The Lesbian & Gay Foundation were awarded grant funding from Capacitybuilders in 2008 in order to support and develop capacity within the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans voluntary and community sector in the North West region.
This strategy is based on comprehensive consultation conducted with members of the Rainbow Partnership in late 2007. The process identified a cycle that restricts the establishment, growth and sustainability of LGB&T specific services. Action is needed to support the LGB&T VCS and increase accessibility to mainstream services. The action that is needed is identified as intervention points in the cycle (see Figure 1).
These interventions are intended to inform the strategic aims of organisations working with LGB&T communities in the North West. They represent the most effective way in which we can work together and support each other in order to break the cycle.
No one point of intervention is seen as a standalone item that could break the cycle. Rather, each should be tackled simultaneously, providing the best opportunities to break this persistent cycle.
Many of the voluntary and community organisations state that they find this cycle impossible to break out of. The issues are overwhelming for any one organisation and there is clear need for a co-ordinated approach.
A fundamental barrier to breaking the cycle is that individual organisations do not have the capacity to gather evidence or be influential without collaboration and support.
This can only change through concerted and continuous collective action. It is this coordinated approach that the Lesbian & Gay Foundation aims to stimulate through this strategy.
First point of intervention - Develop the evidence base
“It all comes back to the evidence base, what’s the evidence base, what’s the need and what can be done about that need?”
“There is a real big information deficit… to fill that void, that information deficit, you need to rely on LGB&T organisations… because that expertise is already out there… and that has to be resourced”
As noted here, the lack of information is a significant issue and one that is unlikely to be resolved in the short term.
There has been historic under-funding in the LGB&T sector and it needs to be recognised by funders and statutory bodies that the evidence base and needs assessment for these communities are at a very early stage of development. Funding is urgently needed to establish the evidence base.
The importance of this evidence base lies in the need of the LGB&T communities to be able to highlight to funders, commissioners and service providers how their needs differ from the needs of heterosexual people. There may also be different needs within the LGB&T communities that have not been identified or that need to be explored further.
“At some level you have got to establish a need, haven’t you?”
“You monitor it”
“But what would we target - that we think would give us useful data that establishes a specific need?”
It is not only the lack of information that is a problem. The evidence that does exist is often within the ‘grey’ literature - that is, literature which is unpublished and not easily accessed through conventional methods - and very difficult to access. For VCS organisations of limited capacity, searching for this evidence is an almost impossible drain on time and resources.
“A simple answer would be to have one person who does the research on it and put that together and make that available in the public domain”
Strategic Aim 1:
We will continue to lobby for funding to develop the evidence base. We will also provide the LGB&T VCS and public sector supporters access to the evidence available and guidance on how best to use it.
Second point of intervention - Increase the knowledge and engagement of policy and decision makers
“There is a lack of ‘out’ LGB&T managers, decision makers, etcetera and a lack of sympathetic and knowledgeable non-LGB&T decision makers. We need to equip key people with the knowledge and skills with relation to the LGB&T issues and the relevant legislation”
The historic lack of visibility and information about LGB&T communities has left key decision makers in the North West with a lack of understanding about how to include LGB&T needs in their priorities and policies. LGB&T issues need to be recognised and incorporated at regional, sub-regional, and local level within relevant strategies, partnerships and frameworks.
Through the consultation, it is clear that there is a perception that LGB&T needs are not recognised and are often completely ignored when decisions are made. Where there is a lack of LGB&T representation in decision making processes, these issues are simply not heard. This was often expressed as ‘inequality of equalities’ with the feeling that LGB&T priorities were low on the list, even for equality and diversity workers.
This was identified as applying to service planners and developers in the public services, funders and service commissioners. Commissioners will, in the next few years, have increasingly important roles in service provision and so this problem is set to have a greater impact unless challenged. The lack of fit between the needs presented by LGB&T communities and the priorities stated by funders is seen as a consequence of this lack of knowledge. VCS staff were frustrated that they constantly had to ‘massage’ the real needs of the community to match funding criteria that were inappropriate for - or inconsiderate of - the needs of the LGB&T community.
“The reason why there isn’t any money for our sector is because the government doesn’t see that there are any problems or any issues. So we need to show them the issues, or show someone in power… highlight them and say ‘We do need money and this is what we need it for’”
Public sector staff members of the Rainbow Partnership feel this lack of knowledge and understanding affects their daily work. They feel that both their time and their innovation within LGB&T work are often restricted by a lack of understanding of the issues expressed by their managers. They compare this to the resources allocated to other equality strands where the understanding and evidence base are stronger.
“I want this strategy to influence my organisation so that I feel better about working there and so that it is fairer”
Strategic Aim 2:
We will provide information about LGB&T people and their needs to policy and decision makers across the North West. In doing this, we will increase awareness and engagement with partners and ensure the needs of LGB&T people are accurately communicated.
Third point of intervention - Increase the capacity of LGB&T voluntary and community organisations
“How do you capacity build the capacity builders? How do you get more people involved so that the responsibility does not fall on the few people… you can’t just do it on a kind of goodwill gesture… how do we get some resources to be able to say we need some workers to actually work up proposals and evidence it”
The smaller voluntary and community LGB organisations were very clear in the consultation that they have a strong need for support in two areas: 1) funding applications and 2) business planning. These are crucial in achieving sustainability, but often suffer because of limited internal capacity.
Rainbow Partnership members perceive that they are not receiving provision of this kind from mainstream support services – for example CVS – and largely felt that this help was not being offered to them.
This demonstrates that mainstream support is difficult to access for LGB&T people. The trans organisations have a wider issue of capacity, with a very small number of individuals carrying wide remits in terms of representing an entire community.
This leads to a capacity issue about being heard within the LGB&T community and wider equality policies and strategies.
These issues are also faced by bisexual organisations as priorities tend to focus on lesbian and gay people.
Strategic Aim 3:
We will provide support to increase capacity of the LGB&T VCS in the North West to ensure that the diverse needs of these communities are met. We will seek to equip the sector to make it well resourced and self sustainable.