QLife is an innovative partnership project that draws together the histories and expertise of five organisations: Diverse Voices Queensland, Switchboard Victoria, Twenty10 Incorporating the GLCS NSW, and Living Proud Western Australia, and the National LGBTI Health Alliance.
For decades before QLife came into being, volunteer-run, state-based ‘gay and lesbian counselling services’ (GLCSs) were providing essential services to their own communities. With little or no funding for running costs, GLCSs were built on recognition of need and the willingness of people to support each other when few other LGBTI-specific services existed.
Several GLCSs began to discuss how to reach more people and make GLCSs more sustainable. In 2013, funding was received by the National LGBTI Health Alliance to form QLife as part of Teleweb eMental Health.
QLife brings together the four state partners, each of which still operates from their local state service, with the Alliance as the fifth partner. This draws together a depth of peer-based expertise and wisdom, and extensive reources, which makes it possible for people to access LGBTI-specialised information, counselling and referrals from anywhere in Australia.
Each of the state-based services has chosen to share the story of their own history in the years before QLife.
Diverse Voices (Queensland)
Since our formation as an unincorporated body in 1984, Diverse Voices has been known by several other names, firstly Brisbane Homosexual Counselling and Information Service, then Homosexual Counselling & Welfare Service, or HCWS, and for the next 24 years as the Gay & Lesbian Welfare Association, or GLWA.
Today, under our name Diverse Voices, our counselling service has grown into a vibrant and dynamic organisation made up of, and serving more than, just gay and lesbian people. We have certainly come a long way since our inception, although we do believe we have kept closely to the ideals determined when we were first formed.
Arising from our collaboration with QLife in 2013, we now operate as a single point of contact national helpline supporting diverse people right across Australia, while still maintaining our unique Queensland focus and identity.
With an increased demand for QLife services, and with Diverse Voices as the local organisation having a long history of community service, the QLife project has brought a national perspective to our work. This collaborative approach and shared infrastructure has helped us to better support our local communities.
With 30% of our calls coming from regional areas, and to address the challenge that isolation poses for many LGBTI people in Queensland, we now also have a Regional Volunteer Program as part of our counselling activities.
QLife has enabled us to work towards our own better health outcomes by providing a place to talk about mental health, relationships, isolation, coming out and a whole host of other concerns. We are therefore delighted that QLife, as the first national project collaboration of its kind for our phone counselling services, has resulted from nearly 40 years of listening to Australian LGBTI diverse stories to create the opportunity, time and place worthy of the recognition it now receives.
Robert Collins – Convenor, Diverse Voices
The History of Switchboard Victoria – “When you need more than straight answers”
Switchboard Victoria was established in 1991. It is a volunteer based organisation that aims to provide peer based support services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) communities across Victoria. The telephone helpline, Gay Line, had closed down by the time Scotsman David Sampson arrived in Melbourne from the UK in 1990. For ten years David had worked for London Friend Counselling, the gay and lesbian counselling service which provided telephone and face to face counselling, as well as support groups for people who felt it difficult to fit in to the large London “scene”. It was well funded by Government with coming out groups for men and women, groups for gays and lesbians from ethnic backgrounds, a bisexual group, a “TV/TS” group and an older men’s group.
When he got to Melbourne David was surprised that, unlike most other Australian cities, Melbourne did not have a telephone support service for gays and lesbians. He started volunteering for ALSO, the biggest LGBTIQ community organisation in Victoria at the time and convinced its Board to support a new gay and lesbian phone counselling service. David’s vision was to create a service for gays and lesbians who had not yet come out to themselves or others, or who were socially isolated. In London, there was another service called London Gay Switchboard, which was the portal for people into clubs, pubs, social groups etc. They referred counselling calls to London Friend, and in turn Friend referred calls about the gay scene to Switchboard. David envisaged the new Melbourne service would do both, with a major focus on reducing isolation. The new service, Gay and Lesbian Switchboard was born with initial funding from ALSO.
The first task was to recruit and train enough volunteers to staff the service. A community meeting was held at ALSO to establish a core group of people to assist David in the set up. He insisted that lesbians had to be at the forefront of the service, in positions of power and influence and not just as “token members”. At the meeting, Heather Morgan came forward. Heather had worked for Crisis Line, a general telephone counselling service in Melbourne, and she became the core trainer, bringing with her ideas about telephone counselling from Crisis Line. Heather is still involved with Switchboard today. It’s worth noting that Heather’s Story forms part of the QLives suite of films made in 2015.
As the service’s focus was on counselling and support to reduce isolation, David understood that it was important to promote it in the mainstream, not just among gay and lesbian outlets. Outreach to existing services such as Lifeline, youth and community groups was undertaken, in order for them to feel confident about referring people to the new service. Also, David believed it was important that Switchboard was both respected and welcomed as a reputable player in the phone counselling field, and to this end the service joined VATSS (Victorian Association of Telephone Support Services). Many of the community groups that David was in contact with expressed relief that at last there was somewhere they could confidently refer clients who had issues which they found challenging.
