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Update & Response on Equal Status Bill

LEA/NOW update

We are more than half way through 1999 and therefore four months away from the completion of the LEA/NOW project. As with all development work it's been a struggle but none the less productive. We have been working on three levels throughout the year:

  • education and outreach 
  • pr/communications
  • policy development 

Our two clear aims throughout the year have been to: 

  1. increase positive lesbian visibility throughout Ireland 
  2. to ensure continuity in relation to lesbian development 

The recent lesbian billboard campaign has come to an end and was covered by all the major newspapers in Ireland. This was strengthened by the radio coverage throughout Ireland. We have been hugely struck by how positive the response has been and we can only hope that this accurately reflects the opinions out there. "The times they are a changing......" Public Communications Centre worked closely with LEA on the design and production of the campaign. There were 17 billboards in Dublin, two in Cork, one in Limerick, one in Galway, one in Belfast and one in Derry. This campaign was accompanied by an Information Pack which was distributed to politicians, civil servants and the community and voluntary sector. 

In preparing for the campaign LEA ran two media training courses with CARR Communications. Lesbians and their parents from throughout Ireland were asked to participate in this training. The feedback was very positive and one woman was quoted as saying "it was a chance in a lifetime". We hope that this training will stand to the community over time and enable lesbians to take control of their media needs. Thanks to all the participants for giving up their valuable time.

LEA has run a number of workshops throughout the year and requests are still coming in to the education/outreach co-ordinator. We have worked with Maynooth Community Development students, Galway University students, secondary schools and various community groups. All this work is focused on raising awareness of the issues facing lesbians today, challenging heterosexism and homophobia, and finding ways of moving forward positively together. If your group would like us to work with you please contact the LEA Office.

You might have seen us recently in the Temple Bar area of Dublin?! We were working with Cinekill recording the new Educational video that will be completed by the end of July and launched in September. This video is designed to compliment the LOT Information and Resource Pack and can be used for work with groups. We are presently working on a distribution strategy for both and we expect this work to continue up to December 1999. We will be targeting in particular Education providers and policy makers - we'll keep you updated on any developments.

LEA has always been aware of the need to support lesbian development work regionally. We have always had a vision of spreading resources as far as possible to support as many lesbians as possible. With this view we have continued to explore the setting up of An All Ireland Lesbian Network. To date the vision of an All Ireland Lesbian Network is still valid however regional groups first need to be supported to organise before the wider vision can be achieved. LEA is presently supporting a group in Cork (Cairde Corcai) to organise around issues affecting them locally. This group has completed a very impressive work programme, located premises in Cork and is working positively on lesbian development work in the area. 

A similar programme of work has been put in place in Galway with a group known as GALA. This group has a new development worker on board and has located premises in Galway. Again their plans are impressive and we look forward to working with and supporting them throughout. 

Our work with LOT (Lesbian Organising Together) has been most productive throughout the year. We have been struggling with the question "where to from here?" in relation to lesbian development after 2000. So much has happened over the years and so much has been achieved on behalf of lesbians. However, we believe the time is right to once again ask Dublin lesbians what they hope to see happen in the future. With this in mind LEA and LOT are working with NEXUS research in distributing a questionnaire to lesbians throughout Dublin. This information will be analysed by NEXUS and the information will be available from September onwards. This research has been funded by the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs. 

LEA has continued to establish links in the North and is presently working with Lesbian Links. This is a cross border project that aims to gather photographic images representing lesbian lives as we move into the millennium These photographs will be exhibited in Belfast and Derry in November. All photographs are welcome (black and white) so get out there with your cameras!! 

LEA is currently sponsoring Equality Studies in UCD to introduce a new course in the academic year 1999/2000 on Sexual Orientation; the course will be offered as part of both the Higher Diploma and Master of Equality Studies courses. We are delighted with this opportunity and hope to build on such opportunities at mainstreaming in the future. A similar approach has been taken with WERRC and LEA is providing funding for the planning and development of a new Certificate in Lesbian Studies. 

Over the last year LEA has produced a number of policy documents and attended a number of policy fora to enable the inclusion of lesbian issues on the National Policy agenda. To date we have produced the following:

  • LEA Strategic Policy Document for 1999 
  • Submission to the Government in response to the Government Green Paper Supporting Voluntary Activity, The Community and Voluntary Sector and its Relationship with the State. 
  • Submission on the Equal Status Bill 1999 

We are currently working on a submission to the new Equality Authority - this piece of work has a deadline of the 17th September and will be available for distribution thereafter. A submission on Lesbian Health is also being prepared and this will be targeted at Health providers and policy makers. 

LEA has teamed up with the Community Workers Co-operative and we will be running a joint workshop to explore why lesbian issues are issues for community work practice. This workshop will take place on the 2nd October. 

