Switchboard Victoria Inc is a community based not for profit organisation that provides a peer based, volunteer run support service for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, asexual (LGBTIQA+) community and their allies, friends and families.
Originally called Gay and Lesbian Switchboard, the organisation was established in 1991 as a volunteer telephone counselling and referral service with seed funding from the ALSO foundation. Twenty-seven years on, Switchboard remains volunteer driven and runs a range of services and projects.
The original Gay and Lesbian Switchboard was inspired by our founder David Sampson’s realisation that there was an unmet need in the community. David’s vision was to create a service for gays and lesbians who had not yet come out to themselves or others, or who were socially isolated. Based on an existing service in London called London Gay Switchboard, David envisaged a service that would have a major focus on reducing isolation.
In 1991, a community meeting was held to establish a core group of people to assist David in the set up. The founders insisted that lesbians had to be at the forefront of the service, in positions of power and influence and not just as “token members”.
At the meeting, Heather Morgan came forward. Heather had worked for Crisis Line, a general telephone counselling service in Melbourne, and she became the core trainer, bringing with her ideas about telephone counselling from Crisis Line. Heather is still active with Switchboard today.
Establishing a Peer-based counselling Service
Switchboards founders identified the value of establishing a peer-based volunteer counselling service that could affirm the experiences of LGBTIQA+ people. With this aim in mind, they committed to delivering a fully inclusive service, open to all callers without discrimination on the basis of sex, gender, gender expression, ethnicity, age, ability, religion, health, financial or social status, geographic location or isolation, sexual orientation or political belief.
2013-14 marked a watershed moment, with the organisation joining with other state based LGBTI phone lines to form Australia’s first national LGBTI teleweb counselling service, now known as QLife. By this time It had also become glaringly apparent that the organisations name did not reflect the sexuality and gender diversity of both callers and volunteers. In 2014, members agreed it was time for a name change, and the decision was made to drop the “Gay and Lesbian” and call the service Switchboard.
2014 was also the year Switchboard significantly expanded its services to provide a volunteer-based home visiting service for older LGBTI Victorians. Now known as the “Out and About” program, it’s aim is to reduce isolation and improve community connectedness for older Victorians. Out and About volunteers visit on a regular basis to undertake activities such as talking and sharing
life stories, reading, watching television or going out for a walk.
Connecting further with our community
In 2017 Switchboard developed the QTIPoC project. QTIPoC stands for Queer and Trans Indigenous and/or People of Colour. The program was established to further understandings on issues that affect accessibility and inclusion with the aim to create a safer and genuinely equitable environment for everybody involved with Switchboard.
In 2018 Switchboard joined Queerspace/Drummond Street Services, ThorneHarbour Health and Transgender Victoria in launching w/respect. w/respect is Australia’s first LGBTIQA+ integrated services response to LGBTIQA+ family and intimate partner violence. Switchboard manages the after hours support line for w/respect.
Also in 2018, as a legacy project, Switchboard is establishing a suicide prevention project.
Today Switchboard proudly continues the tradition of our founders by providing a support service to the LGBTIQA+ communities.