For over 40 years here at Switchboard we’ve been offering confidential, non-judgmental support to anyone contacting us about anything to do with sexuality, sexual health and gender identity.
Our name has changed over the years – we were the London Gay Switchboard, when we started out in 1974, then we were the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard and then, in 2015, to reflect and include everyone in our communities, we became Switchboard the LGBT+ Helpline.
We support people by giving them the information they need to make informed decisions. We’ll never tell you what to do but we’re here if you need someone to talk to.
We have over 150 volunteers at Switchboard, who can be contacted by phone, email or instant messenger. Our volunteers undergo really comprehensive training so they can handle all kinds of enquiries and support people in sensitive and vulnerable situations.
Someone to talk to
You might think that most of our calls are from young people wanting to talk about coming out, going out, sex, sexual health, gender identity or about being bullied for being different at school or at work – and you’d be right.
But it’s also the case that we get a lot of calls from people who are lonely. That might seem strange in this super-connected, IT-savvy world where everyone seems so connected to everything. But what we find at Switchboard is that people still crave hearing a human voice or making a connection with someone they can talk to.
Age is no barrier to loneliness
Older LGBT+ people get lonely too. It might be because they’ve split up with their partner or maybe their partner has died. It might be because, unlike their straight counterparts, they never married or had children or grandchildren so their support network, if they become ill or are bereaved, is smaller than straight people’s.
It might be because they’ve been forced back into the closet because they’re in an assisted living situation with people – maybe staff or other residents – who aren’t inclusive or welcoming of LGBT+ people. It might be because they’re retired and their day seems longer and their circle of friends smaller than it used to be. There are many reasons for loneliness, and older LGBT+ people can sometimes be lonelier than most.
An opportunity to help
At Switchboard we’re here to listen. We try to make anyone who contacts us feel comfortable and safe and we’ll always try to find practical ways to help if we can – like finding out about LGBT+ groups or spaces there might be in your area or online communities that may be available for you to join.
A lot has changed for the better for the LGBT+ community since the turn of the millennium with the creation of the 2004 Gender Recognition Act, the 2010 Equality Act and the 2013 Marriage (Same Sex Couple) Act.
And on that positive note, I’d like to finish with a final thought – if you’re an older LGBT+ person and you’ve got some free time – have you ever thought of becoming a Switchboard volunteer? If Switchboard and you are a good fit, volunteering for us could give you the chance to give something back to the LGBT+ community, to make connections with other LGBT+ volunteers and to have the satisfaction of knowing you’re helping someone who needs to talk, when you pick up the phone and say, “Hello, this is Switchboard. How can I help you?”
Have you been affected by any of these issues?
If you have been affected by any of the issues described in this blog, or simply need someone to reach out to, you can contact Switchboard, the LGBT+ helpline on 0300 330 0630 10am-10pm every day, or by email at email@example.com
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of Independent Age.