A Note From Our Co-Chair

When I was getting ready for a trip to Sheffield Documentary Festival last Friday, I made sure to pack my business cards. One of the main reasons I was going to Sheffield was to network, to connect with people and let them know I had something to offer that they might need. It didn’t cross my mind there were other cards I should have been packing as well.

When I heard the news of the killings at Pulse in Orlando, like you I’m sure, I was shocked, stunned and saddened.

While many Switchboard volunteers joined the thousands of people at a vigil in Soho in London, I went to one organized by the LGBT+ students’ group at Sheffield Hallam University.

We listened as Outaloud, Sheffield’s Gay Choir, sang a song from way back in 1978. It was written by Holly Near after the first, out, gay, American politician, Harvey Milk, was assassinated. Now, 28 years later, the choir’s words rang out in the early evening rain:

We are a gentle, angry people
And we are singing, singing for our lives
We are a gentle, angry people
And we are singing, singing for our lives

Then, along with speakers from other LGBT organisations, I spoke at the Sheffield vigil and told the crowd gathered in Hallam Square that we had been there for people in the aftermath of the Soho nail bomb attack on LGBT+ people in 1999 and we were here for them now in the aftermath of this horrific LGBT+ hate crime – the biggest mass killing of LGBT+ people since the Holocaust.

At Switchboard we provide phone, e-mail and instant messaging services to support people who want to talk about sexuality and/or gender identity.

Our values ensure that our services promote a positive attitude to being lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and are:
• confidential
• welcoming
• supportive
• non-judgmental

We have about 200 trained phone volunteers. All our volunteers belong to the LGBT+ communities which helps us understand the needs of the people who contact us.

And in these difficult days when our volunteers are hurting as much as the people who might call us, we’re still here to offer calm words when they’re needed most.

I said in Sheffield, “If you want to talk to us about anything that’s affecting you because of the Orlando killings, we’re here from 10 AM till 10 PM on 0300 330 0630.”

As the people began to walk home from the vigil, a member of the choir came up to me and told me that 30 years ago she had called Switchboard. She couldn’t remember exactly what she’d said or what the person she’d talked to had said but what she did remember was a feeling of calmness coming over her once she started speaking to one of our volunteers. She said, “I just remember feeling comforted, as if someone really understood me. I felt like I belonged.”

At Switchboard we often hear people at their most vulnerable or at their lowest ebb. We don’t know the people we answer the phone to, we don’t ask for names, we don’t tell ours. We rarely find out what happens after someone finishes talking to us. So this one conversation at the Sheffield vigil was really special. In amongst all the sadness, I felt proud of the work all of us at Switchboard do and of the thousands of lives we have touched over the years.

Before I left Hallam Square I found a Switchboard card with our contact details on it in the bottom of my bag and I gave it to the student organisers of the vigil. I wished I had packed more.

It’s difficult to wish you a Happy Pride right now. Instead I wish you a Pride full of love. Because love is love is love. And love will win. Eventually.

Nuala O’Sullivan
Co-chair Switchboard – the LGBT+ Helpline
14 June 2016