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Ten years of a listening ear and a compassionate response

Every time the phone rings, you wonder who is going to be on the other end. You wonder about the voice you’ll hear, where they’re calling from, the reason they dialled the number. Every time it’s different, but every time you’re ready to do the most important thing you can do in that moment. You’re ready to listen, and to give them the space to be heard, sometimes for the first time in their lives.

That’s the role of an LGBT Helpline volunteer, and it has been for ten years now, to listen to the wide range of experiences the members of our community across Ireland have had, and to provide them with a compassionate response in a moment that can be so vulnerable.

The phone lines have existed for decades. Even back when it was illegal to be gay, there were people there to help, to lean on their own experience to guide others on their journey. But the problem was that these important services were scattered around the country, often operating one evening a week, and not giving the accessibility to those who really needed them. That’s why in 2010 all these groups came together to form the national LGBT Helpline.

With some great determination from staff and volunteers of various services, and some critical investment from the Community Foundation of Ireland, we were able to create a listening service that was truly responsive, operating every evening when people really needed it.

The reasons people call are as diverse as the community itself. For some they are in a moment of great difficulty, and desperately need someone who they can reach out to. Others are looking to talk openly for the first time and take this moment to explore who they are. For some, they’re looking for someone to confide in, they’ve met someone and are so excited, but can’t share this with those closest to them, so you celebrate the moment with them.

For all the callers, they are looking to talk to someone like them, someone who understands their experience, someone they don’t have to hide with.

This act of listening is powerful. Not only in the moment itself but in the lessons we’ve learned from it. Over the years we’ve listened to the needs of our community, and responded. It has allowed us to inform the creation of peer support groups across a wide range of issues. It has allowed us to hear the voices of the more marginalised members of our community to create specialised responses like our groups for Asylum Seekers and Older LGBT+ People. It has fashioned and informed our training programmes, working to improve the awareness of LGBTQ+ issues in healthcare settings and our LGBT Champions programme to ensure better health and social care for older LGBTQ+ people. It has driven our work in advocating for the issues that matter and ensuring that these voices we hear are represented in the policy decisions our Governments make.

Ireland has changed a lot in the 10 years we’ve existed, as a community we’ve made huge strides: Marriage Equality, Gender Recognition, and continuous steps toward true equality in the law and in society. But these achievements sometimes mask the fact that the same old issues are still there. Ten years ago I would pick up the phone and hear from parents who were worried about their child who had come out to them, that they wouldn’t be safe, that they wouldn’t be happy, that they would have to live with stigma. Those parents still call today with those same concerns, but they find themselves struggling with those worries as they thought they wouldn’t feel them. We strive for the day we won’t be needed, but that day has yet to come.

We are proud. We are proud of the work we have done, we are proud of the 80 volunteers who work with us to answer these calls, and we are proud of those who pick up the phone or send us an instant message- these are acts that take bravery. This is a life changing service. Whether someone needs support coming out, or are dealing with any range of issues that affect them as an LGBTQ+ person, we are here.

And we need support to ensure we stay here to answer these calls. The pandemic has hit our community harder than most, we see this in our recent survey and the increased volume of calls we field every day. We have been responsive in ensuring this increased need is met, providing new services and innovating online to ensure our community stays connected.

We receive limited support to run the helpline, so if you are in a position to do so, join us in our crowdfunding drive to ensure we can deliver these services. We know not everyone is in a position to give, so you can also take a powerful action by sharing the Helpline number on social media and telling people about us, you never know who might need to hear it.

It’s been many years since I first picked up that phone, but it was the most powerful action I ever took. Sometimes that’s all people need, to be given space, to be listened to, to be heard. We know these ten years have made the world of difference, and we’ll still be here for the next ten years. We’re only a phone call away.

The LGBT Ireland Helpline number is 1890 929 539.

To find out more about how to support the service or help with crowdfunding, visit www.lgbt.ie.

LGBTI+ Life in Lockdown

Snapshot Survey Findings

Impacts on Mental Health

We asked participants whether they felt their mental health had improved, declined or stayed the same during lockdown. One of the most striking observations from the Survey showed that 62% of people reported a decline in their mental health, substantially higher than the 51% impact in the general population.

Footnote Mental Health Reform’s Responding to the Mental Health Impact of Covid-19 Survey.

This impact was significantly higher for members of our community who also have a long-term illness or disability, with 80% suffering a decline in their mental health. Other marginalised members of our community, including Older People (64% reported a decline), Travellers (85% reported a decline) and Asylum Seekers and Refugees (90% reported a decline) faced additional mental health challenges.

Impacts on Physical Health, Wellbeing and Home Life

We asked participants whether they felt their physical health had improved, declined or stayed the same during lockdown. 41.1% of respondents noted a decline in their physical health during the period of lockdown.

For those who were previously involved in LGBTI+ Sporting, Recreational or Wellbeing Groups (318 respondents), 56.9% weren’t able to engage with these groups at all during lockdown, while 34.6% were able to engage virtually and 8.5% were still able to engage directly.

LGBTI+ Community and Support Services

There was a significant impact on the ability of LGBTI+ People to interact with their community, with 60.2% reporting lower levels of interaction. This was echoed in the sentiments expressed in the commentary, with many noting the particular difficulty of not being able to engage with Pride celebrations this year.

“ I’m single, live alone, I had Covid 19, was quite ill. It was frightening and lonely.

When questioned on their awareness of LGBTI+ Support Services, 62.1% noted that they were aware of LGBT Ireland with 31.2% aware of local LGBTI+ Resources*, however only 9.3% of respondents said they reached out to LGBTI+ Support Services during this time.

*Given that the survey was disseminated through social media channels related to LGBTI+ organisations, the profile of respondents are more likely to include those who were already aware of LGBT Ireland and other support services. Therefore, the level of awareness of LGBTI+ Support Services is likely to be much lower.

This article appears in the 365 Issue of GCN

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This article appears in the 365 Issue of GCN