09.02.2017 / words: Chloe Kearns
A small charity with only 25 volunteers, Outline provide a vital source of support to the LGBT community in Surrey. With LGBT History Month taking place in February, Chloe Kearns went met Chairman Darren Bonner to find out more…
It can sometimes feel like we live in a world where we are constantly required to define ourselves, align ourselves with socially desirable trends and advertise our extreme self-confidence using all the forms of social media available to us. But when folks inevitably exceed the space prescribed by society’s boxes, some people can find it difficult to cope.
Surrey based charity Outline offer a helpline service to those questioning, or with questions about, their sexuality and gender identity. Between the hours of 7.30pm and 10pm on a Tuesday and Sunday, Outline’s volunteers man their phones. And they ring. Sometimes what follows is a 2-3 minute call about where the nearest sexual health clinic is, other times a 20 minute conversation of a deeply personal nature.
“On a typical shift, we might find 15-20 emails waiting for us,” explains Darren Bonner, Chairman of Outline. Outline train their volunteers to listen actively to service users who get in touch via telephone or web form, using appropriate language as proffered by the individual, to help them on their journey of exploration to better understand themselves: some people might be looking for labels in order to gain access to health services difficult for the trans community to obtain; others might be looking to escape labels assigned to them, particularly if in abusive circumstances.
During 2015-2016, the top three reasons people talked to Outline were: questioning their sexual or gender identity, social isolation and for support with coming out.
“People call for a variety of reasons,” says Darren. “We exist to enable a discussion and through open questioning and active listening, we aim to help people position what it is they are dealing with in their personal lives in a way that allows them to manage their feelings.”
Outline volunteers can direct callers to credible, certified sources of support and advice about a variety of issues, some LGBT specific and others much broader, such as mental health, domestic violence or substance abuse services. Being LGBT doesn’t preclude people from challenging life situations, but support can feel limited when trying to contend with multiple difficulties at once.
While some Outline volunteers are themselves part of the LGBT community, others might be parents, teachers or youth workers with an interest in supporting others in the community at large. Recruited and embraced for their multitude of skills, volunteers undergo in house training to equip them with the skills and confidence to answer calls, often after a period of responding to email communications, submitted by anonymous web form. “We’re not pushy, we’re here, we’ll listen,” says Darren.
Some volunteers support Outline in their aim to bring people together socially by helping to host Outcrowd, a monthly social support group that takes place in a variety of safe spaces. For some in the LGBT community, it can be daunting to go out in a gender coded world and function as their authentic ‘selves’- Outcrowd provides the safe space to go out and be you! Others might be very confident in themselves but new to the area and looking for friend. For them, Outcrowd could be just the place to meet other individuals who share a love of retro cinema or interior design. With 28 social support events in Leatherhead, Guildford and Woking and 879 attendees, Outcrowd has increased in popularity and is becoming better known locally but could not run without dedicated volunteers and friendly host venues.
By engaging with organisations and the public through outreach events, Outline actively works to maintain a visible presence for the LGBT community in Surrey that serves everybody.
If you have a friendly, accommodating and accessible meeting space to offer Outcrowd or are interested in volunteering for Outline, please get in touch at Darren.email@example.com
For more information, visit www.outlinesurrey.org.uk
A Cup of LGBT History
Thursday 22nd February @ 6:30 pm - 9:30 pm / Surrey History Centre, 130 Goldsworth Road, Woking
Join Surrey Heritage and Outline, Surrey's LGBT organisation for a cup of LGBT history to celebrate LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans) History Month.
Pop along for free and learn all about the history and progress of the LGBT movement. As well as free coffee and cake there will be talks about popular 1920s and 1930s music hall performers Gwen Farrar and Norah Blaney from Behind the Lines Theatre Group, Surrey History Centre and local charity Outline.
For more information visit www.surreycc.gov.uk