leader of the Council
G What do we mean by the
terms lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB)?
Lesbian, gay and bisexual describe different sexual orientations. We all have a sexual orientation. It is a combination of romantic, emotional and physical attractions towards others. Lesbians and gay men experience such attractions to members of their own sex, whilst bisexual people are attracted to members of both sexes. People who are attracted to the opposite sex are described as heterosexual.
The word homosexual was commonly used as the opposite to heterosexual. In Britain this has come to be seen as a derogatory term linked to outdated medical diagnoses and long repealed crimes. Whilst many women identify as lesbians, the word gay is used by both men and women to describe their sexual orientation.
Sometimes the initials “LGB” or the single word “gay” are used by service providers, government policy makers and the media as shorthand to refer collectively to people who are lesbian, gay or bisexual. If taking this approach, it is important to remember that attitudes, experiences and the degree of shared identity amongst any of these groups of people vary widely. No one would suggest that heterosexual people are all alike. Similarly, sharing a minority sexual orientation does not mean you necessarily share anything else about your life.
G Is being lesbian, gay or
bisexual a lifestyle choice?
Government estimates in the UK indicate that between 5% and 7% of the population identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual, although more specific sexual health surveys show that around 10% of men and women have had same sex relationships. These figures are based on a range of different surveys, research and analysis. However, accurately measuring sexual orientation within the overall population is problematic. When faced with high levels of discrimination, prejudice or cultural pressure LGB people may be scared to give information about themselves. Some people don’t identify with the terms lesbian, gay or bisexual and their behaviour might be different from the way they describe themselves. All of these reasons can cause low survey responses and result in less accurate information. However, even with existing data, in numerical terms, LGB people make up a sizeable minority group.
“Being lesbian, gay or bisexual is just a lifestyle choice”
Many questions have been asked over the years about what makes someone lesbian, gay or bisexual. Is it about the way they were brought up? Their experience in relationships? Their genes? Or a combination of all (or none) of these? The reality is that we don’t know what causes anyone’s sexual orientation. There are many motivations for this debate but seldom do people ask the same questions about what makes someone heterosexual. Many lesbian, gay and bisexual people say that they knew from an early age that they felt different. This early awareness may have shaped their sense of personal and social identity even before they linked it to sexual orientation. Many LGB people will subsequently suppress these feelings to some extent, because of social pressure or discrimination. This pressure to conform may mean that people live a public heterosexual life even though they know they are lesbian, gay or bisexual. As an example, one in ten men and one in four women who formed a same sex civil partnership in the UK in 2006 had previously been in a heterosexual marriage. Suggesting that people choose to be lesbian, gay or bisexual is like suggesting that people choose to be heterosexual or left-handed. Given the discriminatory legislation and prejudice that has existed over the years, the only real choice is whether people feel safe to live their life being open to themselves and others. them from colleagues, family or friends. Talking openly about your same sex partner is not flaunting your sexuality any more than a heterosexual person who might refer naturally to their wife, husband or partner of the opposite sex. While some people might like to simply dismiss same sex attraction as “unnatural”, there are in fact widely observed and researched examples of same sex behaviour and gender fluidity throughout the world of nature. Human beings have formed same sex relationships throughout history and across all ethnic and cultural groups around the world. What changes is how societies react to this. Lesbian, gay and bisexual people come from all walks of life, all ethnicities, all economic levels, all religions and all political perspectives. They may be disabled, can be young or old and may be married or parents. They are as diverse in their lives and lifestyles as heterosexual
G Is this about sexual
orientation or social identity?
Most individuals in the UK will know people who are lesbian, gay or bisexual but may well be unaware of it because they do not make it public. As an argument against LGB equality, it’s often asserted that “people should keep their sex life private”, but the reality is that sexual orientation is not just about sex.
Being lesbian, gay or bisexual will shape who you spend your life with, how you see yourself and, if you are “out”, may influence how other people see you. It is not about what you do but who you are. To hide or disguise this can be damaging to a person’s self-esteem and distance
people. As men and women become more individually expressive in their clothes, hairstyles, mannerisms and friendships, you just can’t make any assumptions about anyone’s sexual orientation. Some LGB people may fit common stereotypes – many more will not. The only way that you can know someone’s sexual orientation is if they tell you.
G Is being lesbian, gay or
bisexual just a modern trend?
Same sex relationships between men and women are well documented throughout Greek and Roman times. On every continent in the world, from early civilisations right through the Middle Ages, same sex relationships are evidenced through literature, art, legal documents and historical records. Sometimes these were within the norms of those societies, sometimes they were marginalised.
New prejudices and changes in attitudes about relationships generally appeared from the 18th century onwards partly linked to issues of inheritance and partly
to perceptions of morality. As a result, new laws were invented to make same sex relationships illegal in some countries where they had previously been accepted. There were attempts to rewrite history and this led to significant destruction of early representations of same sex relationships. Archaeologists in Peru destroyed much pre-Columbian art depicting same-sex images as “insults to national honour”. In India in the 1920s, erotic carvings of gay men and lesbians in Hindu temples dating from the 11th century were destroyed under government orders to encourage both Indians and non-Indians to believe that such behaviours were due only to foreign influence. (Conner, Randolph P and others, Encyclopaedia of Queer Myth, London: Cassell, 1997.) During the late 19th and 20th centuries, many countries created or enforced discriminatory laws against lesbian, gay and bisexual people. There were attempts to identify a medical basis for same sex orientation so that it could be dismissed as an illness. In some countries homosexuality became classified as a mental disorder.
