I have been a volunteer with the LGBT Helpline based in the Cork Gay Project since January 2018, and I have seen the organisation go from strength to strength. I feel that the LGBT community in Cork is in good hands and the helpline is a necessary resource separate from others like the Samaritans.
2017 was a pretty low year for me. I was ghosted by two separate people, a friend and a roommate, and my college application for a Master’s degree was rejected. I felt like no one liked me, my career was going nowhere and that I was wasting my life with anything that I did. I had dug myself into a hole and things looked pretty bleak. I decided to seek help and sought out a therapist. Talking to someone for an hour a week really helped me, and my whole outlook became more positive. I grew more secure with myself and I finally saw a clearer vision of what I wanted to do with my life.
One of those goals was to become more involved in the LGBT community and to help out others like I had been helped. Luckily, I saw a Facebook post that the LGBT Helpline were looking for volunteers in late 2017. I immediately emailed them and was met with welcome enthusiasm. I was apprehensive about how I would cope, but the coordinators were great at breaking the ice and remaining aware of how we felt in relation to the work as we progressed. I attended six training days spread out over a month, meeting seasoned volunteers and experts on helpline etiquette and procedure. The questions put to us during the training were ones I hadn’t considered; what if there is silence at the end of the line? Are you comfortable talking to someone who is in prison? What do you do when the caller becomes aggressive? All these made me think of the various problems and situations that those in the LGBT community face. I made friends and learned so much about the need for helplines like ours.
Talking is such a simple concept, but it can change your whole viewpoint around. Divulging my problems to a person separate from my life helped me feel better and gain a different perspective. The cause of LGBT rights has progressed so much, but there is still the underlying feelings of shame and isolation that comes with being part of a minority. So many calls come in with people in rural communities looking to connect, or those too afraid to come out to their families for fear of rejection. The courage needed to dial is immense; it can be a whole new battle starting a conversation. I was supervised by a veteran volunteer for my first three nights on the helpline, and then I could take calls on my own. I felt supported by my now-colleagues and competent in my skills. I hope that any person to end a call to the helpline felt even a little better, and that I have done my best.
Looking for help is not weakness, it is strength. Going to a therapist doesn’t mean you’re mentally unsound, it actually improves your overall health. Society today projects an unattainable goal of physical, mental and financial perfection, and it causes massive amount of anxiety across the societal and sexuality spectrum. Who wants to be perfect? Perfection is boring. I view myself as a constant work in progress, and having constant goals and things to strive for drives me in my day to day life. Society is changing ever so slowly, embracing that which stands apart from the hetero-normative model, but it still has a ways to go. I like to think that my experiences as a volunteer have opened my eyes to the wonderful varieties within our community. Be brave, be weird, be seen. We are all beautiful.
I really feel part of a community here at the Cork Gay Project. There is always something going on; social events, sports activities or simply a coffee morning. I am now good friends with two guys I met at a laughter yoga class. Every time I come to the South Terrace building there is a poster for one event or another. There is a feeling of constant activity, whether it be planning experiences, reaching out to other LGBT organisations or doing the remedial emailing, I feel like the staff are truly dedicated, but they’re always up for a quick chat too!
Pride week is when the place really comes alive, but the spirit is kept going year-long. A week of activities and events is planned and the information about this is widely distributed across the city with booklets, physically and electronically. The businesses featured in ads is prolific, adding to the feeling of acceptance in the city. The Cork Gay Project and the LGBT Helpline feature prominently in the Pride Parade with dozens of supporters behind our banners.
I am so fortunate to be part of such a fantastic organisation. I feel there is an equal give and take to being a volunteer, and the amount of friends I have made is priceless. I would urge anyone who is thinking of how to contribute to their community or be an ally to those who identify as LGBT to volunteer. You won’t regret it. I don’t.
Written by Ian Manning