Zachari – My Story
I came out (to myself) as a lesbian at the age of 14. I had been at a particular children’s home for the last 2 years but felt that I was not able to share this information. I did not want to compromise my placement by outing myself as I had already moved around enough before this placement. As a child, I found it very difficult to communicate with both adults and children and thus did not have many friends: I felt being bullied was a high risk factor. Since reading my files I have come across some sections where my sexual identity was questioned by my social worker and members of staff in the different homes I was in.
A focal point of many LGBT lives is their coming out story. Inevitably, one of the first sets of questions when LGBT people meet are: Are you ‘out’? How/when did you come ‘out’? To be ‘out’ means to have informed others of your sexual identity/orientation: to claim an identity category other than heterosexual. When recalling this data, nearly everyone recalls the moment they came out to their family; in particular, their parents. This coming out is often the most traumatic and fraught experience, with questions such as: will they reject me or disown me? Will they still love me? Can they accept who I am? Many LGBT care leavers, however, do not have a typical coming out story. Indeed, many do not have parents to come out to and in the case of foster parents many feel that they would compromise their placement if they divulged this information. To come out in children’s homes or secure units, housing 5 – 30+ children, means there is also a justified fear and risk of being bullied. As a result, many stay silent and feel they have to work through any issues on their own.
However, coming out is an event that LGBT people face on an ongoing, sometimes daily basis. Not only have LGBT people had to hide their sexual orientation when growing up in the care system, but now, as adults, they are placed in positions were they have to explain their care status to fellow LGBT people. In stating that they have no coming out story, or are not willing/able to divulge this information, they may be at risk of becoming outcast from yet another social group.
Mental Health Register
Until 1973, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) defined homosexuality as a mental illness (DePoy, E and French Gilson, S. (2007) The Human Experience: Description, explanation and judgement. Rowman and Littlefield. Page 224 and Stein, M. (2004) Encyclopaedia of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered History in America. Michigan: University of Michigan).
Difficult though it is to believe, it is a documented fact that the British Government did not remove homosexuality from its International Classification of Disease list (the list used by, amongst other things, the Mental Health Services in Britain to determine mental illnesses) until 1994. In other words, until just  years ago, the British Government’s official stance on homosexuality was that it was a mental disorder which might have a cure. (www.planetsappho.com)
Still to this day, transsexualism is on this list and is considered a body dismorphic disorder that requires psychiatric intervention. Male-to-female transgendered people, in particular, find it difficult to hide their identity, whilst female-to-male have a history of finding it easier to hide under the category of ‘tomboy’. Nevertheless, the emotional impact is still overwhelming.
The Thatcher government introduced Section 28 (also known as Clause 28) on the 7th December 1987 to the House of Commons, but it was not approved until 24th May 1988. Although the focus of this Section was on teachers and education, the stipulation applied to all local authority employees; including social workers, foster carers and residential social workers (RSWs).
Section 28 states:
Prohibition on promoting homosexuality by teaching or by publishing material
(1) The following section shall be inserted after section 2 of the [1986 c. 10.] Local Government Act 1986 (prohibition of political publicity)—
“2A Prohibition on promoting homosexuality by teaching or by publishing material
(1) A local authority shall not—
(a) intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality;
(b) promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.
In practice this meant that no local authority could promote or accept homosexuality in a positive way. As a result, young people in care were denied the space to discuss their sexuality, and the support and acceptance of their sexual identity. In some cases, this meant active discrimination. Bullying by staff and by fellow looked after children were a couple of ways in which this was manifested.
Section 28 was first challenged on the 7th February 2000 but the challenge was defeated by Baroness Young and others. Stonewall and other leading LGBT campaign groups called for the abolition of this Section and finally won its reppeal on the 28th November 2003.
Section 28 and Sexual health
One of the main areas in which Section 28 impacted upon the lives of LGBT young people in the care system was through the lack of information and support regarding their sexual health needs. Through entering into discussions regarding the sexual health needs of their young people, social workers, foster carers, RSW’s etc. could have been seen to be ‘promoting homosexuality.’ Many therefore avoided the subject completely.
‘Families of Choice’
This particular phrase comes from a book by Kath Weston (1991) of the same title. This book explored how LGBT people, who are often rejected by their biological family members, developed families of choice in the San Francisco Bay Area (California, USA). Now more widely claimed, these families include friends who many call brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, mum and dad and so on and so forth. These people, although not biologically related, represent roles and feelings in accordance with those titles. Many care leavers are also placed in similar positions, where they too may develop families of choice. These may include former foster parents, people they grew up in care with, former social workers and RSWs etc.
For LGBT care leavers in particular this has been made ever more problematic due to the law that has governed LGBT rights for a number of years. For example, it was only in November 2004 that Civil Partnerships for Lesbian and Gay couples became legal. Although offering Lesbian and Gay couples similar rights as married/cohabiting heterosexual couples, future relationships and the development of their own families (particularly within the law) have been somewhat restricted. A particular example of this is in relation to having children.