“LGB people always want to flaunt their sexuality rather than keep it private like heterosexuals” “Homosexuality is ‘unnatural’ ” “It’s easy to spot someone who’s lesbian, gay or bisexual” “Being lesbian, gay or bisexual is a modern invention”
On 6 May 1933 the Hirschfeld Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin (the largest archive and record of sex and relationships behaviour in the world) was ransacked. Over 12,000 books and thousands of original manuscripts and artefacts were removed and burned in a huge bonfire in front of the University of Berlin. The film of this public bookburning became emblematic as a symbol of Nazi censorship and the destruction of culture. Few people realise that it was specifically targeted at the destruction of records of contemporary and historical gay identity. In a modern parallel, 6,000 books of homoerotic poetry by the 8th century Persian-Arab poet Abu Nuwas were publicly burnt by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture in January 2001. (Middle East Report, 219 Summer 2001)
This resulted in “treatments” such as electric shock therapy being administered against the will of the individual – such approaches are defined as torture today. In Britain, being lesbian, gay or bisexual suddenly meant you could no longer work in public office. It opened people up to blackmail, persecution and social exclusion which had not previously existed. As British society changed rapidly after the two world wars, attitudes and legislation concerning lesbian, gay and bisexual people drifted backwards and became more discriminatory. In direct response to the negative impact on people’s lives, the 1960s saw a gay civil rights movement emerge to challenge such inequality. Lesbian, gay and bisexual people joined forces socially and politically with others opposed to oppression and discrimination. The Wolfenden report of 1957 found that there was no justification for criminalising consenting private sexual behaviour between adults. This was a key step in repealing oppressive laws that dated from 1861. Since the 1970s (with the notable exception of Section 28), successive governments have gradually
dismantled discriminatory legislation. Increasing focus from government and wider civil society is now on addressing the longer term social and attitudinal effects of years of exclusion and prejudice. A full historical timeline is available online at www.lgbthistorymonth.org.uk
G Homophobia and
Homophobia is defined as an irrational hatred, intolerance or fear of lesbian, gay and bisexual people
Homophobia doesn’t just affect LGB people. Friends and families can equally be targets, as can heterosexual people who are thought to be gay. It can range from verbal taunting and bullying to some of the worst excesses of violence and discriminatory behaviour such as London’s Admiral Duncan pub bombing in 1999 which killed three and wounded 70. Homophobia can exist in an individual or an organisation. Many of our public institutions have historically run services and developed policies that excluded or
In 1988 a controversial clause was inserted in a UK wide Local Government Act. This became known as Section 28. It dismissed lesbian and gay family relationships as “pretend” and made it difficult for teachers and councils to positively address issues relating to sexual orientation. From its introduction to its 2003 repeal, the law was never used but it perpetuated negative myths and caused fear amongst teachers, councils and youth workers. Its existence prevented legitimate issues such as bullying, hate crime and homophobia being addressed and meant many young people went without support or information at key times in their lives. The damaging impact of this is still felt by individuals and institutions today.
failed to take account of lesbian, gay and bisexual people. Where LGB people were recognised, their sexual orientation and identity was often treated as inferior or morally wrong. The legal system, the armed forces, health and education have all historically worked in ways that discriminated against LGB people. This is described as institutionalised homophobia and mirrors the institutional racism that was defined in the MacPherson Report into the racially motivated killing of Stephen Lawrence.
“It’s not homophobic to dislike people for being gay” “It’s only a joke, it’s not hurting anybody, gays shouldn’t be so sensitive”
status offer married, cohabiting or single as the only choices – not recognising civil partnerships which for same sex couples are equivalent to marriage. An even more widespread incidence is the way that the word “gay” is now commonly used by children as young as five to describe anyone who steps out of line or anything that’s negative. People challenging this as homophobic are often told that they’re too sensitive or it’s not meant seriously. Nonetheless the impact on young LGB people or children of LGB
Heterosexism describes a (sometimes unintentional) bias shown by a society where cultural institutions and individuals are conditioned to expect everyone to live and behave as heterosexuals.
Disadvantage suffered by those “outside the norm” or majority group is often blamed on the minority themselves. When this is invisibly embedded in language, traditions, communications and institutions, it can exclude and deny the lives of LGB people. An example of this is when official questionnaires on marital
7 G How does prejudice towards
parents is to reinforce feelings of worthlessness or inferiority. For the majority group it subtly introduces or reenforces prejudice and power over others. While homophobia causes the most obvious direct harm to LGB people, heterosexism can also cause subtle and long-lasting damage to self-image and self-esteem. Victims of a one-off homophobic attack might rationalise that this is an isolated incident carried out by a rogue individual. But LGB people growing up and living in overtly heterosexist environments can internalise negative stereotypes and develop varying degrees of low self-esteem and self-hatred. This is described as “internalised homophobia” and can be particularly damaging as people are often not aware of it. Despite the fact that homophobia and heterosexism still exist in Britain today, major advances in equalities legislation and policy have brought about significant improvements in recent years. Public education, more inclusive public services and improved action from the UK police on homophobic hate crime have also
contributed to a less hostile environment. Many private organisations also work extensively to combat homophobia in economic, cultural or social arenas from football to religion. There is growing recognition that any prejudice or discrimination (be it homophobia, racism, sexism, disablism or others) is bad not only for the group that is targeted but for the whole community.
lesbian, gay and bisexual people come about?
