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The big reason Christmas isn’t always the most wonderful time of year for queer people – and what one charity is doing about it

Nick Duffy December 22, 2020
Switchboard has teamed up with street artist Pegasus to create an artwork promoting the helpline number over the holidays.

Switchboard has teamed up with street artist Pegasus to create an artwork promoting the helpline number over the holidays.

Despite valiant efforts to make the Yuletide gay, for many LGBT+ people Christmas can mean loneliness, stress and anxiety.

The festive season can often be a complicated time emotionally for LGBT+ people heading home for the holidays, creating challenges for those who aren’t out, or who are and have difficulties with family and friends accepting them.

Even for those who are accepted, there is still the thorny issue of navigating dinner table discussions around LGBT+ issues after an ill-advised fourth glass of prosecco.

Meanwhile, with coronavirus restrictions in place across the UK this year, an increased number of LGBT+ people – already disproportionately likely to be struggling with their mental health – are also facing the prospect of spending Christmas alone.

LGBT+ helpline Switchboard is gearing up for an expected bump in call volumes around the holidays. Call volume increased by increased by 15 per cent in December 2019, and are already up by 10 per cent so far this month.

LGBT+ helpline Switchboard braces for call rise over Christmas.

Switchboard co-chair Natasha Walker said: “Tens of thousands of people are now in lockdown once more, in situations that are difficult or complicated due to negative attitudes towards sexuality or gender identity.

“Christmas and the winter holidays can already be a lonely and isolating time for many.

“In addition the pandemic has kept families, friends and communities apart for many months and at this time of year people are anxious to be home with their loved ones.”

To ensure that the helpline can cover the expected volume, the charity has partnered with Direct Line, which will provide funding over the festive period.

Walker added: “It’s vital that our helplines stay open for those who need someone to talk to during the winter holiday and working with Direct Line has ensured we’re able to keep them open as call numbers rise.”

Simon Henrick at Direct Line said: “2020 has been difficult enough as it is and has made many of us realise that, especially at this time of year, we shouldn’t take our time with family for granted. So many members of the LGBTQ+ community face a Christmas alone because family issues stand in the way. By keeping the phones open, at least they now have someone to talk to.”

Many young queer people are uncomfortable discussing LGBT+ issues with family.

A survey of 502 LGBT+ young people aged 16 to 35 – conducted before fresh Christmas restrictions were announced – found that 38 per cent say they’re nervous about going home this year.

Of those, nearly half said they are uncomfortable discussing LGBT+ issues with family, while many also reported their family responds negatively to discussing LGBT+ issues at home.

Christmas: Switchboard has teamed up with street artist Pegasus to create an artwork promoting the helpline number over the holidays.
Switchboard has teamed up with street artist Pegasus to create an artwork promoting the helpline number over the holidays.

Switchboard has also teamed up with street artist Pegasus to create an artwork promoting the helpline number over the holidays.

The artwork, titled Lonely Human, was displayed across the usually-packed streets of central London, as a “physical manifestation of loneliness at Christmas”.

Pegasus said: “Loneliness has been a worry for everyone during the pandemic and helplines like switchboard make those in need feel like someone is there to listen.

“Visualising and understanding the problem of loneliness is hard. The Lonely Human was created to bring home the feeling that even in the country’s most populous city, it’s easy to feel alone.”

Switchboard is open from 10am to 10pm, 365 days a year, on 0300 330 0630. Switchboard also offers a chat service for those who may not wish to or cannot speak over the phone.

More: Christmas, switchboard

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