The LGBT Helpline (1890 929 539) provides confidential support to LGBT people, their family and friends, and to people who are questioning if they might be LGBT. It is currently open for 16 hours each week. The service is provided by a network of trained volunteers but, due to high demand and limited numbers of volunteers, it is unable to answer every call it receives.
“Despite recent progress in advancing equality for LGBT people, many still encounter difficulties in relation to their orientation or gender identity,” said Paula Fagan, Coordinator of the LGBT Helpline. “Our service is one way of supporting people as they face these difficulties but we need more volunteers if we are to answer all of the calls we are receiving.
“In our first year, we have dealt with 2,500 queries. However, we know we could have answered four times that amount of calls if we had more volunteers. If we can recruit additional volunteers, then we’ll be able to expand our opening hours, and better meet the demand for support amongst the LGBT community.”
The LGBT Helpline’s new recruitment drive will run over the next three months and will encompass a media campaign, as well as an online recruitment drive. The service is calling on members of the LGBT community to volunteer their services to help others who may be in need of support.
Volunteers are required to complete an initial six-week training period and to contribute a minimum of four hours’ service per month. After their initial training, they will be based in one of the LGBT Helpline’s affiliated local helpline centres, which are located in Dublin, Cork, Roscommon and Dundalk. The identity of volunteers is never revealed, and the helpline safeguards their privacy at all times.
“Unfortunately, the reality is that many LGBT people have had negative experiences at some stage or other, and have felt in need of support. Often, LGBT people – or their family or friends – simply need a non-judgemental space to talk about concerns they have about how they or their loved one will be accepted as an LGB or T person. We know what that feels like. And we also know how great it is when you find someone – either a friend or a professional service – that can offer you information and support.
“So, with our recruitment drive, we’re asking members of the LGBT community to give something back: by volunteering for just four hours each month, you can make a real difference to thousands of other LGBT people who are in need of support.”
Need for Female and Older Volunteers
At today’s launch, the LGBT Helpline highlighted a particular need for more female volunteers and for older volunteers to ensure a good mix of volunteers within the service.
“At present, we have five times more men volunteering than women,” said Paula Fagan. “Now, we’re not saying we don’t want any more male volunteers – indeed, we welcome new volunteers from across the LGBT community. However, we do know we have a specific need for greater numbers of female volunteers, and also that we need to raise awareness of our services amongst women.
“Only 13 per cent of callers to our helpline last year described themselves as female. If we succeed in recruiting more volunteers, one of our aims is to open our service at times that may suit female callers and volunteers better, as many women have limited availability due to parenting and caring responsibilities.”
Ms. Fagan also called for older members of the LGBT community to get involved.
“We have heard a lot in recent months about people who are taking early retirement,” she said. “So if there are older LGBT people who now find themselves with a bit of extra time on their hands, I would urge them to seriously consider volunteering with our helpline.
“Older LGBT people face specific challenges and, therefore, may need additional support. There’s a perception that it’s more socially acceptable to be openly LGBT when you’re young, but that you will be viewed in a negative light if you are open about your sexuality later in life. Indeed, we have heard devastating stories of older LGBT people who have had to go back into the closet, so to speak, because they felt they couldn’t be open about their sexuality due to changed circumstances in their lives, such as moving into residential care.”
“Recent research* from Trinity College Dublin revealed how older LGBT people are faced with a ‘double invisibility’, both as older people and as LGBT people. Only 54 per cent of this group feel part of their local community, while just 50 per cent feel part of the LGBT community. This research also recommended that the LGBT community should provide support and information on the coming out process in later life, and that’s one of the things our helpline tries to do.
“We want to be in a position to support LGBT people of all ages. And that’s why it’s important for us to have a range of age-groups represented across our volunteer base. We want to highlight to every member of the LGBT community, no matter who you are, that there is someone on the other end of the line who understands your situation and wants to help,” added Ms. Fagan.
The LGBT Helpline can be accessed on 1890 929 539 at the following times:
Tuesday & Wednesday: 6-9pm
Thursday & Friday: 7-9pm
Saturday & Sunday: 4-6pm
Further information about the service is available at www.lgbt.ie. Anyone interested in volunteering with the helpline can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1890 929 539.
*Research Source: ‘Visible Lives: Identifying the Experiences and Needs of Older Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) People in Ireland’ (Higgins et al, 2011)