Many people feel threatened by what they don’t understand and when lesbian, gay and bisexual identities have been hidden and are unfamiliar, it can be easier to believe the worst myths and stereotypes. Research for the Cabinet Office Equalities Review in 2006 found that prejudice is directly linked to how close people perceive they are to a group – so someone with an LGB friend is statistically far less likely to hold LGB prejudices than someone who believes they’ve never met an LGB person. Prejudice is also more likely when a group is labelled with a negative stereotype that arouses unpleasant emotions such as fear or disgust. It is for this reason that people who are homophobic will often focus on extreme stereotypes around alleged sexual or predatory behaviour in an attempt to “justify” their negative beliefs.
“You can’t change the way people think. You just have to put up with it” “Most prejudices are based on good reason”
1 Who are the lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Britain today?
G Ordinary people living
G It helps inform public policy and ensure
Lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Britain today are largely the same as any other random sub-section of society such as people who wear glasses, or those who live in flats. The available demographic data suggests that they broadly reflect the overall population in terms of age range, male/female split, ethnicity, social class and employment/education patterns amongst other identifying characteristics. However unlike wearing glasses, someone’s sexual orientation cannot be observed from the outside. Whether we are aware of it or not, we will all know LGB people. They are our colleagues, neighbours, teachers, friends, family, healthcare workers, builders or any number of other people in our daily lives.
services and approaches meet everyone’s needs
G It enables discriminatory practices to be
“Society has handed me a mask to wear... everywhere I go, at all times and before all sections of society, I pretend.” Edward Sagarin, American academic and writer describing invisibility and alienation as a gay man in 1951
identified and corrected
G It demonstrates that LGB people are
present in all social and community groups
G It helps disprove myths about LGB
people being vastly different from others in society Some people feel that there is no need to make your sexual orientation public as your sex life is private. The reality is that people are automatically assumed to be heterosexual unless information is given otherwise. Such assumptions shape how you are treated – not least by the public services for which everyone expects a fair return on their taxes. Personal assumptions that people hold about you also shape how you relate to your friends, family and others around you. Keeping lesbian, gay and bisexual people invisible makes it easier to deny their existence within wider society and harder to address discrimination and prejudice.
“Only white, middle-class people are gay” “Sexual orientation should be private – local councils are just being intrusive asking such questions” “Local councils waste money on LGB projects”
G Why does sexual orientation
need to be made public?
Collecting national and local data on the lesbian, gay and bisexual population is important for a number of reasons:
9 G “Coming Out” The decision to disclose your sexual orientation as a lesbian, gay or bisexual person is commonly known as “coming out (of the closet)”. It can happen at any age and depending on personal and social circumstances, it is a significant and usually scary step.
An early stage is often to acknowledge and accept your own sexual orientation. In a negative social climate this can take years for some people. Individuals will then normally carefully choose who else they tell and when. Some people are out at work or with friends but not to their family or vice versa. Coming out is however a lifelong process where decisions (on relevance, safety, impact etc) have to be taken with most new situations and acquaintances. Coming out must always be a personal choice. Some LGB people never come out and may spend their whole lives “closeted”. Although coming out can have a powerful and positive impact on health and well-being – it is not the answer for all LGB people. For some, coming out would bring more problems than benefits due to personal circumstances such as already being married or in a highly homophobic environment or culture. Most people who do come out find that with hindsight it was more positive than they had expected, even if difficult at times.
G Multiple identity and
In addition to their sexual orientation, LGB people may also be from a religious or ethnic minority group, they may be disabled or have some other defining characteristic. Such multiple identities can make individuals a target of prejudice on more than one level from different sources. For example, an African gay man might experience homophobia from some parts of the Black community, racism from some parts of the LGB community, and racism and homophobia from the wider community. This is known as multiple discrimination.
I Sexual orientation and disability –
As homophobia and discrimination decrease, more LGB people come out.
In Britain young people are increasingly coming out earlier. It is therefore even more important that age-appropriate support and information is widely available and that young people are properly supported through schools, youth services and online resources. Long-term benefits identified from “coming out” include: • release from the stress of hiding or pretending • more honest and authentic relationships with family and friends • having access to information and support • realising you’re not alone
A frequent complaint from disabled people is that they are assumed not to have any sexuality at all. Where any issue of sexuality is raised, most disabled people – like most non-disabled people – are assumed to be heterosexual. This can raise problems for disabled LGB people in residential care or independent living
situations. It may cause tensions where a young person has a close family member as a primary carer. Access to information, advice and guidance can be limited and simply asking the question could force someone into coming out when they are not ready. There are also significant practical barriers for disabled LGB people wishing to access social activities and information as well as disability prejudice amongst LGB people.
I Sexual orientation and ageing –
and loneliness can therefore be major challenges, as can moving into a residential care setting.
