Advancing Liveable Lives for Lesbians in Europe— Intersectional Challenges and Future Policymaking

Boulila, Stefanie C. ; Tryfonidou, Alina ; Carastathis, Anna ; Lagerman, Julia ; Olasik, Marta (2020)

Technical Report

This research report has been commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (BMFSFJ). This report assesses the need for a specific focus on lesbians in European equality and anti-discrimination policies.1 The use of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) as a policy category has been criticised for lumping together diverse life realities. The call to focus on lesbians can be read as a response to the gender indifference and erasure of lesbians from LGBT policy debates. Lesbian lives in Europe are highly diverse. The term lesbian is a contested political and social category. As an identity, it is most commonly claimed by women who desire other women. This departure from the heterosexual norm exposes lesbians to marginalisation and discrimination. However, not all lesbians identify with the category woman. For many lesbians, the category woman is a source of gender stereotypes. Certain lesbians break with norms of feminine gender presentation. Others claim alternative terms to consolidate their sexual identities with their gender identity, for example, by identifying as butch lesbians, genderqueer or non-binary lesbians, trans*2 lesbians or femme lesbians. Nonetheless, in policy and academic discourses, the term sexual orientation is often used without paying attention to gender. Academically, the category lesbian has therefore been deemed helpful in naming and describing how heteropatriarchal norms affect women (Banerjea et al., 2019; Butler, 1993; Boulila, 2015). The category lesbian renders visible the specific effects homophobia, heterosexism and heteronormativity have on women and those who identify as lesbians but not as women. The term lesbian, therefore, captures specific experiences of discrimination, disenfranchisement and violence. This report queries how European equality and anti-discrimination policies can better account for the needs of lesbian women. Besides understanding lesbian as a contested and heterogeneous category, this report understands the category woman as inter*- and trans*-inclusive. In order to reveal this inclusivity in addition to marking many lesbians’ suspicion towards the category woman, the term will be marked with an asterisk (woman*). Due to the study’s limited time frame, this report will not be able to provide an in-depth exploration of the specific challenges faced by trans* and intersex lesbians. Neither will it be able to examine the specific challenges of bisexual women*. However, it does aim to uncover issues that are relevant to bisexual, trans* and intersex women* where possible. In instances where issues affect lesbian, bisexual, trans* and intersex women* (LBTI women*), the report will make these different groups visible through a nuanced use of language. The report commonly refers to the term heteronormativity, which critiques the assumption that heterosexuality is the primary, natural and normal expression of sexuality. It further uses the term homophobia to refer to anti-gay hostility. The report does not use the term in its psychological connotation to refer to fear, as this has been criticised as individualising (Browne et al., 2015; Boulila, 2019b). Heteronormativity and homophobia are instead understood to be connected to each other and an expression of social power relations. This report evaluates the need for specific equality and anti-discrimination policies that focus on lesbians. Chapter two describes the methodology that was used to identify the intersectional needs of lesbians in Europe. Chapter three, ‘Lesbian rights under EU law’, authored by Alina Tryfonidou, explores the legal framework for LGBT and in particular lesbian rights. It examines European Union (EU) provisions, instruments and European Court of Justice (ECJ) rulings that benefit lesbians. Chapter four unfolds in twelve thematic subsections that illustrate not only specific inequalities faced by lesbians but also relevant policy areas, institutions, strategies and best practice examples. Chapter five explores convergences and divergences between European and national equality and anti-discrimination policies. These convergences and divergences further provide insight into national policymaking and draw attention to the situated challenges of lesbians in Poland, Sweden, Greece and Germany. Chapter six closes with a summary and policy recommendations.

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