London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard

I did a filmed interview for True Tube today – a sort of version of You Tube but with the emphasis on interactive debating. Today’s interview was targeted at 15 – 25 year olds and was about women in politics and women in the work place. Did feminism still need to exist? (In brief: yes).

London Lesbian and Gay SwitchboardFollowed by a visit to the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard. With my portfolio of Youth and Equalities I wanted to meet this voluntary (mainly) organisation that provides such a life line to the gay and lesbian population. They get something like 100,000 calls a year to their volunteers who are there for those in doubt, need or confusion – to listen and to help. With 160 trained (very carefully trained) volunteers their phone lines are open from 10am to 11pm and everyone gets as much time as they need.

Tim Gutteridge is the Chief Executive and he showed me around. The volunteer room has a bank of ten phone lines – with the peak time for calls being between 5 and 11pm. The largest group of callers are those who are coming out – but they also have people with all sorts of issues from health and HIV to the discrimination faced by older gay people in care homes and those with mental health challenges. All are listened to and advised with warmth and commitment.

It is clear that there is a huge need for this service – and yet their funding is hand to mouth. There is a portion (not large) funded by London HIV Protection which comes through the Health Trusts – but it is not enough and they have to go to each trust separately outside London if they want funding from around the country. One third of their calls come from London but two thirds from outside. This is nuts!

Another stark issue appears to be that the trend is to move people who are HIV positive away from the very good specialist care they have had out to local GPs – but it is clear that the reception that HIV positive people get from GPs is variable.

One instance was cited of a nurse taking details from a patient and when she came to the part of the form where HIV positive had been filled in – she couldn’t even say the words! Many barriers to comfort and variable knowledge or lack of is not inviting to those who may be sensitive about their condition and/or their sexuality.

Anyway – I was greatly impressed with the work they are doing and will be taking forward a number of issues including homophobic bullying, treatment of the elderly, funding and NHS health services for gay people.