I Sexual orientation and race –
The term “older” includes several different generations and issues facing a 50 year old will clearly differ from those facing an 80 year old. Some older LGB people will have grown up in times when being gay was illegal. Their own attitudes and those of their peer group will have been influenced by this and older LGB people may find it particularly difficult to be open about their identity. Ageism exists generally within society, with stereotypes around abilities, looks and interests. Many LGB social opportunities reflect this wider trend and are geared towards young people’s interests and pubs/clubs. Older people can feel unwelcome and under-valued on a fashion-fuelled LGB scene. Social isolation
LGB people from minority ethnic groups may face double discrimination, at risk of negative experiences on the basis of both sexuality and ethnicity. They may feel that they have to choose between their sexuality and their cultural identity – fearing homophobia or exclusion from community support networks and family if they “come out”. Some newcomers to Britain (both LGB and heterosexual) from countries with oppressive attitudes around sexual orientation may find that their fears and/or prejudices do not correspond to the reality here perhaps causing tensions and cultural clashes that have to be addressed. Many minority ethnic LGB people are quite at ease with their sexual orientation but then face racism from other lesbian, gay or bisexual people.
I Sexual orientation and faith –
challenging personal issues. In contrast, many other LGB people are not religious and resent the impact that other people’s belief systems have on their daily lives and experiences. Various passages in a number of the main religious texts have been used to condemn homosexuality. Some people take these literally as the basis of their belief that same sex relationships are morally wrong and should be censured. Other religious leaders and movements argue that such references merely reflect social customs of their time. They see these particular texts as inappropriate to address LGB relationships and identity in the modern world. Much social homophobia and significant personal discrimination has been justified by such texts. The changing face of faith means there are now widely different stances on same sex relationships (as on many other issues) within all major religions today. Against this backdrop, there is a need to balance the “rights” of different groups. This means ensuring that personal beliefs are respected but do not cause harm to others. It also means making sure that particular perspectives are not inappropriately imposed upon public
This is an area that can cause controversy and provoke strong personal reactions. LGB people are already part of all major religious beliefs. Some of them will find their faith and its institutions welcome them while others find it raises
policy – with the effect of perpetuating anti-LGB discrimination. Many groups are working together to develop the understanding and tolerance that ensure discrimination is not perpetuated in the name of religion.
G Social networks – the
Everyone wants opportunities for social contact and to be around people that they feel comfortable with and where they can be themselves. For lesbian, gay and bisexual people there can be a fear of prejudice in certain social environments. Whilst it may be considered perfectly acceptable for heterosexuals to show affection in a pub, or enter as a couple in a quiz night, the reaction to exactly the same behaviour from people of the same sex can be very different.
The fear of having to face hostility in social environments has been addressed by creating safe social spaces that have become generically known as the “gay scene”. This includes informal social contexts such as an LGB ramblers group or football team or the more commercial environments of LGB bars and clubs found in larger towns and cities. In smaller towns or rural areas, LGB people might be more dispersed or invisible and safe social opportunities may be limited. This can
lead to social isolation and is particularly challenging for young people as they develop their sense of identity. Some LGB people find such “gay-led” approaches rewarding, others prefer to socialise openly in more mixed environments. As social attitudes change and new legislation ensures lesbian, gay and bisexual people have equal access to goods and services (including leisure and social activities) – social spaces are becoming more inclusive and welcoming. There is increasing recognition that whilst segregated social activities provide valuable choice and safety, an inclusive mixed environment better reflects society in the longer term.
"We would be very happy if we could help other Christian parents come to terms with their children’s sexuality (we have a gay son). We have been very involved with fundamentalist churches for forty years or so. I was an ordained minister and was a pastor of Pentecostal (AOG) churches and free evangelical churches for about twenty years. To many Christians, the thought of God accepting practicing homosexuals or lesbians into the church body is repulsive, mentally and emotionally ... [their] objections take Christian parents, family and friends of LGB people a long time to work through sometimes.” Extract from Bristol parents’ testimony on FFLAG website ( Friends & Families of Lesbians and Gays)
“Lesbian and gay people only ever socialise together” “The ‘gay scene’ discriminates against heterosexual people”
2 What particular issues do lesbian, gay and bisexual people face in Britain today?
“Bullying is just part of growing up – it toughens you up” “Young people aren’t yet aware of sexual orientation so can’t use it to bully others” “Everyone gets called names, it’s normal”
G Schools and homophobic
Homophobic bullying happens in schools from the earliest years. It has serious consequences for young people including absenteeism, depression, isolation and low self esteem through to self-harming and even suicide.
It can also be directed at teachers and other staff with similar effects. Anyone can be targeted irrespective of their actual sexual orientation and the effects can damage their whole life. Homophobic bullying undermines a positive school ethos for the whole school community. It harms pupils, parents, teachers and other staff as well as the bullies themselves.
Stonewall’s 2007 research The School Report, found that:
I 65% of lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils
have experienced homophobic bullying.
I Of those, 92% have experienced verbal
homophobic bullying, 41% physical bullying and 17% death threats.
I Although derogatory terms such as
“dyke”, “poof”, “lezzie”, “queer” are widely heard in schools, over half of teachers fail to respond to homophobic language when they hear it.
I 30% of lesbian gay and bisexual pupils
say that adults – teachers or support staff – are actually responsible for homophobic incidents in their school.
I Less than a quarter of schools have
told pupils that homophobic bullying is wrong.
