Victoria’s LGBTI telephone counselling service is as relevant today as it was 21 years ago, outgoing co-president Dominic Smith has said.

This year marked 21 years since Gay and Lesbian Switchboard Victoria was started to provide anonymous telephone support to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and, more recently, intersex people in the state.

The switchboard began in 1991, founded by a “group of very dedicated people” with support from the ALSO Foundation.

Switchboard co-president Dominic Smith told the Star Observer people still used the service for many reasons, even just to say hello.

“It’s not only just coming out issues that we have,” he said.

“We have people who have already come out and are experiencing a whole pile of issues.

“Sometimes we just have people call in to say hello because they live in rural Victoria and they’ve got nobody to talk to.”

Tasmanians also use the service since the state does not have its own.

“Tasmania has some great support groups out there but it doesn’t have a telephone counselling service,” he said.

With rapid advances in technology, Smith said there was a need for the telephone service to expand.

Online counselling is just one idea, he said.

“Younger kids these days are engaged on social media and social forums, so why not?” he said.

Smith cited the Victorian AIDS Council who already provided online support for gay and bisexual men in social networks like Gaydar.

Another opportunity was how the switchboard can support other community organisations with its wealth of information and experience of Victoria’s LGBTI community.

“Not only do we provide a peer-based counselling service for the queer community but also for organisations to understand we have 21 years of history, 21 years of data,” Smith said. “So we have this extensive collection of information that other community organisations might want to tap into.”

There are up to 50 counsellors who volunteer at switchboard but Smith said they always needed more volunteers.

The co-president will reliquish his role after two years at the November 13 AGM in accordance with the organisation’s constitution, but Smith is adamant there is still a strong need from the service.

“It may not be the same counselling service it was 21 years ago… but I think in 21 years time there is still the need for some sort of service,”he said.

INFO: The Gay and Lesbian Switchboard Victoria can be reached on (03) 9663 2939 and on 1800 184 527 in regional Victoria and Tasmania.

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