THE attempted double suicide by two teenaged girls after a falling out with a third girl with whom they were both romantically involved has focused attention on the difficulties faced by the lesbian community in Hong Kong. The Sunday Morning Post spoke with some members of that community, as well as the mother of one of the women interviewed, for their perspectives on the issue. Although the four women are ostensibly ''out of the closet'', or open about their sexuality, all preferred to use aliases, blaming the media for playing up stereotypes about lesbians. ''The media coverage has only served to reinforce society's negative stereotype of lesbians - we are perceived as 'butch', men-hating women who have turned to other women because of failed relationships with men,'' said Cherie Lam, a research executive in her late 20s. The self-confessed ''queer activist'' said she informed her parents about her sexual preferences when she was 11. Phyleana Chu, who operates two hair salons with her lover, said: ''It's only because it happened to lesbian lovers that it has attracted so much attention. One of the [Chinese] papers even put the story in the 'important news' section, but if the incident had involved a heterosexual couple I don't think it would have rated such a lengthy story. ''It's outrageous that so many of the papers used in their headlines the word 'queer' or 'abnormal' to describe the love affair. To me that is obvious bias.'' Ms Chu, who is in her early 30s, ''came out'' to her family and friends about five years ago. Since then she has become active in the lesbian community and often provides financial support for various activities. Another friend, Jasmine Ng, also hit out at the lack of positive coverage of the gay and lesbian community in the media. ''There are distortions in the articles which mean they are not objective and since the media has the power to influence, it is acting irresponsibly,'' Ms Ng said. ''The way these stories come out has no educational function because of implicit value judgements made within the stories.'' Ms Ng saw the teenagers' suicide attempt as a ''cry for help''. ''If families don't accept [that their children may be gay], then the support network goes,'' she said. ''At 15, you need family and security because you may not know how to handle the situation.'' Despite more tolerance about gender roles, she said women still experienced considerable pressure to get married and have a family. That pressure also existed for gay men, especially for only sons, who were expected to carry on the family name by marrying and fathering children. Another lesbian, Karen Shum, was more fortunate. ''Coming out'' to her mother made their relationship even closer, she said. The 25-year-old said she became aware of her sexual leaning before reaching her teens. ''I felt very natural with girls,'' she said. ''I could be friends with boys but those friendships lacked the closeness and intimacy I felt with girls.'' But when she was 19, her mother asked her whether she preferred girls to boys. ''When she was younger, about 12 years old, I asked her why she didn't have any boyfriends - I thought it was very natural for a girl her age to want to go out with boys,'' said Mrs Shum. ''I didn't know how to reply. I was very scared that I'd hurt her so it was not until one or two months later when my mother asked again that I told her,'' Ms Shum recalled. ''We were very close and now we're even closer, but at that time, my mother was very depressed. It took some time before she accepted me as I am.'' ''It must have involved much soul-searching. ''At first she said she would kick me out of the house, but my brothers reasoned with her and finally she came around,'' Ms Shum recalled. Her mother added: ''At the time I was sad. I only have one daughter and, of course, I wanted to dress her as a pretty girl and hoped she would one day have a beautiful wedding, home and family.'' But while the Shum family came to accept her sexual preference, they still faced problems with family friends and neighbours who continually asked Mrs Shum to ''do something'' with her daughter, straining the relationships within and without the family. Mrs Shum said: ''Only my closest friend knows about Karen. One day she asked me if I suspected my daughter was a lesbian. I asked, 'Would it matter?' And she said 'No'.'' Nosy neighbours would get an earful if they interfered in her family life, she declared. ''I will stand up for my daughter. It's no one's business [but hers]. ''As a parent, it is my duty to educate and point out to my children the difficulties that lie ahead. How they choose is up to them, but they must be prepared to face the consequences associated with any choice.'' These consequences included discrimination at work, a lack of self-esteem engendered by the social stigma and even ostracisation, Ms Ng pointed out. Dr Ng Man-lun, a gender identity specialist who counsels many of Hong Kong's traumatised male and female homosexuals, said they often went to him with severe depression or after attempting suicide. ''They have no biological reason to be so [stressed], but they have environmental and social reasons. Being a homosexual is so difficult. ''They have problems finding a secure partner and some suffer depression because of parents and colleagues who despise them.''