EL*C – EuroCentralAsian Lesbian* Community works to improve the rights, visibility, and well-being of lesbians throughout Europe and Central Asia. This report focuses on lesbophobic violence and discrimination, with a special focus on lesbophobic aspects of harmful practices. The EL*C Observatory on Lesbophobia was launched in Feb 2022 and collected cases from 50 collaborators. The EL*C issues a recommendation to policymakers and public authorities to address lesbophobia, gender-based violence and hate crime against lesbians.
* Please note that the total number of cases reported does not reflect the extent of lesbophobic cases in the countries presented. The extent of reporting is influenced by each organization’s capacity to register cases and the media’s willingness to report on lesbophobia.
40% of cases concerned violence in public spaces, 63% of cases of lesbophobia in public spaces involve couples, with physical aggression often following a refusal to perform certain acts such as refusing the kiss or let a man “join”. Gender expression and non-compliance with gender roles can also trigger violence. The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the situation, with many reporting feeling insecure and experiencing police abuse. Lesbians face violence from family members, including lesbophobic and transphobic murders, and the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the risks. Online spaces have seen an increase in hate speech and patriarchal and misogynistic behaviour. Lesbians face lesbophobic and sexist online insults, disadvantaged online searches and social media, and violence against activists in European and Central Asian countries.
Lesbophobic violence is used to limit the space and freedom of expression that lesbian civil society enjoy in society. In 2021, EL*C identified gaps and challenges in access to justice and support systems and conducted a follow-up survey in November 2022. Legislative gaps in many countries prevent lesbophobic motives from being considered as aggravating circumstances in cases of violent crime against women and LGBTI people, leading to reduced sentences. The European Court of Human Rights found Croatian authorities inadequately responded to a lesbophobic attack. Survivors of lesbophobic violence often fear encountering secondary victimization and lesbophobia when approaching law enforcement and judicial authorities. Lesbians face gender-based violence and lesbophobia, which is underreported and misrepresented in the media.
Politicians and public figures spread hateful narratives without consequence, leading to physical and psychological harm. Lesbians experience violence and lesbophobia in Europe and Central Asia, leading to barriers in accessing justice, prevention and protection. Heteronormative attitudes towards female sexuality create additional difficulties for lesbians experiencing harmful practices such as FGM.
Lesbians face lesbophobia, honour-related crimes and unequal access to public spaces, leading to human rights violations and violence in the family.
The recommendations of the EL*C in order to combat and address lesbophobia include: explicitly identify lesbophobia as violence at the intersection of homophobia and misogyny; adapt the psychological support and training of healthcare professionals to the realities and difficulties experienced by lesbians; ensure that all incidents of gender-based violence and domestic violence against lesbians are properly and effectively recorded; ensure adequate, accessible, and reliable funding for projects and activities implemented by organisations focused on and led by lesbians; ensure that the training of relevant professionals include sensitization on the specific needs and challenges faced by lesbians; consider, in legislation concerning sexual violence, the increased risk for lesbians; organise public campaigns to counter violence experienced by lesbians in public spaces, in the family and online; address, in legislation concerning domestic, intra-family violence and “honour crimes”, the specific vulnerabilities of lesbians; and ensure that relevant services take into account lesbians’ experience when providing support.
The experiences of older lesbians in Europe have been largely invisible in research and society, with little attention paid to their financial situation, access to healthcare and housing, and the impact of discrimination on their lives. EL*C’s groundbreaking report “Making the Invisible Visible: an analysis of older lesbians’ lived experiences” seeks to address this gap by providing qualitative insights, recommendations for policy makers and service providers and by reflecting on the historical circumstances, intersecting discrimination and misconception that influence the decision making of authorities and service providers.
The report highlights the limitations of the FRA 2019 LGBTI survey in terms of not adequately representing EL*C’s target group, including lesbians aged 55+. It also notes that women are generally underrepresented in the data, and that the sample sizes for some countries are too small for quantitative analysis. The report employs a multi-methodological approach, including desk research, quantitative analysis of the FRA data, and qualitative interviews to analyze the experiences and needs of senior lesbians in the following European Union member states: Greece, Hungary, Czech Republic, Austria, Italy, Germany, Sweden, France, Spain and Portugal.
