The Origins of QLife: Diverse beginnings, united voices.

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
Twenty10 incorporating GLCS NSW
Living Proud WA
Switchboard Victoria

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

Part 1 In the Beginning, it was CAMP!

The modem lesbian and gay rights movements started with organisations such as the Mattachine Society in the USA, CHE in the UK, the NZ Homosexual Law Reform Association, the Homosexual Law Reform Society of the ACT and the Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP) in NSW. All these movements had their beginnings in developed countries.

At first the special needs of Bisexual women and men were not clearly recognised, and support organisations for these minority groups were late in the filed. Transvestites had a number of organisations, largely in the USA, with a well-recognised NSW group. The Seahorse Club, giving advice and support. Transgender women and men were considered a matter for psychiatrists and clinical psychologists until the foundation of Tireseas House (now the Gender centre) in the 1980s. But it was male homosexuals, “queers’, ‘queens, “fairies’, “poofters’ who were the principle minority group that needed a sense of identity.

Great encouragement came from the bravery of the drag queens responsible for the Stonewall Riots, in New York, on 27, 28 and 29 June 1969. To show how marginalised male homosexuals were, then, the NY Police and the media labelled the three nights of civil disobedience as ‘riots’. They were not. They were a stand made by a number of very courageous men who saw no reason why they should be discriminated against by ‘New York’s Finest’. They actively resisted being harassed and their meeting place invaded by uniformed public servants who may have been responding to the dictates of political masters, but who were more likely manifesting their own homophobia. Films like “Serpico” and “Cruising” showed these attitudes up, very sharply.

The situation in Australian States and territories were little different, as the late Dr Duncan Chappie would testify. In February 1970, the Victorian Humanist Society set up a homosexual law reform committee, and in July of that year, John Ware and Christabel Poll made the decision to form an openly homosexual group to be called CAMP Inc.

In NSW, the political climate, aided and abetted by active encouragement from many fundamentalist religions, was narrow-minded, and socially repressive. The laws against buggery and sodomy (whatever these terms actually meant) made any form of gay male sex, wherever done, a felony. It is also important to remember that, for a lesbian, the Summary Offences Act and the Police Offences Act were openly used to control and repress women from showing any affection towards one another in public. A conviction could and did lead to a fine, and some very unwelcome and uncalled for publicity in the tabloid and broadsheet press.

Television was still finding its feet in those days, and talkback radio was an evening event, focusing on social and personal problems. “Checkerboard” was the single example of a maturing television medium. A man who was arrested by uniform or plain clothes police officers, for ‘exposing’ himself, was charged with offensive behaviour and when convicted, would be fined; some were given 6 months sentences. As it is impossible for any man to stand at a urinal and not ‘expose’ himself, this activity, especially for members the ‘Parks and Gardens’ squad, was a nice little earner. But, should the man make any kind of approach to one of these agents’ provocateurs, he was arrested and charged with ‘attempting to solicit a male for an immoral purpose’. This crime was punishable by up to 14 years penal servitude. Any arrest and appearance before a magistrate would be reported in the press, and such reporting would lead to loss of a job, shame, and often suicide. When John and Christabel made their decision, they set up a number of ‘cells’ to publicise the idea, and enrol supporters and workers. The Australian wrote an article about the Campaign Against Moral Persecution, in its 10 September 1970 edition.

A meeting of some 250 lesbians and gay men was held in the Church hall of St John the Evangelist, in Balmain on 17 November. This was a very public statement by many homosexual men and women. Volunteers for a number of tasks were sought, and the first edition of CAMP INK was published at the end of that month. The next meeting was the first general meeting, chaired by lan Black, on 6 February 1971, at which time John and Christabel were elected co-conveners. CAMP Inc’s main tasks were to publish a journal as a way to raise public awareness of the discrimination, repression and need for social, political and community reforms, to seek law reform and to find suitable accommodation.  This last task was quickly solved, and the law reform group started on a long and very difficult road.

It was strongly supported by members of the Women’s Electoral Lobby (WEL). But the ‘political’ purpose was soon tested. The Navy discharged five men for “depraved activities”, and CAMP protested. Protests became the main publicly visible actions of the organisation.  There were a number of other organisations started in this remarkable year, in NSW and across Australia, but CAMP (NSW) as it became known, was the first. A recitation of the main actions that members took, guided by the Collective would include these: the decision by some members (January 1972) to separate Sydney Gay Liberation from CAMP (NSW); Dennis Altaian’s appearance on ABC’s Monday Conference followed by a demonstration outside ABC’s offices when an item on gay liberation is banned from This Day Tonight (David McDiarmid is our first arrest); in July, there was a march to celebrate the 5~ anniversary of the UK’s law reform; on 31 October, Peter Bonsall- Boone, CAMP’S secretary, with his partner and two members, Gabby Antolovich and Sue Wills appeared on ABC’s Chequerboard, and a fortnight later, we demonstrated outside St Clements Church in Mosman when Bonsall was fired for admitting his homosexuality and his gay relationship.

