The Bristol Lesbian and Gay Switchboard will close its offices after nearly 40 years and redirect calls to a London centre, saying demand for its phone services has fallen as life has become “much easier for gay people”.
The service currently operates in the evenings but from the end of February its number will redirect people automatically to the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard which is open throughout the day.
Switchboard volunteer Darryl Bullock said: “It’s a success story in a way.
“Things are much easier for gay people today than they were when the Bristol Gay Switchboard was originally set up back in 1974. Gay people now have much more access to information; they have more freedom about where they live, work and socialise and, thanks to the many changes in legislation over the last few decades, being gay no longer has such a huge stigma attached to it.”
The BLAGS website will still carry information on local LGBT venues and services as well as containing a potted history of the group, the service said.
Bullock added: “It seemed like the obvious solution. We’re getting fewer calls than ever, it’s become harder and harder to find volunteers able to offer time to answer phones. Transferring to LLGS means that people in the region will have access to a helpline seven days a week, from 10 in the morning until 11 at night; keeping the same phone line means that there’s no extra cost.”
A spokesperon for the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard told PinkNews.co.uk today: “We are sorry to hear the Bristol line is closing because it is important to have local LGBT organisations, face-to-face services and support groups around the country.
“We are always happy to receive the redirected calls to the London service. Many regional services give our number during hours when they are closed, so we take a lot of calls from around the country.
“We have 180 volunteers, 10 phone lines and we are open 10am to 11pm daily.
On the pattern of calls received, the spokesperson said: “The drop in the number of calls could reflect changes in the law which give gay people greater equality and greater confidence, but it also reflects that people now access support and information in different ways.
“We’ve seen the number of short calls asking for information drop quite dramatically because people can increasingly find that information on the internet. Short calls have been replaced by longer ones where people seek support on dealing with larger issues.
“Although LGBT people’s lives are better, there is still a need for switchboard services offering confidential support and advice on sexual health.
“Infection rates for STIs are rising and we believe switchboards are particularly useful for hard to reach people who do not frequent the gay scene. Some people can only be reached confidentially.”
The LLGS added: “We are expecting soon to announce how we’re expanding our services in new ways to reach a bigger range of callers.”