Financial insecurity is a major issue for many older lesbians, at the intersection of different societal phenomenona, with women in general tending to be in temporary, part-time or precarious employment, and LGBTI older persons at greater financial risk. Lesbian retirees and women-only households face heightened exposure to precarious employment, contributing to the gender pension gap and old age poverty. Patriarchal pension systems benefit men who were married, while senior lesbians struggle with financial insecurity and isolation.
Older lesbians also face discrimination in healthcare systems, with misogyny being a key factor. Discrimination impacts general health, with many senior lesbians facing unmet healthcare needs due to minority stress and exclusionary healthcare. Mental health issues, including depression, are common.
Housing is another area of concern for many older lesbians, with 19% experiencing difficulties in this area, which is higher than cis men of the same age range. Access to private property may be limited due to family rejection and marriage laws. Discrimination in care facilities is also prevalent, with many older lesbians fearing being forced to hide their identity. Senior lesbians often do not feel comfortable in “mainstream” senior spaces,may fear how others will react negatively and are therefore forced back into the closet.
Lesbian activists and their allies featured in this research have found solutions to the many issues highlighted in this research. Lesben und Alter, a lesbian organisation focusing on older lesbian in Germany, provides help and support, creates community and organises training for healthcare and longcare professionals. Individual activists and informal groups are very active in the EU. LGBTI, feminist and elderly organisations in Greece, Spain, Sweden, Czech Republic and Portugal are including a lesbian and gender-aware perspective in their work.
Many older lesbians have had to face systematic discrimination and violence in their lifetime, both in society and within their families of origin. Thus, they were obliged to mobilise resources, find creative solutions and develop strong intergenerational networks to cope with this situation and with unwanted loneliness. Much more can be done, and it is now time that older lesbians are supported in this endeavor. For this reason, the report highlights the need for more actions from public authorities and academic institutions.
Read the full report: Making the Invisible Visible: an analysis of older lesbians lived experiences
The year 2022 has been extremely challenging and has therefore produced many concrete results. First of all, as already mentioned in the introduction, we have been mobilised by an important series of aid actions in Ukraine.
The implementation of the “Partnership agreement” with the European Commission allowed us to strengthen our procedures and internal organisation, to enlarge our network, to prepare a first cycle of training for the different lesbian associations on the ground and to carry out an even more precise and qualitative advocacy with our partners.
We also organised two major events, the third EL*C conference in Budapest and for the first time the International Lesbian Visibility Awards.
Our presence in the media (mainstream and social networks) was very important, allowing us to give visibility to a wide range of lesbian experiences.
Last but not least, our advocacy and research work has generated a great amount of groundbreaking new data on lesbians’ lives. 2022 was also the year when a more structured approach to advocacy activities was possible and a continuous presence to decision making tables and to processes was finally achievable at all levels with a specific focus on EU institutions, the Council of Europe and United Nations.
In the current rise of far right discourses, nationalism and anti-gender movements, lesbophobia is present now more than ever but it remains a phenomenon misunderstood, underestimated and often not even nominated. For this reason, in the past months, EL*C has taken action, collecting cases and data from all over Europe and Central Asia, consulting with all its members’ organisations and discussing with lesbians active in many different contexts.
The results of this work are now available in a new report that show how misogyny plays a fundamental role in lesbophobia and how lesbophobic hate crimes are used to silence, punish and oppress lesbians. Yet analysis, policies and legislation on gender-based violence and hate crime do not consider the specifities of lesbophobia and once again lesbian falls between the cracks. Long before this report, lesbians have been analysing and raising awareness on lesbophobia, because we were aware that not speaking about it will not make lesbophobia disappear, it will just make it stronger. Data and information are here, it is now time to listen and act.
About lesbian identities and intersectional oppressions
In the title of this report, we have decided to refer to lesbophobia as an “intersectional” form of violence, because it relates always to oppressions depending both on gender inequalities as well as to stigma against non-conforming sexual orientation. It is however important to note that intersectionality is a term coined and conceptualised by Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989[a] and related originally to experience of oppression of black women, at the intersection between gender and race. Since then, intersectional analysis has been used, in different contexts, to identify and analyze forms of oppressions based on the interlocking of different social identities.
Therefore, we are aware that the experience of lesbophobia is not homogenous in our community. We want to put a focus on lesbophobia in this report while not forgetting that the levels of stigma multiply and intensify depending on other perceived or claimed social identities, such as ‘gender identity’, ‘race,’ ‘citizenship status’, ‘refugee/asylum seeker status’, ‘class,’ or ‘ableness.’ and others that a lesbian might embody. From this shared, but different, history of oppression we work to build a community and allyship capable of freeing every lesbians, even when our shackles are not the same[b].
