Connie is 24 years old, a lesbian and proud. But she is sometimes annoyed by the strange glances people give her. 'Society has stereotyped us all as having short hair and wearing men's clothing. But have you ever wondered whether the colleague sitting next to you may be a lesbian as well?' asks Connie, who has closely-cropped hair herself. The misconception is that a lesbian couple is usually made up of a masculine woman - referred to as a butch - and a feminine woman - known as a lipstick lesbian in the West. But in reality, she says, both partners may be feminine or masculine. Connie believes lesbians are even more discriminated against in society than gay men. 'When people talk of homosexuality, they think of gay men only. What about gay women? Ignoring our existence is already discriminating against us. 'People call us gay por [por is a colloquial term for woman] or tofu por. It's very derogatory. 'When we eat in a restaurant, people speak behind our backs, gesturing towards us. They follow us to the toilet to see whether we are going to the male or female toilet,' Connie said. Andie, a 28-year-old lesbian, has had similar awkward experiences, especially being mistaken for a man. Waiters who can only see her back, will ask her: 'Can I help you, sir?' Last September, Connie founded a lesbian support group called Lui Tung Yuen: its membership has grown from 10 to 140 today. 'We don't want to limit our existence to gay bars, discos or karaoke lounges. We want to come out of the dark. There are gay-friendly environments like certain restaurants or bookshops, but we want to expand our social circle,' Connie said. There are many issues about lesbians that need to be addressed, like being discriminated against in the work place. Andie said that on her first day at work one of her colleagues asked her: 'Are you a man or woman? Do you like men or women?' 'When she saw my appearance she wanted to know. It's not her business whether I like men or women. That's prejudice. 'She didn't ask other colleagues such questions, only me. If you're heterosexual, people don't question you about your private life. It's insulting,' Andie said. One of Connie's colleagues was fired when the boss discovered that she was a lesbian. 'At work, I don't reveal my sexual inclination, because I don't know what my boss would think of me,' Connie said. Lui Tung Yuen publishes a newsletter once every three months. It is circulated in bookstores, bars and theatres, and introduced many lesbians to the support group. Members' ages range from 16 to 40. 'We have workshops, we select a topic, such as how to face our sexual inclination, how to come out, how to have the courage to talk about our decision to our family and avoid confrontation. We have also invited social workers and psychologists to give talks,' Connie said. One of the common problems lesbians face - and one which may require counselling - is a low self-image. Can they accept themselves as lesbians? What about their family? 'Some lesbians are disgusted with themselves. Others, when they know they are lesbians, are at a loss over what to do. The people around them can't help them,' Connie said. She attributes the large increase in Lui Tung Yuen's membership to the lack of 'living space' for lesbians in Hong Kong. 'Now that we have the group, members feel they have finally found a place which belongs to them,' she said. Members also get together for recreational activities such as hiking, camping or barbecues. Connie hopes society will learn to treat lesbians fairly. 'A lesbian couple cannot apply for government housing although we pay taxes like everybody else. We don't have basic rights like marriage and adopting children. We should have more opportunities,' she said. Andie and Joey feel the discrimination is unfair because their sexual inclination was determined at childhood. Andie felt she was different from other girls ever since she was a Primary Four student. She did not dare to face her problem; she had no concept of homosexuality at that time. In childhood, she played with girls' as well as boys' toys - dolls, cookery utensils, guns and cars. But when she went to high school, she was attracted to a girl, who was quiet and a top student, but Andie never revealed her feelings. A few years ago, she had a fling with a female employee at a bar. 'She's a beer promoter. We drank with each other and exchanged telephone numbers,' Andie said. On the second day, she called Andie and every day afterwards. 'She told me when she first saw me at the bar, she already felt I was a lesbian and so was she. We maintained our relationship for four months. Now she has married a man,' Andie said. As for Joey, she played with boys' toys as a child instead of dolls. For years, she said, she was attracted to a female schoolmate. 'Gradually my feelings of friendship towards her turned to something deeper. I began to miss her when she was not around. She was constantly on my mind,' Joey said. Joey showered her with gifts - a pen, a watch, a coat, anything she needed. She would fold paper into flower or star shapes and give them to her. On Valentine's Day, Joey gave her a heart-shaped box of chocolates. 'When I was separated from her after graduation, I knew more clearly than ever I was a lesbian. I hated her boyfriend. When she began going out with her boyfriend, I told her I loved her not merely as a friend and she rejected me,' she said. Now 21, Joey does not have a steady girlfriend but is convinced she will not go straight. Her family does not know she is a lesbian and keeps pressuring her to have a boyfriend. 'I dare not tell my family I'm a lesbian, I'm afraid they won't accept me. My boss and colleagues don't know I'm a lesbian.'