“150,000 gay pupils suffer abuse”
“Safe to Learn” – the 2007 anti-bullying guidance from the government’s Department for Children, Schools and Families states; “The government has made tackling bullying in schools a key priority …no form of bullying should be tolerated. Bullying should be taken very seriously; it is not a normal part of growing up and it can ruin lives. Teaching about sexual orientation does not mean teaching about sex or sexual activity. Instead, it is about teaching pupils about difference and diversity. Teaching about sexual orientation, and bullying, will prevent homophobic bullying”. OFSTED states that “schools should make sure that homophobic attitudes do not go unchallenged” Despite such clear and positive guidelines, locally or nationally organised groups still campaign to keep sexual orientation invisible or stigmatised in schools. Such campaigns use myths and fear to undermine positive attempts to address
same sex relationships within the curriculum or to include homophobia within anti-bullying strategies. These campaigns provoke sensationalist and inaccurate headlines that focus solely on sex and are intended to alarm parents. As a result, some teachers and schools still lack the confidence or the will to fulfill their legal and moral responsibilities to challenge bullying and promote inclusion. “Children as young as seven taught gay history in a campaign that urges teachers to introduce pupils to sexual and swear words” Daily Mail, 4 January 2006 In spite of such opposition, combating homophobic bullying and promoting inclusivity is essential for attainment and the wellbeing of everyone within schools. Pupils and teachers alike will achieve less and are less likely to stay in a school where they are subject to homophobic bullying. It also helps young people develop informed values that will enable them to participate effectively as citizens in our diverse society. School-based approaches to achieving this include developing an inclusive curriculum, directly tackling homophobia, working
G Personal identity and
with parents, anti-bullying policies, pastoral support and a positive working environment.
“Over three in five young lesbian, gay and bisexual people feel that there is neither an adult at home nor at school who they can talk to about being gay.” The School Report, survey of 1,145 young lesbian, gay and bisexual people by Stonewall (2007) For young people growing up as lesbian, gay or bisexual it can be particularly hard without access to information about sexual orientation or to people with whom they can safely discuss their feelings. Such a lack of support can lead young people to conceal their sexual orientation for fear of rejection and they may develop “internalised homophobia” that could cause ill-health or risk-taking activities. Similarly children of lesbian, gay or bisexual parents may feel they have to hide the fact that they have two mums or two dads because they fear other people’s reactions.
Fortunately legislative change, increased LGB visibility and tools such as the internet now offer more support and opportunities for social contact. This does not however take away the responsibilities from schools, youth services, advice and counselling agencies to offer appropriate services for LGB people of all ages seeking information, advice and support. “While many minority groups are the target for prejudice and discrimination in our society, few people face this hostility without the support and acceptance of their family as do many LGB young people”Karen Harbeck, American educationalist For some LGB people, life can feel like a constant challenge to be treated fairly and with respect. A study by Imperial College London in 2004 suggested a link between levels of homophobic discrimination and mental ill-health among LGB people, causing higher anxiety and depression. are treated when they go about their daily lives; going to the doctors, booking a holiday, reporting a crime or looking for a good book in a public library. Yet the reality is different. Although new legislation has brought significant improvements, public health services have provided inappropriate or inferior treatment, couples have been refused hotel accommodation because they are LGB, the police have treated the victims of some violent crimes as criminals themselves and libraries have refused to stock books that have LGB storylines. “Gay murder inquiries marred by homophobia” Daily Mail, 15 May 2007 At work, the first ever legislation - the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations - was introduced in 2003 to protect people from workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. ACAS (the national Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) has conducted research into employment cases taken since which shows that they mainly involve bullying, unfair treatment and harassment including threats and physical assaults.
“If LGB people didn’t make such a fuss, they wouldn’t be treated any differently” “being lesbian, gay or bisexual simply isn’t an issue in 21st century Britain”
G Unfair and discriminatory
Of course, being lesbian, gay or bisexual should not impact upon the way people
The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) defines a hate crime as “any hate incident, which constitutes a criminal offence, perceived by the victim or any other person as being motivated by prejudice or hate”.
In March 2008 a YouGov survey of 1721 lesbian, gay and bisexual people across Britain found;
I 1 in 5 people had experienced a
homophobic hate crime or incident over the last 5 years with 1 in 8 being a victim in the last 12 months
I 1 in 6 of the incidents over the last three
years were physical assaults
I 7 out of 10 victims did not report the
solely as a result of others’ perceptions about you. The police and criminal justice system have improved their response to homophobic hate crime though training and working with LGB groups. However experience of hate crime will not decrease until hatred towards certain groups is reduced. This is why education and public awareness measures are so important in creating positive and inclusive communities.
“Playing sport makes boys into real men but girls are more likely to be lesbian” “Lesbians are butch while gay men are effeminate” “Bisexuals are just greedy and want the best of all worlds”
incident to anybody – their reasons included; fear of being “outed”, lack of confidence in the police, belief they would face further discrimination “Insults and minor attacks are a part of our day-to-day lives and so often we do not realise we should report them or seek help. From an early age, we are bullied in the playground, attacked for who we are or beaten for who we date” Lucy 25, North East (Stonewall survey) For the majority of victims of homophobic hate crime, their assailant is an unknown male under the age of 25. Often these incidents occur repeatedly and around their own homes. Being a victim of any form of crime is distressing. Hate crime is even more personal because it happens
G Negative stereotyping While many in the general population still believe that they have no contact with lesbian, gay or bisexual people, it’s easy for negative stereotypes to develop, particularly if they are reinforced through the media. Many of our cultural points of reference as a society either ignore LGB people or present them negatively.