[a] K. Crenshaw (1989) “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics”, University of Chicago Legal Forum, Vol. 1989 Issue 1, Article 8.
[b] The reference here is to the phrase “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own” pronounced by Audre Lorde in the speech “THE USES OF ANGER: WOMEN RESPONDING TO RACISM”, keynote presentation at the 1981 National Women’s Studies Association Conference, Storrs, Connecticut
The EuroCentralAsian Lesbian* Community will present today the first ever research focusing on lesbian lives and realities in Europe, titled: The State of Lesbian Organizing and the Lived Realities of Lesbians in the EU and the Accession Countries.
This research comes at a time in which the awareness around the exclusion and invisibility of lesbians is growing, and as an increasing number of stakeholders express willingness to engage in a more meaningful way on advancing human rights and visibility of lesbians.
Yet, even though societies and movements in the EU, and to some extent the accession countries, have come a long way in advancing the rights of LGBTI persons and women’s rights, lesbians still face strong discrimination, violence and stigma. Lesbians are one of the most marginalized, vulnerable and invisible social groups, affected by patriarchal gender norms, misogyny, sexism and lesbophobia, which is still widespread throughout the EU and the accession countries.
The lack of capacities, strategic and sustained mobilization of the lesbian movement is hindering effective impact on national authorities, policy reform and decision-making, which is further exacerbated by lack of awareness, data, impact assessment and in some contexts, the political will of decision makers, which in turn results in lesbian-specific issues being unrecognized and absent from policy-making.
The work has been conducted from October 2019 to January 2020. Since the start of the research, the Coronavirus pandemic has re-shuffled the global list of priorities and exacerbating the already existing oppressions and violence experienced by minority groups, like people of color, women, people with disabilities, LGBTI and queer persons. The global crisis has affected lesbians as everyone else, but also in so many specific and intersectional ways.
This research is the starting point to fill the gaps. You will find in it an analysis of three main areas: the history of the European lesbian movements, existing data on lesbians, and the state of affairs of lesbian organizing.
The EL*C, would like to use this opportunity to acknowledge the amazing contribution of the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, one of the main actors in Europe working to counter lesbian invisibility. The study that we were able to conduct during almost half a year was made possible thanks to its willingness, visionary political objectives and support.
Find the Short Version here after. A Full Version of this report will be available very soon:
[embeddoc url=”https://europeanlesbianconference.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/The-State-of-Lesbian-Organising-1.pdf” download=”all” text=”Lesbian Organising and the Lived Realities”]
One of the tools of the EL*C that is aimed at empowering and informing lesbians* throughout Europe is this paper – EL*C Brief Report on Lesbian* Lives in (parts of) Europe Focus Topics: Discrimination and Health The EL*C Brief Report is meant to highlight recent empirical findings on lesbian* lives in Europe in an easy and accessible way for everyone. As there is scarce public data and research on the diverse experiences in all areas of lesbian* lives, our aim is to publish annual focus topics. For the launch report, the two focus topics are Discrimination and Health because of their various interrelations as well as their fundamental and positive impact on lesbians* lives when properly addressed by key stakeholders. In this line, the EL*C Brief Report is an ongoing project, that is meant to grow over the years with the contribution of researchers and activists alike. Please let us know (see our email address below) about any research endeavour that could contribute to the EL*C Brief Report and shed light on lesbian* lives.
We thank the various people who have made this report possible: We thank all the lesbians* brave enough to share their experiences with the world and the researchers who dedicated their energy, time, and creativity to collecting and analyzing these experiences. We thank the Fundamental Rights Agency of the European Union for conducting the invaluable and unique EU LGBT survey and sharing their disaggregated data with everyone. We thank the EL*C Board-Members for providing their valuable feedback throughout all stages of drafting this report. We thank Mari-Liis Sepper from Transgender Europe and Kseniya Kirichenko from The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association for providing their professional opinion on various aspects of this report. We thank Dovilė Alseikaitė and Helene Traxler for working their magic and sharing their incredible talent with us in designing this brochure and the corresponding infographics. We thank Katrin Gygax for her tremendous and professional proof-reading. We thank the participants of the first EL*C and the innumerable volunteers and local organization teams for making it a colourful, vibrant, empowering, and unique experience for everyone. Last but not least, we thank our partners, families, and friends for bringing love and joy into our lives.