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An Irishwomen's Diary by ANTHEA McTEIRNAN

SOME of my best friends are lesbians.

Best to get that cliché out of the way first for the benefit of all those minority groups who have to stomach us well-meaning liberal media-types waxing lyrical about them on an alarmingly regular basis. You know the score - a few phone calls to some "charming" gay men, "intriguing" Africans, "inspiring" people with disabilities, "fascinating" Travellers; we're experts and the features page is full.

Nothing better for the old public/self-image than to come over all Lady Bountiful on behalf of some oppressed group or other.

We liberals don't agree with charitable causes, it's championing causes we prefer. Both tactics, with their implicit levels of control, aimed at keeping power where it has always been.

You see? I'm at it again. There are literally thousands of "charming, intriguing. inspiring, fascinating" lesbians out there (you know who you are!) who are more than capable of stringing a few sentences together, but it is I who have the access to the means of media production, so at this point they must remain, as they have always been required to be, silent, disenfranchised and interpreted by an outsider.

Well-adjusted lassies

But, methinks the natives are getting restless. Who should I spy on the way into town but a couple of happy, well-adjusted looking lassies smiling down at me from a 20ft billboard. "How should you feel if your daughter's a lesbian?" asks the poster. "The same way you'd feel if she wasn't."

Bingo. Message received loud and clear.

Better still, the group that masterminded the billboard campaign, Lesbian Education and Awareness (LEA), is sponsored by the EU and the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs - nice one, Bertie.

They tried something similar in the London Borough of Haringey in 1986 with their "Positive Images"aign. Remember the good old days when Jenny went to live with Eric and Martin and Margaret Thatcher came steaming in to take her into care lest she turn out to prefer men like her two parents - I think Maggie missed the point somehow.

Mega fuss over a children's story-book that found its way into Haringey's school libraries. A book that merely reflected reality for the many children of that north London borough who live in non-stereotypical families.

Funding campaign

A sign then of our maturity then that we in Ireland in 1999 can see in the millennium by funding a campaign that lets those women who love women hold their heads above the parapet and demand our attention.

The lesbian community are taking control of their own "positive images". They don't need me or my adjectives to define them. No Ma am.

In the LEA "Lesbian Lives" information pack one parent says of her daughter: "Her lesbianism is just part of her life, just a part of the many cornplex complex parts that go to make a person."

All true, and goddess knows I've met some complex lesbians in my time.

"I didn't want to reject her or her partner, I like her partner," says another parent. "My attitude is that everyone has to live their own life whether they be gay or heterosexual."

Amen to that. Or a Awomen - that's your business after all.

How refreshing (and what a relief for us liberal friends of homosexuals who have done nothing and said nothing of any import during their long struggle) that Irish lesbians should have wrested the initiative with their pre-emptive poster strike. And how sad, with the glue barely dry on the billboards of Dublin, to see Stephen Gately of Boyzone forced to come out and say he is gay to prevent some sleazy tabloid announcing it first.

It will always matter who someone sleeps with because we are all different and diversity is to our credit. But let's start behaving like consenting adults and stop using that difference to spoil other people's lives . After all, if everyone wanted to sleep with ..Winona Ryder, it would end in tears.

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Examiner photo

Lesbians in campaign for equal treatment

by Caroline O'Doherty

LESBIANS are taking their plea for equal treatment to the streets through a billboard campaign.

The EU-funded posters are being erected in busy locations in the first-ever high-profile adverstising camadvertising by any lesbian organisation anywhere in Europe.

They challenge people uncomfortable with lesbianism by asking how they would feel if their daughter was a lesbian and providing the answer: the same way as if she wasn't. Supporters who turned out to launch the ads in Dublin, yesterday, included singer Mary Coughlan; Deputy Jan O'Sullivan; MEP Patricia McKenna; Green colleague Deputy John Gormley, and director of the Women's Education Research and Resource Centre at UCD, Ailbhe Smyth.

The posters, which will be on display for two weeks in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick, Belfast and Derry, carry a helpline number available for advice and information. "It's a visibility campaign that's about trying to encourage some thought for those who are lesbian and their families," said Anita Thoma, public relations officer for Lesbian Education and Awareness (LEA), which is funded under the EU New Opportunities for Women (NOW) programme.

It is estimated that around 10% of the population is homosexual, so as many as one in 20 women could be lesbian, but Ms Thoma said conventional equality legislation did not cater for them. Women in same sex relationships did not have the same inheritance and social welfare rights as heterosexual couples, and lesbians working in many institutions faced the dilemma of concealing their sexuality or risk losing their job.

"There are huge issues for anyone who is lesbian. We still have people trying to lead double lives and no human being should have to do that," she said.

"It's also a well-known economic fact that women do not have the same level of equality as men and that it's worth if you are part of a minority within your gender, like a lesbian.

The attitudes of colleagues, acquaintances and family members were also often coloured by ignorance and misunderstanding," she said.

"It's not just about the relationship between lesbians and the law.

Lesbians are your sister, your aunt, your shopkeeper and your taxi driver so it's all kinds of relationships in society."

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Gay Community News

UCD Photo


by Dr Kathleen Lynch

The Equalities Studies Centre at UCD will for the first time be offering a course on sexual orientation in the coming academic year. The provision of the new course is being funded by LEA (Lesbian Education and Awareness).

According to Dr Kathleen Lynch, co-ordinator of the Equalities Studies Centre, the course "will have a strong emphasis on human rights and equality issues for lesbians and gay men, bisexual and transgendered people."

The course will be available as part of both the Higher Diploma and Masters programmes. While sexual orientation has been a theme in existing courses this is the first time a specialised course will be on offer.

"The Equality Studies Centre is committed to creating an intellectual space in the academy in which to encourage the understanding and development of an egalitarian society. The new course is about providing this kind of intellectual space for those who wish to deepen their knowledge and understanding of sexual orientation," said Dr Lynch.

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