Since the announcement of the marriage equality postal survey, Victoria-based LGBTI telephone and web counselling service Switchboard has seen a 25 per cent spike in the number of people phoning in.

And General Manager of Switchboard, Jo Ball, considers that a conservative estimate.

“People are definitely being driven to call because of the survey, we’re hearing a lot of distress and confusion,” she says.

“We’ve also had a lot of volunteers come back to help because of the survey, and we’ve run another training course for new ones.

“All trends show that the number of people calling in will only increase over the next couples of months.”

Ball joined the team in December last year, after having previously worked quite ironically at the Australian Bureau of Statistics, who will be rolling out the postal survey.

She’d spent a lot of time working in government organisations and kept finding herself trying to undertake LGBTI-related work in those fields.

“So I thought, why not work full-time for my community,” she says.

“My passion lies in helping the community and it felt like a really good time to do it.

“It’s been an absolute honour to work for the organisation so far.”

Switchboard offers anonymous phone and web chat for LGBTI people and their allies, so that they can talk through anything they may be feeling or any issues they may be experiencing.

The volunteers on the other end of the line are adequality trained and always remains anonymous.

Ball says the team aren’t afraid to have hard conversations around sex, sexuality, and bodies, and they’re a completely judgement-free space.

“You don’t need a reason to call,” she says.

“And I think there’s a lot of importance in the fact that when people call our lines they know the person on the other end has an idea about what they’re going through, and can affirm their experience.”

Last month Ball went along to the Country Fire Authority (CFA) to speak with them for Wear It Purple Day, a day championing pride in young LGBTI people.

Ball says it was an interesting experience, given the stereotypically ‘blokey’ and masculine culture associated with the CFA.

“I was telling people about our history and was saying sure, we’re under pressure now, and we’ve been under pressure for a number of reasons – Orlando, Chechnya, the original plebiscite – but before that it was equal access to IVF, it was birth certificates, it’s always trans rights… the list goes on,” she says.

“A woman came up to me afterwards and she was crying, and saying that she hadn’t realised how much the LGBTI community was affected until my talk.

“Going into places where everyone doesn’t start from a place of agreeing with you can be special, because you can really open people’s minds.”

Ball wants LGBTI people and their allies to know that Switchboard is in the business of having conversations, and encourages everyone to pick up the phone if they need to.

“We’re there if you’re in a crisis but we don’t pitch ourselves as a crisis line,” she says.

“And it’s not clinical counselling, it’s peer counselling. You’re welcome to call us everyday. People certainly do.”

Switchboard is a web and phone-based counselling service for LGBTI people and their allies. You can call or chat with them any day between the hours of 3PM and 12AM, at 1800 184 527.

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