Common stereotypes portray all lesbians as being masculine and gay men as being effeminate. At the root of this myth lie beliefs about gender roles and so-called masculine or feminine behaviour. Although the concept of gender today is
becoming more fluid, we are still heavily influenced by our recent past. Historically for example, jobs have been defined as “men’s work” or “women’s work”. Certain skills such as caring, creativity or communication are still sometimes wrongly believed to be more feminine while others such as decision-making or leadership are seen as masculine. Even colours have fixed meanings – how many baby outfits do you find for boys in pink or girls in blue? This is where issues of gender (what it means to be a man or a woman) and sexual orientation (who you are attracted to) start to overlap. Such gender stereotypes can cause a “tomboyish” girl who likes sport to be labelled a lesbian at school, while even at nursery age, a boy who prefers dressingup to football can face terms of homophobic abuse such as “poof”. Whilst bisexual people may be subject to these same stereotypes by wider society if they are in a same sex relationship, they can also be subject to different prejudices from lesbian and gay people. These include the false suggestions that bisexuals simply want the best of all worlds or alternatively that they are gay people who are afraid to “come out”. Of course none of these stereotypes determine sexual orientation and they can be applied equally to heterosexual people. They can change with time and fashion (David Beckham in a sarong for example) and are more about how people express themselves than about their actual or perceived sexual orientation. Labelling people with stereotypes or drawing attention to specific (but irrelevant) aspects of their appearance simply makes it easier for individuals and organisations to subtly reinforce deeper prejudices. A tabloid with a largely anti-gay editorial stance featured a woman who had won an employment tribunal against the British army for harassment and victimisation including a prominent photograph and the headline “Bullied lesbian soldier arrives at compensation hearing with 6ft 2in German girlfriend”. The choice of picture and caption were deliberate and sensationalist. The irrelevant references to height and nationality played on issues of masculinity and national identity. September 2008
G Media representation Such stereotypes occur in every aspect of life from face to face encounters to the place where most people first come across issues of sexual orientation – the television. Research by Stonewall in 2005 into portrayals of LGB people on the BBC (Tuned Out) found;
I The majority of heterosexual viewers
first encounter lesbian, gay and bisexual people through television programmes
I LGB lives are five times more likely to be
portrayed in negative terms than positive ones
I 51% of all LGB references were designed
for comic effect and referred mainly to stereotypes of sexually predatory or camp and effeminate gay men
I There was a failure to present LGB
people in everyday scenarios such as stable relationships or family life Whilst the media has certainly increased lesbian, gay and bisexual visibility, it has not always done this in an accurate or responsible manner. Sensational headlines
and larger-than-life characters may grab attention but they do not reflect the reality of most lesbian, gay and bisexual people’s everyday existence. Media reactions to and treatment of LGB stories and characters must be no different to comparable heterosexual ones. “Sienna Miller shares steamy lesbian kiss in new movie” Daily Mail, 16 December 2007 “Complaints pour in after EastEnders screens gay kiss before the watershed” Daily Mail, 9 October 2008 Sex stories are guaranteed to get attention and sell papers: “Gay row over Downs plan” Bristol Evening Post, 7 July 2008 “Scrubland cleared...at an area known as ‘Fairyland’ ” Bristol Evening Post, 9 December 2008 This obsession with sexual behaviour reinforces myths that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are promiscuous and predatory. It fails to mention that people who engage, for instance, in public outdoor sex are both LGB and heterosexual. It is sometimes linked to suggestions of exploitative or illegal sexual activity such as paedophilia that is no more accepted amongst LGB people than it is amongst heterosexual people. As a result, some people believe that children are more at risk around gay men than around heterosexual men. Such unsupported and inaccurate allegations are made with the deliberate intention of provoking reactions of disgust or fear and making LGB people out to be threatening, outside social norms and criminally motivated. Such myths also deny the reality of longterm stable same sex partnerships. Most obituaries of the composer Sir Michael Tippett who died recently aged 98 dismissed him as “unmarried”, ignoring his lifelong openly gay relationship and making invisible an enduring and committed partnership.
G “It’s all about sex” –
the over-emphasis of one dimension
Sexual orientation is distinct from sexual behaviour. No-one would seriously suggest that being heterosexual is only about having sex, yet it is still common for lesbian, gay and bisexual people to be labelled as concerned entirely about sex.
At the same time as this dismissive moral judgement is made, some sections of the public and media retain an obsessive but contradictory fascination with the issue. Contact between women is portrayed in an almost pornographic way, while the same contact between men is presented as threatening and dangerous.
“All gay people are promiscuous and only interested in sex”
3 What are the keys laws protecting LGB people’s rights?
In 1967 Parliament passed the law that “decriminalised homosexuality” in the UK. In the 40 years since, hundreds of pieces of discriminatory legislation have been amended or repealed and new protections established. This has led small but vociferous minorities to argue that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are now somehow getting “special” or “privileged” treatment. However the vast majority of the population support treating everyone fairly. A YouGov poll in The Observer in 2007 found that 90% of UK citizens supported legislation to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. So what areas of life does some of this legislation affect? I In the workplace
The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (2003) protect everyone from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The regulations cover all employment issues including recruitment, pay, terms and conditions, policies, harassment and dismissal. Prior to this law it was not illegal for an employer to sack a member of staff for being LGB.
