A Bit About Switchboards

VickiA

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I'm no expert or historian - so this thread isn't intended to be particularly a fully fact checked piece - more a bit about my own experience of volunteering for a local gay and lesbian switchboard in the 1980s.

Switchboard itself About us : Switchboard is one of the longest running listening services for LGBT+ people. It was founded in 1974 and started life as the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard. Most towns/cities had their own local switchboard and in the 1980s, long before the advent of the internet and all the resource available today, these were seen as the "go to" resource for information and advice on gender, sexuality, sexual health or just to find a kindred spirit and sense of community.

Switchboards were (and still are) manned by an army of volunteers trained to listen without judging, and to offer a safe space to talk about issues. Volunteers are sought who are non-judgmental, inclusive, empathetic, and empowering. Calls are confidential and move at the pace of the caller, not the listener. No call ends until the caller decides it has come to an end. It's all about support.
 

VickiA

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In the 1980s I attended a redbrick university in a small city with a limited gay scene that centred largely around the university. Our local switchboard was manned largely by volunteers from the university. Once a week (every Thursday) the limited gay scene outside the university moved to a couple of bars and one nightclub. So there was always a shortage of volunteers to man the city's Gay Switchboard (as it was then called) on Thursday nights.

Our university had a thriving Nightline which was (and still is) a student night time listening service whose values were (you've guessed it... non-judgmental, inclusive, empathetic....) and aligned pretty well with the switchboard values. So who was called upon to help fill the shortage of volunteers on Thursday nights? You've guessed it, Nightline volunteers, regardless of sexual orientation. This led to some pretty interesting evenings where a Nightline volunteer would be co-opted to help man the Gay Switchboard. In all honesty being the token straight person in a gay community had some challenges. But when it comes to answering calls there is no room for any prejudice and we trained listeners listened while the others partied down the road. Our presence enabled the switchboard to be manned when it would otherwise have been closed. Sometimes the only calls we took were asking for directions to the venues, club and bar opening and closing times, and how to recognise that it was the correct venue (out of fear for personal safety), what to wear, where to meet etc.. Other times our full listening skills were needed and calls could be very lengthy. The support and care provided to callers was second to none in an era where there was limited access to information (pre the internet and WWW as we know it today). I am pretty sure that in this day and age volunteers do have to identify as part of the LGBT+ community, so I am not sure how many other straight people have had this experience.

Despite the internet, there is still a place for switchboards. They are still busy, still run by volunteers, many are registered charities relying on donations to help fund them. But in this era of access to the internet and the wealth of information there is still a role for switchboards. Nothing quite compares to the sound of a voice on the end of a phone. Someone completely independent of you, without motive or agenda, whose sole purpose is to listen to you. In total confidence.
 

Swissgreys

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One of my flatmates worked for the original Switchboard in London almost 30 years ago. I remember going to meet him after work so we could go clubbing on a Sunday night at Benji's (gay night was Sunday). The first time I went I assumed it would be in some big fancy studio type place, but it really was run out of 2 tiny rooms.
It's such an important resource for people who feel they have no one in real life that they can talk or turn to.
 

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Never heard of this before. What fantastic information! Thanks Vicki
 

VickiA

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One of my flatmates worked for the original Switchboard in London almost 30 years ago. I remember going to meet him after work so we could go clubbing on a Sunday night at Benji's (gay night was Sunday). The first time I went I assumed it would be in some big fancy studio type place, but it really was run out of 2 tiny rooms.
It's such an important resource for people who feel they have no one in real life that they can talk or turn to.
Switchboard (the London one) were heavily involved in supporting Survivors, and family and friends of the the victims of the Admiral Duncan bombing, too. I’m sure. Incredible work.
 
D

DM090820

I think it's covered somewhere in this thing:

I've mentioned it as there was a particularly touching one where a very elderly man just called up to have someone to talk to as his family would never accept him, so he stay single forever.
 
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