From education to the workplace to building a rainbow family, there are still many areas of life where lesbians don’t yet have true equality.
In the 1980s, the decade in which we were founded, 'lesbian' was a word that carried a lot of stigma. It was commonly thrown around as a slur – and media representation of lesbians, where little they could be found, mostly concentrated on perpetrating a few, narrow stereotypes.
Thankfully, public attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people have come a long way since then, and we now have many more spaces in which to celebrate all the wonderful forms that queer womanhood can take.
However, our work is not done; many of us sadly still experience discrimination, exclusion, and abuse. And for lesbians, these challenges are often compounded by the intersection between misogyny and homophobia.
At Stonewall, we work to support lesbian women to ensure they are free to be themselves in every part of their lives. Here are just some of our current campaigns and priorities:
1. We campaign for LGBTQ-inclusive education.
The things we learn at school stay with us for a lifetime.
In these critical years, we learn about ourselves, each other, and all the wonderful differences that make up our world. We also learn how we fit into this world. And every child, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, deserves to feel they belong.
Speaking as a queer daughter and mother, Rachel Watkeys-Dowie said to her mum, Claire Dowie, “I knew that my family were queer, but ‘lesbian’ felt like a dirty word in school.” Despite growing up with a queer mother, Rachel still struggled with her identity due to a lack of LGBTQ-inclusive education at school.
We know from our work that an inclusive education can be life changing. And not just for LGBTQ+ people. Our research shows that all children and young people benefit when they learn about the diverse range of people who make up their communities, when they understand the many different ways families can look, and when they feel recognised and respected by their teachers as well as their peers.
Along with our LGBTQ-inclusive education campaign, we also run the Stonewall Young Futures programme, a digital platform supporting LGBTQ+ young people taking the next step into education, training or work.
2. We’re fighting for equal access to fertility healthcare.
Everyone deserves the chance to grow a family, no matter their sexuality or gender identity.
Unfortunately, as things stand, there are significant practical and financial costs facing many lesbians, bi women, and trans people who want to have children.
A survey of LBTQ+ women and non-binary people conducted by Stonewall and DIVA Magazine found that 36% of respondents with children had experienced barriers or challenges when growing their family. One in five of those stated that the greatest barrier or challenge was the high cost of private fertility treatment.
That’s why we’re asking you to exercise your rights as a constituent and write to your MP to demand equal access to IVF for LGBTQ+ people. You can use our tool to see the state of play in your local area, and request that your representative calls on the UK Government’s Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to commit to a review of the inequality in access to NHS-funded fertility services in England.
We must speak up together to ensure that lesbians, and other LGBTQ+ people who want to conceive, have equal access to NHS-funded care.
3. We champion LGBTQ+ inclusion in sport - on and off the pitch.
Sport and physical activity can bring so many benefits to our lives – not just in terms of our wellbeing, but also in the ways they bring people together. People from all walks of life can gain a sense of belonging and community through shared passion. And LGBTQ+ people deserve to be a part of this. We shouldn’t feel excluded or shut out just because of who we are.
Yet, many lesbians still feel unwelcome. Research shows that 14% of lesbians have refrained from certain sports on grounds of their sexual orientation, and 15% of lesbians have had negative personal experiences while playing sport. That’s why, along with year-round programmes, we run our Rainbow Laces campaign each November. Visibility is important, but it alone is not enough – now, our Rainbow Laces are a symbol of commitment to driving meaningful change.
We also are proud to work with a number of lesbians as part of our cohort of Sport Champions.
4. We’re calling for a complete ban on conversion therapy that leaves no one behind.
LGBTQ+ people have nothing to be ashamed of and there is nothing wrong or broken about who we are. Our sexual orientations and gender identities are diverse and should be celebrated. Yet conversion practices are still legal and still happening in the UK today.
According to the UK Government’s own research, 7% of LGBT people have been offered or undergone conversion therapy – which refers to any form of treatment or psychotherapy which aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or to suppress a person’s gender identity.
Emily is a lesbian who experienced conversion practices in her church. She said: “During the year I had conversion therapy, I started to self-harm and became very depressed. I was frightened about what my sexuality meant for my future.”
Emily is one of many lesbians who have been subjected to conversion practices. To show your support for a full ban on conversion therapy, you can ask your MP to urge the UK Government to commit to a clear timeline, and to make sure the ban protects all LGBTQ+ people from abuse.
5. We advocate for the rights of lesbians, bi women, and trans (LBT+) people worldwide.
While we know that lesbians, bi women, and trans people face systemic exclusion and injustice, there is very little research looking specifically at their needs and rights. As a result, global movements aren’t able to address the unique issues that affect them. On top of this, the few existing campaigns in place often ignore intersectional approaches that are better able to explain the multiple problems faced by LBT+ people.
Our Out of the Margins programme works with 27 organisations across three world regions – Sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and Central Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean – to deepen evidence for international advocacy on LBT+ inequalities and rights violations, and raise the visibility of LBT+ rights issues globally. We then harness this evidence to advocate for change that aims to offer opportunities, visibility, and safety for LBT+ people worldwide.
6. We engage with workplaces so LGBTQ+ employees feel free to be themselves.
The best employers understand why all their employees should feel welcome, respected and represented at work. They know that inclusion drives better individual and organisational outcomes. And they believe that staff must be able to bring their whole selves to work.
However, inclusion isn’t a given. Our research shows that more than a third of LGBT staff (35 per cent) have hidden that they are LGBT at work for fear of discrimination, which includes 4 per cent of lesbians.
“I joined the fire service 28 years ago, when it was very male dominated. I was told by my Area Manager at the time that I had two problems as far as he could see – that I was a woman and that I was gay,” said Mani, Area Manager at Kent Fire and Rescue Service.
“Fire and rescue services are in a very different place today. The inclusive culture at Kent is a big positive. People are very welcoming; we have a much larger, more diverse workforce. The best thing for me is that I have a real opportunity to influence everybody's behaviours, how we recruit, and who we recruit. It isn’t all about being macho and having the biggest biceps in the world anymore. It's about how you treat and respect people.”
To make a difference to people like Mani, we work with over 900 organisations as part of our Diversity Champions programme, offering training and workshops to make sure all LGBTQ+ people feel respected and included at work.