I Accessing I In
In 2001, the age of consent for all young men and women was equalised at 16. This rectified years of discrimination and respected young people’s rights to make informed decisions about their own relationships, rather than criminalising those who knew they were lesbian, gay or bisexual. The Civil Partnership Act (2004) enabled same-sex couples to register as civil partners and gain the same legal rights and responsibilities as married couples. This includes financial responsibilities, pensions, inheritance rights, and next of kin status. Commitment in a relationship is not just about the joint bank account and shared housing – it’s also about making a public affirmation of your love. Same sex couples have always formed lifelong, committed relationships and this law gives them legal and social recognition.
goods and services
All of us buy things and use a variety of public and private services every day. The Sexual Orientation Regulations (2007) protect everyone from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation. This regulation covers all sectors and includes services as diverse as housing, education, finance, retail, leisure and healthcare. People can no longer pick and choose who they want to do business with on the basis of prejudices about their sexual orientation.
Many lesbian, gay and bisexual people have children and a non-biological coparent can gain recognition of their status in relation to the child through the courts. Single lesbian, gay and bisexual people have always been allowed to apply to adopt. The Adoption and Children Act 2002 now allows same-sex couples to apply for adoption jointly. No-one in the UK has the right to adopt; they only have the right to apply for assessment according to a consistent set of criteria.
place. It will particularly address areas relating to sexual orientation, age and religion/belief that have been not covered in previous legislation. It is likely to introduce positive duties on public bodies to promote equality in relation to sexual orientation similar to existing duties on race, gender and disability. These legal advances are far from “special treatment”. They begin to rectify longstanding injustices and ensure all people are treated fairly and equally.
Under existing gender, race and disability legislation, the public sector has responsibilities to be proactive in promoting equality and tackling discrimination. The Government has been looking at how to harmonise equalities laws to ensure the same standards of protection apply to everyone in Britain. The Single Equality Bill was announced in the Queen’s speech in December 2008 to be brought to Parliament within 12 months. This bill strengthens and streamlines discrimination legislation to make Britain a fairer and more equal
“LGB people are always looking for ‘special treatment’ ”
4 Lesbian, gay and bisexual people in families and relationships
“Gay people undermine family values” “Lesbian, gay and bisexual people don’t form lasting relationships”
Families in Britain today come in all shapes and sizes, reflecting social changes that have been occurring over the last 50 years. These include changing patterns of marriage, cohabitation and divorce, greater geographical mobility, more single person households, and differing birth and death rates. Although family structures may change, most people still share similar values. They want security for themselves, their children and elderly relatives. They want to feel part of a social group and they expect certain levels of behaviour and respect within their community.
Some people use the term “family values” to reflect a more traditional viewpoint and a certain moral perspective. Their suggestion is that lesbian, gay and bisexual people have undermined this. In reality, it is questionable whether there ever was an age of “perfect families”. There is little doubt that recent trends have more to do with broader social attitudes than the impact of LGB people. The reality is that most LGB people are born to heterosexual parents and have always been part of families. Changes in laws and attitudes have simply allowed LGB people to be more open about their own family relationships. Despite little social or legal support, lesbian, gay and bisexual people have always formed long-lasting relationships – although often hidden and unacknowledged. The historian John Boswell conducted research into ceremonies of same sex union that existed in the eastern Christian church from the sixth through the sixteenth century. He found formal structures to celebrate emotional bonds between men and no specific negativity relating to homosexuality. Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality (1980) The Marriage of Likeness: Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe 1994
It has been a tactic of opponents of LGB equality to simultaneously dismiss the reality of long-term relationships whilst also campaigning to keep them from legal recognition. As a result couples who shared their whole lives together could not be recognised as next of kin or even as joint owners/tenants of their family home. Civil partnerships were introduced in 2004 to end this discrimination and for the first time in Britain, couples could choose to commit to the same rights and responsibilities as are available through marriage. In 2007–2008, Bristol Registry office registered 629 Register Office marriages and 81 civil partnerships – so of every eight partnerships registered last year, seven were heterosexual marriages and one was a same sex union. But expectations of same sex unions shouldn’t be any higher than equivalent heterosexual ones. Unfortunately just as some marriages end in divorce so some civil partnerships will also break down. Equally like heterosexual people, not all lesbian, gay and bisexual people will want to make a legal commitment and may simply chose to live together – this
doesn’t imply less commitment just different choices. Similarly LGB people may live in a single person household or not be in a relationship at all. Because there are no national statistics on sexual orientation, there are no overall figures detailing the number of lesbian, gay or bisexual parents in Britain. However from analysing other data, a conservative estimate is that around 1 in 6 lesbian, gay or bisexual adults are parents or co-parents. Although many of these children were born when their parents were in a heterosexual relationship, the last 20 years has seen a sharp rise in the numbers of LGB people (in particular lesbian and bisexual women) planning and forming families through birth, adoption or fostering. All reputable studies show that children of lesbian, gay and bisexual parents do as well as those of heterosexual parents.
