London's Lesbian and Gay Switchboard celebrated its 38 years of
service to the LGBT community with a party at its North London
The service which launched in 1974 has been at the centre of the
UK's LGBT community, offering listening support, information and
referrals through its central helpline which is staffed entirely by
The charity used the event to launch its new email and instant
messaging service which will help them to speak to over 20,000
people every year.
Emailed questions can be answered through the email email@example.com and online
chat can be accessed through
LLGS is one of the oldest and biggest LGBT organisations in the
UK. At present the charity operates with only one paid member of
staff and 180 volunteers who speak to callers about everything from
coming out to going out; to safer sex or because they've
"Maybe they are calling because they are considering a civil
partnership, or because they're feeling isolated and want a chat,"
volunteer co-ordinator Ian Shovell told DIVA.
Early indications of the new social media support show that the
services are particularly of interest to younger people, and could
offer benefits in reaching people who are isolated because of their
living situation and even those who may not identify as gay yet
require information about safer sex.
"We had one woman who was able to contact us via IM while her
children were doing their homework," says press officer Fiona
Harvey. "Another married man who is having unsafe sex with gay
escorts felt he needed some sexual health advice."
This kind of user is particularly important, says Harvey, because
they are typically hard to reach. "Bearing in mind that it costs
£26,000 per year for treatment and medication for someone living
with HIV, if just two people each year take our safer sex advice
about HIV prevention, we cover the funding we receive from the NHS
that is vital to ensure we keep going."
Speaking at the event, out gay Conservative MP Greg Barker
praised the charity for the services offered and spoke of the
importance of being able to speak in confidence to a listening ear.
"For me, talking about [coming out] with a counsellor helped to
make it real and because I am in public life, I got lots of letters
from dozens of other gay men and even today, its easy to think that
we have come so far but for many people it is still a big
But the service may be in danger of closing down as a result of
ongoing government cuts to the NHS. The LLGS has funding confirmed
until September 2012 but, says Harvey, "The indications are not
good. Cuts have already been not quite halved in the last financial
year and from September we're not sure what's going to happen. We
offer incredible value for money and it seems insane not to
continue to fund our work."