This is just some of the work that LEA has been involved in throughout the year. This work would not have been possible without the commitment of the staff and management group of LEA. The management group in particular has been a source of great support and hours have been put in beyond the call of duty.

We are sorry to say that we have had a number of management changes in the last month with the loss of Ursula Barry, Niamh Reilly, Linda Cullen and Deborah Ballard. We wish them the very best and thank them for their commitment and support throughout.

Anita Thoma has resigned as PR/Communications Officer and the project wishes to thank her for her work and wish her the very best in her future career. 

Response to the Equal Status Bill 1999 and Recommendations for Change. 

June 1999

LEA is sponsored by LOT (Lesbians Organising Together) and is the first lesbian project in the European Union to be funded under the EU European Social Fund Community Initiative: EMPLOYMENT-NOW (New Opportunities for Women). 

LEA is committed to combating institutional discrimination and social prejudice against lesbians and to contributing to the ongoing development of a vibrant lesbian community in Ireland. As individuals, and as a community, lesbians have to deal with discrimination and homophobia on a regular basis.

It is important to bear in mind that lesbians are not a homogenous group and include women of colour, Traveller women, women with disabilities etc. Therefore many lesbians are experiencing multiple discrimination on the grounds of their sexual orientation and other grounds as defined under the Equal Status Bill. 

LEA welcomes the publication of the Equal Status Bill 1999 and encourages its immediate implementation. 

LEA has however, a number of concerns about the current Bill. This submission does not purport to comment on all the issues concerning lesbians within the bill but rather highlights some key areas of concern and suggests the following recommendations for change: 

  1. Explicitly name the Statutory Sector in sections 2 and 5 

    Explicitly include 'organizations' experiencing discrimination in section 3 

    Delete 'Certain Activities Not Discrimination' section 15(1)

    Simplify the redress process as described in section 21

1. Explicitly name the Statutory Sector in sections 2 and 5 

Legal advice suggests that activities of public bodies do not fall within the scope of the bill. This is a serious gap in the legislation and if not rectified will mean that statutory services will not be prevented from discriminating against lesbians in the provision of services (e.g. tax, immigration control, social welfare, education etc). The public service must be named if institutional homophobia is to be challenged and equality of outcome (not just equality of opportunity) is to be achieved. 

The definition of "service" in section 2(1) inherently excludes many public service activities. It must refer to and include the public sector and public service provision. The definition of public service provision should explicitly include services provided by State agencies when meeting their statutory duties. To this end LEA recommends the inclusion of the following sub-section: (e) all services provided by the statutory sector including those provided in the course of fulfilling their statutory duties. This provision would also include sub-contractors hired by this sector,"

Section 5, which deals with the disposal of goods and provision of services, excludes the public service because these activities do not 'take place in the course of a business or trade' - section 5(2)(a). No definition of 'business or trade' is provided. LEA recommends including the following words after trade: "or services provided by the statutory sector".

2. Explicitly include 'organizations' experiencing discrimination in section .......

Section 3 (1) defines discrimination. It is important that groups as well as individuals that experience discrimination are facilitated by this Bill to seek redress. This is particularly important for lesbian groups who are often discriminated against on the basis of whom they represent. In the 1997 version of the Bill, passed by the Dail in March of that year, the following section was also included [originally section 3(1)(a)(ii)]: "an organisation, consisting wholly or mainly of persons in respect of whom the grounds apply or having as its objects the furtherance of the interests of such persons, is treated less favourably than an organisation, consisting mainly or wholly of persons in respect of whom the grounds do not apply, is treated, has been treated or would be treated, or"

LEA calls for this sub-section to be included in the 1999 Bill as section 3(1)(b)(i) and for subsequent sub-sections to be amended to include 'organizations' not just individuals. It is assumed that organisation will be interpreted in the broad sense of the word to include 'groups' . 

3. Delete 'Certain Activities Not Discrimination' section l5 (1)

LEA has grave concerns about the practical implications of section 15(1). This section, for example, gives the power to a landlord to refuse rented accommodation to a lesbian couple purely on the grounds that the landlord believes other residents in the accommodation will react violently or even with 'disorderly conduct' . This section only serves to protect the interests of those who discriminate against lesbians and other minority groups (particularly Travellers). LEA recommends that this section be deleted.

4. Simplify the redress process as described in section 21

Section 21 describes the redress procedure. LEA is concerned about the restrictive nature of the redress process as it stands. For instance it assumes that the complainant is aware of the Bill as they have only two months within which to write to the respondent. It also assumes that the complainant has literacy skills or is competent to correspond in English. It also specifies the length of time within which the complainant has to start the procedure but only specifies that the respondent has to reply "within a reasonable time after the notification".

LEA recommends that this procedure is changed and simplified (e.g. with the complainant writing to the Director of Equality Investigations who then writes to the respondent about the matter). The design and dissemination of an accessible form is also recommended.