Scotland Calling

BCN 118 cover

This originally appeared in BCN issue 118, April 2013

Before the world wide web was everywhere, the first point of contact with the bi or LGBT communities many of us had was phoning a gay helpline (as they were back then).  Even if you had long been happily out, when you moved to a new city, it was a good way to find out about what support and social scene was out there: I remember my first nervous call to such a line, from a payphone a long way from home (“don’t want someone I know to spot me and ask who I’m calling!”)

Since about 2000 there seems to have been a slow decline in such services, which I think is probably due to a combination of the internet letting people find things out without needing to speak to a stranger, wider acceptance making it a little easier to come out without support, and probably a little decline in the number of volunteers coming forward and the rising cost of basic offices and such to underpin a helpline’s work.

Going against that trend, though, a new LGBT helpline for Scotland is about to start up, with the support of Edinburgh’s LGBT Centre for Health and Wellbeing.

The service itself will offer advice and emotional support to LGBT people and their loved ones, and will be open every Tuesday and Wednesday from midday to 9pm.

I got in touch with Stephen at LGBT Helpline Scotland and asked him about their work.

How did the helpline come into being?
LGBT Centre for Health and Wellbeing have been providing the Lothian LGBT Helpline since 2009. We took the service over from Lothian Gay and Lesbian Switchboard who ceased to exist after a long history of supporting people in Edinburgh and the surrounding areas.

Although our current helpline is advertised as being Lothian-based, we find that we already take lots of calls from people all over Scotland, so it made absolute sense to put in a bid to the Scottish Government to expand our service to become a Scotland-wide service. It can still be extremely difficult and isolating for people dealing with issues relating to gender identity or sexuality anywhere, but in Scotland where there are so many small, rural communities, we believe it will be a lifeline to many.

A lot of helplines have closed – is there demand out there in the age of Google and Grindr?
I think that the internet has definitely changed the way in which people use helplines, and yes, I think the demand is smaller than it was 15 or even 10 years ago.

However, I think that for all of the advances in gaining information about, say, where a local LGBT bar or social group might be in your area, nothing can replace talking your feelings, struggles and fears though with a stranger who you know won’t judge you. Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia aren’t just “still here” – they are still rife! It’s definitely been a tough time for locally-based helplines but we know that on a national scale, there’s still a huge amount of people who can benefit from talking to a stranger about all kinds of issues in relation to being LGBTQI.

I imagine helpline people don’t just walk in off the street. What’s the training like for this service?

We’re currently embarking on a training program for our first intake of volunteers, which is running throughout April. There’s a large focus on giving volunteers the right listening and counselling skills needed to support callers with a huge variety of issues; indeed anything at all that our callers need support with, we will support them with. In many ways we also go back to basics when it comes to training about LGBT identities.

We’re a centre who pride ourselves on being as much about Bi and Trans issues as we are about Gay and Lesbian issues, and there will lots of time spent on what it means to provide a true and inclusive LGBT service. The training our volunteers receive includes the very particular issues which come with being bisexual, trans and intersex (alongside other queer identities) as well as gay and lesbian issues, and we can assure our callers of a friendly and professional ear that is progressive, supportive and open to all LGBTQI people.

Finally – if anyone wants to volunteer to help on the line, how do they get in touch?

Send me an email at [email protected]
We’ve filled all volunteer vacancies at the moment, but will be looking for more volunteers at some point in the not-too-distant future and we would love to hear from you!

Jen

The helpline launches on 7th May 2013, and once it’s running you’ll be able to call them on 0300 123 2523 – Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 12 – 9pm.