- Until recently, anyone identifying as LGBT were prevented from fostering or adopting (I refer the reader to paragraph 16 of the Adoption and Children’s Act 2002).
- Lesbians were also refused IVF based on the notion that there was nothing biologically amiss, but that, instead, they were actively making choices about their sexuality.
- Children’s birth certificates only allow the registration of one mother and one father, leaving many LGBT parents unacknowledged and many LGBT care leavers without the ability to (legally) belong – yet again.
(For more details see www.stonewall.org.uk)
Many care leavers may also struggle with identifying a next of kin. Within the law, if any of us were to have an accident that required a stay in hospital any medical practitioner would be fully entitled to restrict access to us unless they were our next of kin. There is a long history of this within the LGBT community as well (in particular relation to the hospitalised patients, next of kin being the main protagonists restricting this access). Our next of kin is classified through biological links or marital (or now civil partnership) ties. If these circumstances are not applicable to us then we are left without a next of kin.
Why do we have an LGBT representative?
Although the law is slowly changing, societal views are still somewhat lagging behind. We know all too well the social stigma of being a care leaver, but there is also still a stigma attached to being LGBT which double binds our identity.
As an organisation, we feel that the ongoing needs/issues of care leavers are central to the political aims and objectives of our cause. LGBT care leavers face a number of ongoing issues that are both general to the wider population of care leavers but are also specific to an LGBT identity. We feel that an LGBT-specific representative will enable LGBT care leavers to come forward and a) tell their story b) help us, through wider representation, understand the wider needs of some care leavers c) which will, in turn, inform specific campaign areas. We also hope, in the not to distant future, that research in this area can also inform the policy outcomes of the organisation and would thus encourage any care leaver interested to take part in this.
Having an LGBT representative also synchronises with the Association’s overall aims and objectives. In highlighting the discrimination of LGBT care leavers (during and after leaving the system) we can promote the need for equal opportunity and specific training of social workers, foster carers, leaving care workers and RSWs on this issue to help better support LGBT people within the system and upon leaving the system.
The provision of support and information is one of the Association’s core motivations. Once informed, people have better control over their choices and direction; thus directive user involvement and empowering frameworks are essential.
Finally, through the promotion, carrying out and publishing of research we can heighten the public and political awareness of those needs central to the diverse range of care leavers.
What we aim to do
Although LGB is no longer on the mental health register and Section 28 has been repealed, the psychological and social implications are lasting and still apparent. The reality is that many practitioners working with young people are not aware of the abolition of Section 28 or, indeed, how to work generically with LGBT groups within their care. This presents a wall of silence: a barrier to any way forward.
In challenging this we aim to:
- Inform social service departments that the Section 28 bill is no longer in force.
- Develop a leaflet about working with LGBT children in care and care leavers.
- Develop, through research, areas to target through campaigning strategies.
Useful resources and contact information
Stonewall – On the 27th June 1969 the Stonewall Pub was overtaken by police in one of the largest LGBT conflicts in history. Lasting several days and with many arrested it proved to be turning point for LGB liberation and action during the 1970s and 80s. In 1989 Stonewall was set up in memory of this and has become the world’s leading campaign group for the rights of LGB people – www.stonewall.org.uk or tel: 08000 50 20 20
SIRCC ‘Supporting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Young People in Residential Care’. A research document from the Scottish Institute of Residential Child Care.
Lesbian and Gay Switchboard – formed in 1974. Based in London but is a nationwide service – www.llgs.org.uk or tel: 0207 7837 7324
DIVA – A lesbian magazine that connects communities all over the world. Highlights political, social, popular issues for the lesbian community – www.divamag.co.uk
Gay Times – A gay male magazine that connects communities all over the world. Highlights political, social, popular issues for the gay male community. Although this magazine is the oldest there are is also Attitude and AXM – www.gaytimes.co.uk
LGF Manchester – The Lesbian and Gay Foundation based in Manchester is hailed as an epicentre/community centre for the LGBT community. Facilities and resources from groups, art projects to counselling and legal services the LGF is a place where many LGBT people go to seek support. Excellent signposting base – www.lgf.org.uk or tel: 0161 235 8035
LGBT Consortium – An index of national and local LGBT voluntary and community groups and organisations – www.lgbtconsortium.org.uk
LGBT NUS – The National Union of Students LGBT representatives – www.officeronline.co.uk/lgbt/
42nd Street – Offers a wide variety of services for young people aged 17 – 25 in one building. Based in Manchester 42nd Street has recently developed a dedicated service for LGBT youth – www.fortysecondstreet.org.uk
Albert Kennedy Trust – The trust supports LGBT homeless people – www.akt.org.uk
The Gender Trust – a key ‘public-facing’ UK trans organisation – www.gendertrust.org.uk
Press for Change – primary UK trans parliamentary/legal campaigner and lobbying group – www.pfc.org.uk
Transyouth – UK-based youth trans group
There are many other services for the LGBT community, both locally and nationally. If you would like any further guidance do not hesitate to get in touch and we will do our best to point you in the right direction.