I have been acutely aware of the lack of focus on lesbians in LGBT research and policy for quite a while. Twenty years ago when researching the role and efficacy of employee networks for a large bank, some lesbian employees told me that they chose to attend the women’s network rather than the LGB (as it was then) one because “our issues are very different from those of gay men and we don’t always have that much in common with them.” Back then it was gay men who dominated these groups and who were likely to be more open about their sexuality and also be in more senior positions in the organisations.
Since the addition of trans to LGB in 2015, followed by a plethora of other identities and sexualities, the interest in lesbians issues has arguably dropped further down the ladder. Even in the 2021 Census figs the question on sexuality was are you gay or lesbian? These are rarely asked about separately in surveys.
So it is welcome news that two prominent British lesbians, Kathleen Stock and Julie Bindel last week launched the Lesbian Project, a new organisation, dedicated to the understanding and enhancement of lesbian lives in the UK. Its patron is Martina Navratilova.
In a piece in the Observer Stock explains why it’s needed: “The data on lesbians is not good enough. How do lesbians feature in the UK labour market? How are they faring in same-sex marriages and civil partnerships? How does the lesbian experience of motherhood differ from the heterosexual one? What are lesbians’ specific health needs?”
Arguably LGBT groups like Stonewall should be undertaking this research but they are not. Indeed a piece of research in 2019 by Professor Michael Biggs showed that the word lesbian appeared only 16 times in five years’ worth of Stonewall reports.
There is concern among older lesbians That it just isn’t cool to be lesbian. That it is better today for young women and girls to come out as non-binary, queer or even trans. The Lesbian Project want to reclaim the word and put some pride back into it.
The fact that a very high proportion of girls referred to Gender Identity Services for their gender dysphoria are actually same sex attracted is further proof that this timely. It might be that these girls feel it is more socially acceptable to be trans than to be lesbian. Indeed in Hannah Barnes’ brilliant book Time To Think, The Inside Story of the Collapse of the Tavistock’s Gender Service for Children she reveals from her interviews with ex staff that there was certainly an amount of homophobia (and lesbophobia) around the service. Sexuality of children presenting with gender dysphoria was rarely explored.
“Same-sex-attracted females are not going anywhere, but public understanding of them is disappearing and younger lesbians in particular are paying the price – however they identify, and whatever they call themselves. We think our task is urgent. We are keen to get started.” Says Stock
You can read further background and detail of the Lesbian Project here
And listen to Kathleen Stock talk further about it on Woman’s Hour here