In December, the late David Widdup stood against William McMahon for the seat of Lowe, as a declared gay man. He said that he was ‘after Billy’s seat’. CAMP Lobby Ltd as it now was, continued with these socially active demonstrations, published a number of policy statements, and appeared before several Royal Commissions. We were actively encouraged to become incorporated by the then President of the Council for Civil Liberties.

In 1975, South Australia was the first State to fully decriminalise homosexual acts; Mike Clohesy, then CAMP’S Secretary, put forward a submission to the Royal Commission on Human Relationships, and was interviewed by Channel 9’s A Current Affair, The Catholic School where he was a teacher fired him. CAMP mustered 200 members and supporters outside St Mary’s Cathedral in protest. On 23 November, the Catholic Church challenged CAMP’S right to put a submission to the Royal Commission. The Royal Commission accepted the submission on 19 December 1975.

On 27 and 28 November 1976, CAMP held the Tribunal on Homosexuality and Discrimination. While the Anti-Discrimination Act was passed in 1973, it was silent on sexual orientation. Because of the Tribunal and its recommendations, the Anti-Discrimination Board commissioned a report on Homosexuality, and this lead to the amendment to the Crimes Act and the amendment to the Anti-Discrimination Act. In 1981, the ‘political’ wing and the ‘welfare’ wing separated, and the educational and support roles of CAMP became separate. But the social, political and humanist parts of the gay and lesbian reform movement are in no way diminished. In her preface to A Review of the 1976 Tribunal on Homosexuals and Discrimination, Justice Elizabeth Evatt wrote: ‘This revisitation shows, however, that it is a long and hard struggle to change attitudes and to achieve a fair and tolerant society. There is still violence against gays and lesbians, there is still much to do in reforming the law. In the meantime, this re-examination of the Tribunal stands as a tribute to all those who have led the movement for reform for equal recognition, and for the freedom to live the life style of their choice.”That is the rationale for the early days of the lesbian and gay movement, in Sydney. As for our physical presence, in 1970, we obtained a lease on what is now the Manor House,
a restaurant, at 393 Darling Street, Balmain. Within two years we had to move to much more modest premises at 10 David Street, Forest Lodge – ‘not quite Glebe’ as the minutes record. We were able to get into that desirable suburb, in January 1974, when we leased 33A Glebe Point Road.

We out-grew these premises, and joined with Fitness Exchange and Acceptance, the gay and lesbian Catholic group, in a lease for 51 Holt Street, Surry Hills, in May 1981. This first floor of an old warehouse was the first Gay Centre, and was used as a meeting place by many lesbian and gay groups. But that lease, too, ran out. With the Fitness Exchange, we moved to remarkably cramped facilities in Wellington Street, Chippendale; so small were these that there was only room for a phone room. Acceptance had to find another home. We shared the ground floor with the aerobics classes. The Executive Officer could not be accommodated, and we leased, with ACON, the first floor of a building in Crown Street – it’s now the TAB – and, when ACON’S need for space accelerated, we could not afford the rental, and took space in Dr Gary Morris’s rooms, in Glebe Point Road, nearly next door to 33A! The E.O. stayed there until we could negotiate a lease for rooms at 285 Broadway, which were a little nearer – about three hundred metres – to Chippendale. And we had become the Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service of NSW (very grand!).

That’s our physical history, as recorded in Annual Reports, Executive Committee minutes, minutes of general meetings. Annual General meetings, Extraordinary General meetings, CAMP INK and staff newsletters. Any member may browse through these at the Centre. These records are still incomplete, and a number of members are trying to locate earlier copies of some of the material. For all this history, GLCS has also been greatly assisted by Robert French and his remarkable archives, and the work of the 78er’s Festival Events Group. Carry Wotherspoon, the acknowledged authority on NSW’s gay history has been a very valuable source. The work of the Australian Lesbian and Gay Research Foundation is looking both at the history of lesbian and gay topics, but also the social and political issues.

