Sir, - As a member of the Labour Party who happens also to be a lesbian, I write to express my disappointment at the manner in which one of the candidates for the leadership of the party has had to announce his heterosexuality. While I deplore any actions by those who have taunted Mr Howlin over the years about his sexuality, I regret even more his decision to make his sexuality an issue, however slight, in the course of the campaign.

Being "not gay" is being demonstrated as some kind of attribute in the development of Mr Howlin's campaign. What message does this send to the many young people questioning their sexuality in this still predominately heterosexist society? The suicide rates among young men are linked by international research in part to anxiety and distress over sexual orientation. Lesbians and gay men are often the subject of verbal and physical assaults in today's Ireland and religious organisations are permitted to discriminate against lesbians and gay men in the provision of services and employment.

The Labour Party has been to the fore in supporting legislation and policies increasing equality for lesbians and gay men. We should not be engaging in debates about whether or not someone's sexuality is an issue in our leadership election.

As someone who has fought hard to ensure the policies of the Labour Party include the needs of lesbians and gay men in Irish society, I am saddened that in a more progressive Ireland this issue is being raised at all.

Who cares? Does Mr Howlin really want the votes of those who would not vote for him if they thought he was gay? There are many lesbian and gay Labour Party members who have a vote in the forthcoming leadership election. May I suggest that Mr Howlin thinks about how his recent statements and campaign strategies have affected their views and the views of their heterosexual allies. - Yours, etc.,


Charlemont Gardens,

Dublin 2.