by Dr Elizabeth Reed.
Researchers at the University of Southampton are currently recruiting participants for a project exploring lesbian people’s experience of community in the city, through the pandemic.
Southampton’s City of Culture bid celebrated our diverse communities and cultures and set out a plan to make our city more inclusive by improving access to leisure spaces, community and businesses for everyone. For businesses and community spaces, exactly what that means is not always clear: diverse communities have diverse needs. It can also be challenging to know how to improve access for just one stated group of people given they are rarely homogenous. This new project seeks to understand the diversity of needs and experiences of lesbian people in Southampton and is engaging with business owners and community group leaders to understand the challenges and needs of the people who live, work, socialise, build community, and run a business here.
So why focus on lesbians? Southampton’s population is diverse. We’re a young city, with the majority of our population aged under 65. We have a growing student population of at least 43,000 and 20% of the population are Black and minority ethnic.
We don’t know exactly how many LGBTQ people live in Southampton, but we do know the number is on the rise nationally, and that young people are more likely to describe themselves as LGBTQ.
Currently Southampton has two explicitly LGBTQ venues: The Edge nightclub and The London Hotel. It also has a range of LGBTQ friendly spaces such as The Art House, the Happy Bean Coffee Bar and October Books. There are also lesbian-focused social groups organised across platforms like Facebook and Discord which, combined, attract more than 1500 members. That’s a lot of LGBTQ people looking for ways to connect, share social time and meet people. LGBTQ services and spaces are now, and will continue to be, very important for Southampton. But what has changed since the pandemic? And what do lesbian people want for the future in spaces and places available?
In 2020, the Southampton City Survey discovered that lesbians had lower satisfaction with their life, lower levels of support, and lower happiness scores than their heterosexual neighbours. When venues closed during the pandemic, lesbians nationally were more likely to experience isolation and had fewer ways to stay in touch with friends and wider community.
In other UK towns and cities, research has found that lesbian people build community through a wide range of events and types of spaces. This includes alcohol-free venues, low-cost activities, and places to drink and dance where they can be confident they won’t be harassed. Research in Manchester and Brighton, two hubs for LGBTQ people, found that LGBTQ venues rarely compete directly with each other, even when they are geographically close or appeal to the same people. This is because the LGBTQ community – and lesbian people – are incredibly diverse and looking for different opportunities, events, and spaces.
The project is currently seeking participants for discussion events in June (online and offline in the city centre). We’re using a broad umbrella definition of ‘lesbian’, drawn from Campbell X’s notion of ‘lesbian nation’ which includes all women, trans and cis, who describe themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, queer or otherwise non-heterosexual; and trans and/or non-binary, genderqueer, or genderfluid people who describe themselves as lesbian. If lesbian is a label or identity which has meaning for how you describe yourself, how or where you seek out community, or how you arrange your romantic and sexual relationships, you might be able to contribute your experiences to the project.
You can learn more about what participation involves at this link: https://sway.office.com/CXhnpYEQO9HkRfIR?ref=Link
You can look at the University profile of the lead researcher here: https://www.southampton.ac.uk/socsci/about/staff/ehr1y19.page
And if you would like to get in express an interest in participating, or ask any questions you can email Lizzie: firstname.lastname@example.org, or Research Assistant Laura: L.Paddon@soton.ac.uk If you are a local business owner and you feel your business is one you try and make welcoming to lesbian people, or if you organise any community groups which explicitly include or address lesbian people, please also get in touch to see whether we can schedule a time to chat about your aims, and the challenges of keeping afloat during the pandemic and after.
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