This year as part of the Leeds Pride celebrations we held a special event just for women and non-binary folk from the Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans and Queer communities to come together for a self-care workshop at our centre.

This was the first time we’d delivered a group workshop for the community and our aim was to recognise the disproportionate risk of rape and sexual violence that LGBT+ people experience, and learn from this to enhance and develop our services that are for women and girls in Leeds. In 2017 the LGBT+ Mapping Project, commissioned by Leeds City Council reported that personal safety is a top concern for the community, particularly as women and non-binary people are more likely to experience sexual violence. The research highlighted the extra barriers that are often faced by the community when accessing specialist help and support which included the fear of not being believed or taken seriously as well as homophobic, biphobic and transphobic attitudes from professionals.

SARSVL was alarmed by these findings but, sadly, not surprised. We are all too aware of the intersectional challenges that our diverse communities in Leeds (and beyond) experience, which is what motivated us to put community safety and wellbeing on the agenda as part of the wider Leeds Pride activities this year.

At the ‘We Start By Believing’ self-care session SARSVL volunteers and staff were joined by attendees from the LGBT+ community for two hours of supportive chat, laughs and mindful mandala colouring. We were also lucky enough to host our visiting therapist Dalia Hawley of Chapiteau massage. Dalia helped us to unwind and refocus on ourselves with healing head and shoulder massages in one of our therapy rooms.

The group also swapped tips on how we take care of ourselves and face the unique challenges of the world around us as LGBT people. Conversations in the room centred around our unique experiences of homophobia, sexism and the barriers to support that the community often face. We also talked about the support that is available from SARSVL and other organisations in the city. Everybody went home with a self-care pack, put together by our brilliant volunteers, containing herbal tea, cosmetic treats and mood-boosting dark chocolate as well as useful leaflets and guidance.

SARSVL is a proudly feminist organisation and we are led by the women and girls we support. We recognise the unique challenges that LGBT+ women are faced with in society and take our commitment to serving the community seriously. Our specialist Helpline, Counselling and Advocacy services are free and open to anybody who identifies as a woman or girl, or is non-binary and feels that this is the right service for them. As a Rape Crisis centre, we are proudly trans inclusive and committed to non-discriminatory practice.

Our staff and volunteers work alongside our service users to create an empowering safe space for the women and girls who need us across Leeds. We are led by the SARSVL values of inclusion and we do not accept homophobia, biphobia or transphobia of any kind.

We will continue to build relationships with our thriving LGBT+ communities in the city and work alongside our supporters in the fight against the inevitability of rape and sexual violence. You can find out more information about the SARSVL services on our website www.supportafterrapeleeds.org.

Finally, a big ‘thank you’ to each of the people who supported us to come together with this workshop, including Leeds Pride for providing its funding and everyone who attended. We look forward to our next event and to embedding the learning from ‘We Start By Believing’ in all our activities in SARSVL.