It is also not enough to say, "Our door is open to everyone,"
because of the array of barriers blocking that door for lesbians
generally. Just as every agency today knows that an open door
at the top of a flight of stairs is not as accessible to women
confined to wheelchairs as it is to able-bodied women, agencies
must realize that they have to construct 'ramps' for lesbians
Although it is true than some lesbians place barriers upon themselves
through learned behaviours such as fear of rejection and fear for
safety, lesbians are, in fact, rejected for being lesbians, and
do, in fact, experience circumstances that are not safe, just
because they are lesbians. To say as one respondent did that the
barrier that prevents lesbians from accessing services is "the
perception of the gay/lesbian community that they require services
specialized in gay/lesbian issues" is to ignore the dominant social
"It is important to understand, then, that lesbian
battering happens in a problematic social context. It should
not be a surprise that lesbians are very hesitant to identify
themselves to health professionals [or service providers]. Lesbians
who are battered face an abuse of power and control at two levels—from
the batterer in her intimate world, and in the public or social
world from institutional agents, professionals, community members
and lawmakers. It is every health [and service] worker's responsibility
to acknowledge the social bases of discrimination and take actions
in order to create safety for women."
(Assisting Abused Lesbians: A Guide for health
Homophobia and heterosexism, or the fear of same, as well as lack
of information re services, fear of being 'outed' in the general
community, 'butchness', and concerns about reporting abuse by
a woman and about the level of knowledge and understanding of
lesbian issues on the part of the service provider, are all real
barriers specific to lesbians that keep them from accessing the
services of abuse help agencies (again, see the Individual Analysis).
Again, in order to help lesbians overcome those barriers, agencies
must do more than just 'open their doors'. Here are some examples
of strategies that can improve an agency's accessibility for lesbians:
service providers, London Abuse Women's Centre, 1994)
- Display posters, pictures and art work that depict positive
- Display posters and provide pamphlets that invite lesbians
to use your services
- Display posters and provide pamphlets on same-sex abuse.
- Distribute information re services so that it will reach
lesbians (see Appendix F for relevant publications, for example)
- Maintain an up-to-date referral list specifically for lesbians
- Include information on lesbian abuse when making presentations,
applying for funding, collecting statistics
- Conduct ongoing employee training (including support staff)
and workshops on heterosexism, homophobia, and diversity.
- Assess agency intake and assessment forms for inclusiveness.
- Provide books for children with same-sex parents (e.g. Heather
has Two Mommies)
- Ensure it is safe for staff to be 'out' at work.
- Adopt affirmative action plans to ensure diverse representation.
- Use inclusive language comfortably. (It is also important
to remember to use the language the client uses. She may not
want to be labeled as lesbian or bisexual.)
- Inform interventions with a consideration of the very real
stigmatization and discrimination faced by lesbians
- Sensitize the Board of Directors to the need for accessible
services for ALL people.
- Do not assume the abuser is a he. Use gender-neutral language
(e.g. partner, abuser, they, etc).
Adapted from Women Hurting Women Workshop and
Assisting Abused Lesbians
Of the 39 respondents that said their agency's services are lesbian
friendly, only 18 (46%) make any efforts to inform the 'lesbian
community' that their services are lesbian friendly, and only
14 (36%) openly display sexual minority material. 13% of rural
respondents openly display sexual minority material in comparison
with 61% of urban respondents, even though 77% of rural agencies
said their services are lesbian friendly, as opposed to 72% of
urban. (To conduct a comprehensive evaluation of your agency's
services re accessibility, see Appendix
G, 'Evaluating Your Service for Accessibility for Lesbians'.)
A final point re "Our door is open to everyone": Is not that open
door also open to homophobes and heterosexists? (It was surprising
that more shelters were concerned about a lesbian's abusive partner
getting into the shelter than were concerned about the homophobia/heterosexism
of other residents.)