About LGBT+History Month
Every year during February, registered charity LGBT+ History Month (founded by School’s Out) strives to promote equality and diversity across our education curriculum, learning institutions, workplaces and the wider community. They do this by raising awareness and advancing education on matters affecting the LGBT+ community, working to make educational institutions safe spaces for all, and promoting the general welfare of LGBT+ people, so they can contribute fully to society and lead fulfilled lives.
The call to action for LGBT+ History Month sums up the mission in just nine simple words: “Claiming our past – Celebrating our present – Creating our future”.
Becca joined Fizzbox in summer 2022 as our Content Writer & Coordinator. She has worked with Brighton-based charity, Switchboard. as a helpline volunteer for the last two years. Against the backdrop of LGBT+ History Month, I spoke with her about her voluntary work and her lived experience of being part of the LGBT+ community.
What does LGBT+ History Month mean to you?
Becca tells me that “in many ways it’s just a month like any other for my community, but at the same time, it’s important for us to take the time to reflect on the efforts and struggles of those who have gone before and paved the way for positive change.”
She says: “It’s a chance to remember those who we have lost in the fight for the freedoms we have today, but also to celebrate the wins, such as the many countries that have legalised gay marriage in recent years. Also to highlight LGBT+ businesses and media, and celebrate LGBT+ celebrities who are creating better representation simply by existing.” She speaks of a balance between honouring the figures who have sacrificed everything to fight for equality, and owning a happy, proud sense of achievement and progression.
Becca believes that for the cisgender, straight community, LGBT+ History Month provides an educational tool - it’s a good learning opportunity and a prompt to take the time to educate oneself and read about the history of the LGBT+ community and the struggles they still face. The overriding sentiment is that this is a year-round, ongoing battle that has to be fought by everyone in our society, but that shining a light on the topic throughout February is still important, if not essential.
She continues: “There is such a long way to go. There’s a major lack of understanding about what gender actually means, an ignorance about the differences between sex and gender, and a lot of dangerous, hate-fuelled media coverage that leaks down into every layer of our society.” We both agree that whilst progress may be slow, awareness months like this can help to shine a light on the many, vying priorities on the societal agenda.
Alongside her full-time role at Fizzbox, Becca volunteers for Switchboard, a Brighton-based charity offering support to LBGTQ people in the form of a telephone helpline, email and chat service, and various face to face support groups and networking events. Set up in 1975, today Switchboard is more than ‘just’ a helpline - their mission is to understand and respond to the wide range of needs of all LGBTQ communities by listening, informing and developing responsive programmes.
Can you tell me about the work that you do with Switchboard?
“My role is primarily as a helpline volunteer, taking calls from people in crisis, or people simply looking for information, from all walks of life. We’re also responsible for keeping an eye on the online chat function and email inbox, during our shifts.”
Becca tells me that callers may be looking for in-the-moment emotional support, or a space to talk about their relationships, or they may want information about local services, facilities and venues, or general guidance about a variety of issues and topics. She tells me: “Switchboard was first set up as a support avenue for people affected by the AIDS crisis. People may remember the closing scenes of All4’s It’s a Sin, where a new phone service is alluded to as a beacon of hope - it’s Switchboard they’re referring to.”
I ask her how it feels to start a shift and not have any idea of what’s waiting for you when you answer the phone. “It’s really challenging not knowing how it’s going to go from call to call, and my first shift was pretty daunting. But now I know not to second guess, to be in the moment, actively listen to each caller and support them in the best way possible”. Until recently, I also volunteered on a national helpline, so I can relate to that sense of walking into the unknown. We reflect on the immeasurable power and simple gift of ‘just’ being there for someone.
What prompted you to start volunteering for Switchboard and what has it taught you?
“I wanted to do something meaningful to support my community. I am aware that in many ways I’m in a position of privilege and fortunate to be comfortable with who I am. I wanted to offer support to those who may be struggling with their own situation. As helpline volunteers, we are not therapists, but we’re trained in active listening. So we can’t give advice, but we can listen, show empathy, and offer signposting to relevant services.”
I ask Becca what transferable skills she has learnt from her volunteer work, to which she smiles and replies: “I am SO much better at listening than I was before. I have learnt how important it is to actively listen to what people are saying, to convey compassion and to reflect back what I’ve heard. The role has given me perspective, in that I appreciate how privileged I am in my own social position. I’ve learnt the importance of people having time to vent, to say what they want to say in a non-judgmental space, so that they ultimately feel less alone.”
“When I speak to someone who is in a really bad way at the start of the call, and they tell me at the end ‘I actually feel in a better place now’ - well, that is worth so much and is very rewarding. It’s also amazing to work with a team of like-minded, cool people all from different walks of life, but all of whom have this deep connection. It’s refreshing and energising to be in a room full of people and not have to explain yourself at every turn. There is an underlying current that connects us and a sense of commonality, despite our differences.”
I tell her that the phrase ‘underlying current that connects us’ really resonates with me and is a beautiful expression of what it feels like to be in a space with others with whom we share similar lived experiences.
What more can workplaces do to support the LGBT+ community?
Becca believes this should start with training employees on the differences between the spectrums of gender and sexuality, education around why pronouns are important, and the ways in which loose, toxic language can damage. She says that businesses should seek the input of the LGBT+ voices within their workforce, and she encourages everyone to challenge throwaway comments that land heavy and cause hurt, to call out microaggressions as they happen - not as an act of conflict, but to educate, inform and facilitate change.
I ask the million dollar question and am deeply pleased and relieved when Becca tells me that she has felt welcomed and included since joining our team. She feels she can bring her whole self to work, which has sadly not always been the case in previous companies.
Within a sector like ours, where events like Hen and Stag dos are traditionally viewed as gender-specific, we discuss the need to think about how to be more inclusive to the LGBT+ community. Becca says: “A landing page for shared Hen & Stag dos would go a long way towards showing how accepting we are as a company and a brand. But also taking great care about the images and words we’re using on our website is very important, avoiding gender-specific language, and eradicating outdated, unacceptable phrases. All of these steps ultimately help with inclusion for all, not just for our community.”
I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with someone who speaks so passionately and eloquently about the failings in our society to embrace and celebrate difference in all its forms, and who is actively giving back to her community in a selfless and meaningful way.
I reflect on the fact that whilst we have an Equality, Diversity & Inclusion strategy in place at board level, I sometimes feel unsure of what tangible next steps are needed to bring this to life day to day. We’re committed to maintaining an inclusive, welcoming work environment for our employees, but must also recognise that we need support from our team to ensure we’re on the right path, and are talking about the topics and issues that are front and centre for them.
I come away from our interview with a renewed commitment to ensure that our employees never, ever have to suffer the impact of outdated viewpoints and micro-aggressive behaviours. I am even more determined that our actions will always mirror the inclusive values that we claim to uphold.
Immediately after our chat, I move the card ‘mandatory ED&I training for all staff’ to the ‘priority’ list on my Trello board. I am committed to getting this mapped out and delivered within the next couple of months, and plan to invite Becca to run a section on pronouns and inclusive language. The journey of change is a long and winding one for the world of work, but I will keep putting one foot in front of the other until we get to where we need to be.
To access support from Switchboard, or to find out more about volunteering opportunities with the organisation:
Visit their website - https://www.switchboard.org.uk/
Follow them on Instagram - lgbtswitchboard
Call the helpline - 01273 204050