“Lesbian, gay and bisexual people can’t have children” “Children of lesbian, gay and bisexual people do less well developmentally”
differences between children of LGB parents and children of heterosexual parents in four critical areas: • their intelligence • their psychological adjustment • their social adjustment • their popularity with friends
The largest and most rigorous study by the American Psychiatric Association found no developmental
Lesbian, gay and bisexual parents do all the same things as other parents to care for and nurture their children. They cook dinners, change nappies, help with homework, read bedtime stories and worry when teenagers are back late. Children also find positive male and female role models, with most LGB parents making sure that their children have consistent, positive contact with teachers, grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends and neighbours. Sometimes for all the reasons described earlier, LGB parents and their children will face discrimination and prejudice. This cannot be used to argue against LGB parenting. Just as minority ethnic parents help their children cope with racism, LGB parents support and guide their children in handling homophobia. Unsurprisingly, all of this can cause additional stress on top of the ordinary challenges of family life. Indeed, some LGB parents feel society demands higher standards, somehow expecting them to prove themselves as “better” parents. Finally, it is important to realise that a parent’s sexual orientation does not dictate his or her children’s. Most lesbian, gay and bisexual people have parents who identify as heterosexual. At the heart of any family, it is the love, support, guidance and commitment that a parent gives to their child that defines the quality of the relationship and the child’s well-being.
“Hatred and prejudice are such destructive forces. They destroy human beings, communities and whole societies — and they destroy the hater, too, from the inside. Reading words of homophobia shows we all have within us a seed, a potential that can grow into prejudice, hatred and destruction. But prejudice is a bleak wasteland. A parent who brings up a child to be a racist damages that child, damages the community in which they live, damages our hopes for a better world. A parent who teaches a child that there is only one sexual orientation and that anything else is evil denies our humanity and their own too. We cannot answer hate with hate. We can only answer it with love, understanding and a belief in and commitment to justice. This is how we will build a world of human understanding, compassion and equality: a true rainbow world”
Desmond Tutu – writing in The Times, July 2004 (Archbishop of Cape Town 1986–1996, anti-apartheid activist, Nobel peace prize holder)
5 Contacts and further information
The following pages provide links for third party organisations offering a range of support and information to the public in Bristol and beyond. Bristol City Council does not endorse and is not liable or responsible for these sites or the information, merchandise or services contained or offered by these sites. Further listings are provided online in the equality and diversity section of Bristol City Council’s website. www.bristol.gov.uk G Contact list Local groups and support in and around Bristol.
I Bristol I Educational
Action Challenging homophobia (EACH)
Based in Bristol. Actionline for young people affected by homophobic bullying, and to report homophobic incidents and hate crime Tel: 0808 1000 143. Also training agency for employers and organisations Tel: 0117 946 7607 www.eachaction.org.uk
Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Forum
Tel: 0117 352 5633 www.bristol-lgb-forum.org.uk
I Freedom Youth
Social and support group for 14–21 year olds. Tel: 0117 377 3677 www.freedomyouth.co.uk
Families and Friends (FFLAG)
Online gay community for Bristol, Somerset and Wiltshire wwww.pridewest.co.uk
support group based in Bristol run by/for families and friends of lesbians, gay men and bisexual women and men. Tel: 01454 85 2418 www.fflag.org.uk
and Gay Christian Movement, Bristol
Tel: 0117 982 1512 email@example.com
Lesbian and Gay Switchboard
Telephone information, support and referrals open 8–10pm, Monday to Thursday. Tel: 0117 922 1328 www.bristolblags.org.uk
For further information about local groups and contacts please contact the Equalities team at Bristol City Council. 0117 922 2658/2329 firstname.lastname@example.org
24 G Further information
National resources covering topics addressed in this booklet
Parents and families
Sexual orientation and religion
and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (FFLAG)
See previous entry for information.
and gay Christian movement for an inclusive church
Young people, schools and homophobic bullying
Tel: 020 7739 1249 www.lgcm.org.uk
Information and advice for young people. Tel: 0808 0013 219 www.connexions-direct.com
Social and support group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Muslims and their friends and families. Tel: 07849 170 793 www.imaan.org.uk
Group for lesbian and gay Catholics. Helpline: 0808 808 0234 www.questgaycatholic.org.uk
Working towards equality in education. www.schools-out.org.uk
Action Challenging homophobia (EACH)
See previous entry for information.
Offers a range of support services and social activities for all LGBT families. www.pinkparents.org.uk
UK branch of an international organisation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Muslims. www.al-fatiha.org
Legal and policy issues
I www.teachernet.gov.uk I Childline
National freephone service supporting young people. www.childline.org.uk Tel: 0800 11 11
National organisation campaigning for equality and justice for lesbians, gay men and bisexuals. www.stonewall.org.uk
Social and support group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Muslims and their friends and families – see above for information.
gay and lesbian group
and Human Rights Commission
Tel: 0845 604 6610 Text phone 0845 604 6620 www.equalityhumanrights.com
Tel: 07504 924 742 www.jglg.org.uk
and lesbian Vaishnava association for LGB Hindus
Sexual orientation and ethnicity
for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Sikhs
and information for gay Somalians
gay men’s advisory group
Anti homophobic bullying website for rural areas in UK www.ruralmedia.co.uk/sticks/index.htm
I Intercom Trust
Sexual orientation and disability
National organisation providing support, social contact, information and referrals for disabled lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people. www.regard.org.uk
Black gay and bisexual men of African and African Caribbean parentage working to challenge homophobia and racism. www.bgmag.org.uk
Helpline: 0845 6020 818 www.intercomtrust.org.uk
I Equality South West
Tel: 01823 250 833 www.equalitysouthwest.org.uk
Sexual orientation and age
Provide support and information resources for older LGB people. www.ageconcern.org.uk
G If you would like this information in a different format, for example braille, audiotape, large print or computer disk, or community languages, please contact 0117 922 2329 or email@example.com
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