The volunteer telephone counsellor training course covered a combination of lesbian and gay issues, telephone counselling skills, and HIV issues. It was also designed to be fun, with lots of participation and role plays. David’s ethos was that volunteers need to get as well as give, so always made a point of asking volunteers what they wanted from the service, not just what they could offer. Switchboard tried to list its number in the phonebook and Telecom refused as it used of the terms ‘gay and lesbian’. It took quite a bit of persuasion for Telecom to finally accept the listing.
Since those early days, Switchboard has grown to become a vital resource for the LGBTIQ community in Victoria. Hundreds of volunteers of been trained and tens of thousands of calls have been taken. It has secured a small amount of ongoing funding from the Victorian State Government. The last three or so years has seen some significant changes take place. In 2013, Switchboard, along with the National LGBTI Health Alliance and, at that time, the four other State- based phone volunteer counselling services, successfully applied for funding to form Australia’s first national LGBTI teleweb counselling service, now known as QLife. Also, in 2013 Switchboard received Federal funding to provide a volunteer based home visiting service for older LGBTIQ Victorians. The aim of the “Out and About” program is to reduce isolation and improve community connectedness for older Victorians in receipt of Home Care Packages. In 2016, the Out and About was extended to include older LGBTIQ people living in residential aged care facilities. This expansion has significantly increased the number of older LGBTIQ members of the community who have been connected with a volunteer visitor. Out and About volunteers visit on a regular basis to undertake activities such as talking and sharing life stories, reading, watching television or going out for a walk. Visit recipients have a diverse range of interests and needs, and volunteers are matched accordingly.
Although Gay and Lesbian Switchboard had always taken calls from all members of the diverse LGBTIQ community, it became apparent that the organisation’s name did not adequately reflect the sexuality and gender diversity of both callers and volunteers. Members agreed it was time for a name change. After much discussion the answer was clear, simply drop “Gay and Lesbian” and call the service, Switchboard, the name it has always been affectionately been known by! This change was made official in 2014. In July 2016, PFLAG Victoria announced it was ceasing operations after 20 plus years of supporting the parents and friends of LGBTIQ people. The PFLAG Committee selected Switchboard as the organisation to continue its valuable work.
A Brief History: Living Proud (Western Australia)
Living Proud Incorporated in the new name for Gay & Lesbian Community Services of WA Inc (GLCS). GLCS grew out of ‘Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP)’ and ‘Phone a Friend’ and was formally established in 1974 as the Homosexual Counselling and Information Service of WA. In 1984 the name was changed to the Gay Counselling Service of WA (Inc) and the organisation became an incorporated body.
In keeping with worldwide trends to recognise the contribution and needs of women in the community, the name of the service was changed in 1990 to the Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service of WA (Inc). In 1999 the name was changed again to the Gay and Lesbian Community Services of WA (Inc) to reflect the wider range of services that GLCS provides.
The recent name change to Living Proud Inc aims to reflect a more contemporary and inclusive organization which and not only strives to improve the health and wellbeing of the gay and lesbian people but also the bisexual, trans, intersex and other sexuality and gender diverse members of our community. Living Proud also reflects our aspiration for our community and our wellbeing.
The history of the Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service of NSW
The story of Twenty10 incorporating GLCS NSW begins in 1970 with the Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP NSW). Sydney in 1970 was very different to what we know and love today – it was still illegal to have homosexual relations in NSW and the rest of Australia, it wasn’t possible to get your gender officially changed, and people could still be fired from their jobs for being LGBTIQA+.
CAMP NSW was originally founded to challenge unjust laws and create a space for like-minded people to meet, organised and run entirely by volunteers from the community. After the introduction of their popular “Phone-A-Friend” service in April 1973, the support arm of CAMP NSW evolved into the Gay Counselling Service, and then the Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service of NSW (GLCS NSW).
At the same time as this was happening, young people across New South Wales were coming to Sydney after being kicked out of home by unaccepting families. Twenty10 was founded in 1982 in Darlinghurst (we’re named after that postcode!) as a crisis refuge for these young people and at that time was described as “a project for gay kids”, the first of its kind in Australia.
Over time, Twenty10’s services evolved into transitional housing, case management, counselling, and social support through Drop-In and groups.
In 2012 Twenty10 and GLCS NSW merged into one organisation, sharing resources and expertise to work towards people of all genders, sexualities, and/or intersex variations being Affirmed, Secure, Healthy and Connected, able to live in a society free from oppression, persecution or violence.
Today, we provide social support services to people ages 12 and up, including some adult support groups; transitional housing, case management and counselling for people ages 16 – 25; inclusivity training and consulting; as well as telephone and web-chat counselling for people of all ages through QLife (qlife.org.au).
We are proud to celebrate 45 years of continuous peer-based telephone counselling support in NSW in 2018, from Phone-A-Friend in 1973 to today as the NSW state partner delivering telephone and web-chat support for QLife.