We want to amplify the voices of a variety of different charities, community groups and individuals from home and abroad. While highlighting how COVID-19 has impacted them, how kindness plays a role in what they do, how people can get involved to support them and what the ideal future looks like.
Our special guest today is Natasha 'Tash' Walker (pronouns she/her/they/them), Co-Chair of Switchboard LGBT+ Helpline. Discussing Switchboard's work during Covid-19, how you can support their work and how we can all be better allies to the LGBTQIA+ community
Tell us about yourself - Where do you work and what is your role? What do you like and what are you passionate about?
Hi everyone I’m Tash Walker (pronouns she/her/they/them) and I’m one of the Co-Chairs of Switchboard LGBT+ Helpline.
Switchboard started back in 1974 and has been supporting the LGBTQIA+ communities ever since. We are a confidential helpline open to the LGBTQIA+ communities and beyond, for anyone who wants to talk about gender identity, sexuality, sexual health and emotional wellbeing. We have three arms to our services - our telephone line, instant messaging and email service and we are open from 10am to 10pm, 365 days a year.
I’m passionate about inclusion, equality and acceptance. learning from and acknowledging our past. As well as educating and sharing British LGTBQIA+ history so that people really start to understand that this isn’t just British LGBTQIA+ history, this is British history full stop.
How has COVID-19 affected the work that Switchboard does?
When the UK government announced the lockdown on 23rd March, we worked through the night at Switchboard to ensure that we could continue to keep providing those calm words when needed most, and we are so pleased to say the helpline stayed open with us taking our first ever remote phone call on Tuesday 24th March.
We were already set up to work remotely for our instant message and email services, which were especially important in lockdown, as many people were worried about being overheard on the phone with a lack of private spaces.
We knew it was really important to prioritise the emotional wellbeing of our volunteers, as well as implementing the necessary technology for remote working. We implemented a rigorous check-in and support process, for all volunteers doing listening shifts remotely, as well as creating Emotional Wellbeing Support Packs and Remote Working Support Packs for our volunteers.
We are so proud of all of our volunteers and staff at Switchboard, who really pulled together as such a strong community throughout lockdown, from answering calls, to supporting each other - we at Switchboard have been here for the LGBTQIA+ communities since 1974 and we have no plans to stop now!
Did you experience an increase in calls during lockdown?
The contacts to the helpline have really increased, at their height they were up 40% in comparison to 2019. We’ve seen an increase in people under 24 contacting us, and a significant increase in people contacting us via IM and email (which we think is directly linked to people not wanting to feel overheard on the phone).
We’ve also had a 42% increase in people who are transgender and gender-non conforming getting in touch, linked to a variety of reasons from the interruption of gender affirming treatment, to the impact of transphobia that permeates social media.
COVID-19 and the lockdown has had an unimaginable impact on all of us within the LGBTQIA+ communities, especially those from marginalised communities - it’s magnifying any existing situation people may be in from domestic violence to transphobia, biphobia, homophobia but especially loneliness and isolation. Something members of the LGBTQIA+ communities really suffer from, and that we have already been battling heavily against for a while now.
People were and are reaching out for support all across the LGTBQIA+ communities, from young people feeling the pressures of the closure of schools, to trans people self-isolating within transphobic families, to the elderly - an already isolated group - who may not see a friendly face for a very long time.
There is no question of us not respecting the lockdown and social distancing measures, but we need to think about the long term impact this is going to have on people who have lost those safe spaces. Lost access to their peer groups, support groups, chosen family. As well as those who were already really isolated, suffering from higher rates of mental and physical health issues.
Tell us about the role of kindness in your work.
Kindness is so important to the support we provide at Switchboard. At Switchboard we pride ourselves on being an inclusive, committed, non-judgemental service that supports and empowers people to make the right decisions for themselves. We are here for everyone within the LGBTQIA+ communities and beyond, we are that safe space.
How can people help/get involved with what Switchboard is doing during COVID-19?
The best way to help Switchboard right now is to share our name and number (0300 330 0630), so that those who need us know that we’re here, know that they have a safe space to turn to where they will be heard and supported.
If you are interested in volunteering for Switchboard, we have no typical volunteer. All our Listening Volunteers self-identify as LGBTQIA+. They come from all walks of life with all their individual experiences but I think one thing that remains true for everyone is that they want to give something back to the LGBTQIA+ communities.
If someone is thinking about becoming a volunteer, I would say do you think you can listen with empathy and without judgement and be there to help empower our callers to make the right decisions for themselves. If yes, then get in touch.
We rely on the generosity of our friends and supporters to help cover our running costs such as IT costs, phone and heating bills. So if you have some money to spare consider donating to Switchboard.
What does the ideal future look like for you? What positives would you like to see come out of this crisis?
I think one of the best ways to get through an indefinite uncertainty such as COVID-19, is to keep one’s eyes wide open to the issues that are being magnified during this time. I feel there has been a definite increase in awareness, support and understanding which can only come from something we all experience together - we are being bonded globally by the impact of COVID-19 which can only make us stronger and more willing to support everyone in our society.
As an optimist I always hope for a better more supportive society and I feel strongly that this will be one of the real positives to be drawn from such a difficult time for us all, where we see people become better allies to the LGBTQIA+ communities and those within the LGBTQIA+ communities will become better allies to each other.
What would be your top piece of advice for someone looking to be a better ally to the LGBTQIA+ community, or an LGBTQIA+ person looking to use their privileges in other areas to better support other members of their own community?
I think that’s such a great question, especially the acknowledgment of what we need to do as allies within our own LGBTQIA+ communities. Being an ally to underrepresented groups is so important right now, and that goes hand in hand with representation. As so many wise people have said, we cannot be what we cannot see.
The LGBTQIA+ communities and their allies need to stand strong and united with each other, but especially the black and transgender and gender non-conforming communities. Together we are stronger and we are louder.
I guess if I were to give some quick top tips I would say:
- Listen, be open-minded and be willing to talk. -
- Empathise -
- Don’t make assumptions about someone’s gender identity, sexuality or background. -
- Read up on language, what does the acronym LGBTQIA+ stand for? What do pronouns mean and represent? It’s a really great way to feel more comfortable using different terms and educating yourself to use language to show support as well. -
- Learn about LGBTQIA+ history. This is often forgotten in the stories of wider history and is a great act of allyship, to learn and honour the often untold stories of all LGBTQIA+ history. Check out the podcast The Log Books which is all about the calls we’ve taken at Switchboard since 1974! -
- As much as history is important, it’s equally important to read up on challenges the communities are facing today and how you can best support them. -
- Get involved in supporting the community, share Switchboard’s details and other support services and charities. -
- Stand up for equality and what you believe in. -
Or on a really personal level, if there’s someone you’ve been thinking of recently, reach out to them - give them a call or drop them a text, let them know you’re thinking of them. Community is so important and inclusion is at the heart of what makes a really strong and accepting society.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention/add/focus on?
Switchboard, the national LGBT+ helpline, operates a confidential helpline, email and instant messaging service open from 10am - 10pm every day. Call 0300 330 0630 to speak to one of our volunteers today or visit switchboard.lgbt for more.
Natasha 'Tash' Walker (she/her/they/them)
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