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Helen Ricketts

Helen Ricketts, born 1958


Helen was born in Greece and moved to England in 1979. In this interview she discusses the difficulties of coming out to herself and her children. She talks about her slow introduction into the lesbian world. Later she discusses various groups she has been involved with. Helen has Parkinsons Disease and talks about some negative reactions to her disability. She also talks about aRTpRIDE.


Getting married to hide gay feelings 10
Switchboard caller 20
Counselling 20
Coming out to her children 30
Regard, disabled LGB organisation 40
Racism amongst lesbians and gay men 53 +54
Sappho 50 - 54
Bootwomen - lesbian walking group 60
Foragers 60
Kenric 60
GAY (Good As You LGB mental health group) 70 - 74
Structures within LGB community groups 74
aRTpRIDE 80 - 82
Art and the impact of sexuality 81
Attitudes to disability amongst the LGB community 90 - 92
Disabled people's attitudes to LGBs - 93
Communications in the LGB Community 100 - 102
Birmingham Girls 101
Birmingham Pride Community Trust 102
Community newsletter 101

10 Moving to England

Brought up in Greece, Helen knew from unwritten expectations that lesbianism would not be approved of. The message was that lesbians should not exist. She moved to London in 1979, aged 21 because she "fell in love with England" and married a man to do so, having children and putting all thoughts of women to the back of her mind. Her marriage ended after 10 years and she devoted herself to bringing up the boys. She was on her own for 12 or 13 years, bringing up her children.

20 Ringing Switchboard put her back in the closet

Helen rang the West Midlands Switchboard about 12 years ago (1995) and a male switchboard operator "got cross with her" and told her it was for gay people. She believed she couldn't be gay because he would have known it from talking with her. This put her off for seven years but on a counselling course around 2002 the issue was raised again. She rang Switchboard again, and ended up having counselling herself when all her true feelings came out. She was horrified because of her upbringing, but has obviously since felt better about herself.

30 Coming out to her children

When she came out, her sons were 15 and 20. She told her children that she was gay and the first son, ' her best friend' was fine as was the other son, who she told later. However they recognised that because of their upbringing and school culture they had homophobia in the family and worked through it together. It's so embedded. Their girlfriends and families know but she didn't think that they told their friends so they hadn't put themselves in the position of having to challenge homophobic remarks. She has a solid relationship with her children.

40 Inappropriate relationship

Helen, who has Parkinson's Disease, then got in touch with a London based organisation, 'Regard' for disabled LGBs. Unfortunately she ended up having a relationship with the administrator, which she felt was wrong, and wrote later to After she left she wrote to Regard to express her concerns about its inappropriateness, it was unethical. That was Helen's first relationship but she now feels it should never have happened.

50 Sappho

51 Helen joined Sappho (originally for over 40s but later opened to all lesbians), and was soon encouraged to take over the organisation. This was an important, but also troubling time "I had some of the best and some of the worst experiences of my life." However although her efforts were appreciated some people left and afterwards told her it was because they found the group bitchy. She talked about the use of power by some women in the lesbian community. She recognised that she had made some mistakes and had nobody to talk to, she tried to survive but it was hard. She then found herself isolated from some members of the group who didn't invite her to a party, because one person didn't want her there, and after that things changed. She took a back seat, but was later asked to get involved again.

52 Sappho moved from Missing to the Wellington, then Fonteyns, the Vic, and the Fox, then people lost interest again.

53 Helen said that she took a lot of stick because of the way she spoke, because she was a foreigner. I learnt to live with these women, but some were supportive and some weren't."

54 She also was very concerned at the treatment of a black lesbian with schizophrenia who came to Sappho and was upset that she hadn't spoken out more about their negativity. She said that in all her time in this country this was the first time she had experienced such lack of support and actual 'bullying'.

60 Joining other lesbian groups
Some of the same women were involved in the lesbian walking group Bootwomen, and an earlier group, 'Foragers' run by Pat and Pauline, and supported by Kenric, which is for very slow walkers "You could almost fall asleep while you were walking". It is still going but they don't advertise because they wanted to limit the numbers.

70 Good as You

71 In 2003 Helen joined a group sponsored by MIND, Good As You for gay people with mental health problems but after a year, David, the organiser committed suicide. She and another member, Adrian, decided to continue the group and after meeting by themselves for a year at the Wellington.

72 By 2005 the group had since grown to a reasonable size or about ten regular people.They don't advertise but referrals come via the mental health services or MIND. A number of people have gone on to get employment in the mental health field. Helen said that mental health and gay and lesbian are closely related, a lot of people working in mental health are LGB.

73 GAY is the group she most enjoys, if they have problems or decisions they talk to the other members. If she thinks she has made a mistake, they can discuss it and nobody judges.

74 She appreciated that GAY has a structure and process to follow. She said this was lacking from Sappho and so there was no one or no structure to turn to for guidance when things went wrong. She mentioned Birmingham Pride Community Trust has rules and structures and appreciates this. She asks to whom other LGB groups are accountable to.

80 Art Pride

81 Helen is an artist and said her lesbianism gives her a focus in her work.

82 She has now got involved with aRTpRIDE a lesbian Arts Group as a contributor, she is not on the committee. Every few years she and some other lesbians were getting a stall at the Pride festival. She spoke of Becky Tebbett's vision of having a huge exhibition in a proper gallery, not just a stall. The first year (2006) was a bit slow and they didn't get the money, but in 2007 they successfully applied for funding to enable an exhibition of lesbian artists' works, during Pride 2007. It was funded as a one-off but she hopes it can continue.

90 Negative attitudes to disability amongst the LGB community

91 In general she found quite negative attitudes by the LGB community to both people with mental health problems, and disabled people (Helen defines as disabled and has Parkinsons disease). "My disability has got a lot to do with how people see me. They haven't spent time with disabled people and don't know how to deal with it." She said people found her voice (very soft, and with a Greek accent), and some behaviour (due to Parkinson's) difficult to deal with.

92 Helen feels that lesbians have dismissed her because of her Parkinson's with remarks such as 'what do you expect, you've got Parkinsons'. She spoke of the importance of appearance and attraction in the lesbian community, and the importance of sexual being as part of lesbian identity. "As a disabled person in the lesbian community I am nothing. I have been used sometimes. One partner said 'you're all right for the short term but not the long term'" which she found very upsetting.

93 Not being out in the Parkinsons Group

Helen has also set up a local Parkinson's group, but she is not out in this group, but to some of the individuals. When she goes there she says "I'm not a lesbian!" She says that everyone there is so charged with Parkinson's and some are affected more than she is and everyone focuses entirely on the disease itself, so there is no interest in people's sexuality.

100 Communications in the LGB community

101 Helen thinks the community is not connected but is just starting to do so and would benefit from an LGB community newsletter. She has noticed a huge change in the past five years. Birmingham Pride Community Trust has led to great improvements over the past couple of years in what is going on in Birmingham.

102 Birmingham Girls has also made a huge difference, and she talked about her appreciation for Birmingham Girls e-mail group, which has been a source of information and opportunity for lesbians to start doing new activities.

110 Climbing a mountain

The hardest thing Helen has ever done was climbing a mountain in Wales with the support of Ann Roberts and her partner Pam who were very experienced and very supportive.