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Catherine M

Catherine Meads, born 1960


Lesbewell 1994 10
Lesbian Health Conference 1995 15
Dykenosis 20
Lesbian health indicators 40
Funding needed for research 50
Pressure on Chief Medical Officer 60
Lesbian Line 70 80
Boot Women 90

10 Lesbewell 1994
Catherine M, a doctor, moved to Birmingham in 1987. Gudrun Limbrick and others started Lesbewell in 1994 and she got involved the following year. A core group of 10-12 women met most of the time. They undertook fund-raising activities including e.g. a car boot sale.

15 Lesbian Health Conference 1995 and 1996
Catherine was involved in organising the first national Lesbian Health Conference at Aston University in 1995, attended by around 100 women including researchers, doctors and nurses. There were all sorts of serious issues raised including health services for lesbian mothers, mental health, social well being etc. For many lesbians it was ‘a bit of a novelty’ to be able to talk about health issues. The conference was reported in the Dykenosis newsletters. They sold left over tee shirts to an Asian football team! Another conference was held in 1996.

20 Dykenosis
Lesbewell produced a regular photocopied newsletter called Dykenosis, distributed amongst lesbians via pubs, clubs, and subscriptions, from 1994.
“Dykenosis was the only health advice for lesbians available, so discussions on eating disorders, cervical screening or not, homophobia in the NHS, Glasgow’s lesbian health service, were all covered. There was lots of positive feedback and interest. It got people thinking about their own health, though I’m not sure if it made anyone give up smoking or drinking!”

The last edition came out in 1998. “Lesbewell ran out of steam, Gudrun had to get a job and no-one else could take it on. We produced 17 issues of Dykenosis and organised two conferences which was quite remarkable”. Through her involvement in the survey Gudrun realised that she would like to be involved professionally and moved to the Public Health Dept at the University.

30 Lesbian Health Survey
The Lesbewell group undertook a questionnaire survey, aiming to get a representative sample of around 350 women, which proved very difficult. Lesbians were recruited to complete the questionnaire at pubs, clubs, after Boot Women walks, at Pride etc. Some spoilt their questionnaires, and Catherine suspects 2 or 3 filled it in while they were on drugs! Unfortunately the group lacked the expertise to analyse and write the findings up, so the questionnaires just remained unanalysed. In 2006 Catherine spent a weekend entering and analyse the results on SPSS (Statistical Package for Social Scientists). She compared the results with two other surveys of lesbian health, and they are now being published in a journal.

40 Results of the survey
“The survey found that lesbians smoke three times as much as women in the general population, have twice the alcohol-related problems and twice the mental-health related problems. Compared with other surveys of women’s health, you find that other general health indicators are poorer, lesbians are likely to have higher death rates”. Catherine said she has been worrying as some friends have come down with various auto-immune and heart diseases.

50 Funding needed for research
“We need funding to undertake a cohort study, and to look at previous research. Sexual orientation is not routinely collected data; people are asked about everything else but this”. Catherine has also been lobbying to try to get this included as a question in the 2011 Census.
Catherine would like funding for a realistic study on death rates and comparability on auto-immune, heart disease amongst lesbians and on best way to provide health services to lesbians. “Ethnic groups get diversity funding but there is nothing for lesbians and gay men on physical and mental health”. There is a serious lack of awareness and understanding of the issues. The Medical Research Council has turned down her request for funding; apparently they couldn’t see that there was a need for research. Catherine said that “One peer reviewer said we know a lot about gay men’s health so we can apply that to lesbians!”

60 Pressure on Chief Medical Officer
Catherine collared Professor Liam Donaldson, (the Chief Medical Officer of the NHS) at a conference in 2007 and asked if he know the death rates for lesbians; he didn’t.

70 Catherine volunteered on the second incarnation of Lesbian Line. - second incarnation. In the Custard Factory. “Pat Howie got us a room in th Custard Factory. There were 8 volunteers, a mix of people, with no budget, it was a bit of a mess, but we kept going for a couple of years. We didn’t get that many calls but a separate Lesbian Line was important as quite a lot of separatists didn’t want to talk to a man, they wanted a lesbian to talk to. Switchboard was more male orientated, with few lesbians working there”.

80 Catherine had previously been on Lincoln Switchboard, which was very important for isolated LGBs living in the countryside, with nothing happening. “It wasn’t quite the same in B’ham as there were women’s events such as Sheila’s Bar at the Station Pub in Kings Heath, Tuesday night Peacocks discos, ‘Henrietta’s Out’ and various sporadic events”.

90 Boot Women started in 1991, set up by Val, Catherine’s ex-partner – and they weren’t speaking at the time, but a year later they were OK and Catherine’s been leading walks ever since. “At first we knew all the women, it was described as a ‘walking cocktail party’, with 4-5 hours chin-wag. It was very popular, with around 40 women, and half a dozen dogs. Then foot and mouth made it hard to find anywhere, and it nearly folded. For the first 10 years 6-8 women were organising it all the time. Everyone did a little bit – not too much for any individual; Val did the paperwork. We had a list of names and addresses. At one stage Bill Gavan and The Nightingale wanted the list for advertising; even now we don’t give the list out”.