The telephone counselling service actually started in the front room of 16 Terry Street, Balmain; this was on the 13th April 1973 – Friday the 13th, for the triskaidekaphobics. It followed the huge response to the Chequerboard report, and the number of phone calls became so great that CAMP regularised the system, at 33A. This is the other evidence of the organisation’s members’ commitment. As soon as we were in Glebe Point Road, we set up Phone-A- Friend. We had unbelievable difficulties getting that, as well as any other business name, registered.

Homophobia was almost bureaucratised. It might be mentioned at this point that bisexual men and women were not made as welcome at the Centre as they should have been, and were excluded from the phones for some years. Since a significant number of transvestites were also heterosexual, they were not encouraged to participate in what had become a gay and lesbian organisation. Some of the Committee did support the Seahorse Club at its seminars. It is also sad to report that there was not as much awareness about the needs of transgender folk, and counsellors have spent some years learning to be more consciously sensitive to their needs. The difficulty with the phone counselling service was the inherent illegality of almost all the activities the lesbians and gay men told the counsellors about. As has been noted previously, lesbian activities were illegal under the terms of the Summary Offences Act and the Police Offences Act – which referred to actions by members of the public that the police considered offensive. Gay men, of course, could be sentenced to a maximum of 14 years penal servitude for example, “attempting to solicit a male for an immoral purpose” Not illegal, but immoral. That was the Crimes Act 1900, which was, thankfully, amended in 1984.

The amendment made it possible for two gay men, in the privacy of their home, to show their love for one another, without the police bursting in, arresting both, and charging them with ‘the abominable crime of buggery”. This also attracted a sentence of 14 years penal servitude. To run down and kill a pedestrian was manslaughter, and could be punished by as much as ten years gaol. There was this Victorian, moralistic theme in much of the law of the State, and voiced by some of our staunchest opponents, like the Festival of Light.

From the earliest days of the Campaign Against Moral Persecution – February 1970 – we were very serious about gender parity. We were also very concerned about the second-class status imposed on women in NSW, and the invisibility of lesbians. Unthinking men have appallingly sexist attitudes towards gay women, and some women can be equally horrid to other women. Our concern, all those years ago, achieved some sort of world-wide recognition at the First International Gay Rights Congress in Edinburgh in late 1974, when one of our members, Brian Woodward, spoke forcefully about lesbians and their deplorable plight. We persevered with Phone-A- Friend and opened a second line, with the financial help from the Boomerangs Social Club. And we had a wonderful visual reference system – The Cards – set up by Bruce Quinn, well before we moved to Holt Street. They have travelled with us, loved and reviled by all counsellors. But the Cards are not so much passe as limited in their power to help a counsellor identify a venue or a referral with little information to work with. This is what the Counsellor Information System does, marvelously. Tim Young was its designer. We have had benefactions: the City of South Sydney, Sydney City Council and John Marsden to list some. The NSW Health Department, The Department of Community Services and Telstra all support our work on the phones and with the wider public.

Without this practical support, GLCS could not operate. Another point we must consider is GLCS’s commitment to our communities and to the wider communities in NSW. One of our members was employed in the Health Commission, and located at Darlinghurst. He and the first Executive Officer were very active in the HIV/AIDS programs from the outset, and the counselling service provided a considerable number of educators. We helped in the formation of ACON, and helped train volunteers for the Community Support Network. Many of the counsellors and ordinary members have worked for Ankali, CSN and ACON. We must now look to how our members have striven to meet these obligations. Having become entirely an education and welfare service, the incorporated name, CAMP Lobby Ltd-a company limited by guarantee not having a share capital, from 1974- was changed to Gays Counselling Service, in the teeth of lot of bureaucratic obstruction, and then to its present incorporated name. Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service of New South Wales. We run the counselling service, and provide educational materials and public presentations.

We talk with medical students, nursing students, welfare students and provide information to high school students. These duties, so far, have been met by ordinary folk – men and women who were once stigmatised by being labelled homosexual; then pitied and treated because they were sick; then patronised because they were a militant minority; and, today, almost suffered because it doesn’t look like we are going to go away. At the start of our 31St year of service, the Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service of NSW is still very much in demand. Homophobia, in all its various forms, is all too alive and virulent. Gay men, lesbians, bisexual men and women, and those with the challenges of gender identity still face problems with coming out, to parents, friends, work colleagues or acquaintances. In addition to the many difficulties that surge from anti-gay oppression, there are many others for which the Service provides its callers with support and encouragement. Relationship break-ups, unemployment, domestic violence and loneliness are just some of these. As long as there are people in our communities who are trying to face life’s difficulties, GLCS will be there for them. Our service development has been a constant consideration by all executives and directors, and all our members since we were incorporated, as CAMP Lobby Limited, all those years ago.