Friday, 28 April 2017

Lothian Gay and Lesbian Switchboard

This week our Skills for the Future trainee, Samar, will be sharing information and material from the Lothian Gay and Lesbian Switchboard archive with you…

At LHSA, we hold the archive for the Lothian Gay and Lesbian Switchboard, which includes material such as newspaper and magazine clippings, call logs, related research, promotional and fundraising material, correspondence and minutes. The Switchboard is worth celebrating, because it has protected and cared for LGBT+ people in our city for over forty years. When it was founded in 1974, the Switchboard’s primary function was to offer assistance and information to anyone who had experienced difficulties as a result of their own homosexuality or the homosexuality of a family member or other associate.

Lothian Gay and Lesbian Switchboard logos (left: 1970s, right: 1994) [Acc 09/021, Acc 09/027]

By 1984, the Switchboard had become the first LGBT+ charitable trust in Scotland, and moved into its own premises in central Edinburgh. Women’s charities soon provided funding for a separate women-only line to be added to switchboard as the Lesbian Line, altering the Switchboard’s name to the ‘Gay Switchboard and Lesbian Line’. The Gay Switchboard and Lesbian Line was, and continues to be, entirely staffed by volunteers, all of whom are LGBT+, because the charity feels that those who are a part of the LGBT community are in the best position to assist others with problems concerning sexuality. 

Literature found in the Lothian Gay and Lesbian Switchboard archive [Acc 09/021, Acc 09/027]

When the Switchboard was founded, phone calls would typically be on topics such as: HIV and AIDS, bereavement issues, sexual abuse, the laws governing homosexuality, sexually transmitted diseases, safe sex practices, coping with stress, how to come out of the closet, drug and alcohol abuse, reconciling their religion with their sexuality, dealing with harassment and abuse at work and at home, homelessness, relationship advice, how to make gay and lesbian friends, and parenting. Sometimes, other gay people just needed to talk with someone who knows what it’s like to be gay or lesbian and who will be able to offer non-judgmental advice and support. There were also calls from concerned friends and family who wanted to learn how best to support their LGBT+ family and friends. Some calls were handled on a one-off basis while others developed ongoing supportive relationships with volunteers from the charity. In 1992, Gay Switchboard and Lesbian line received 6,000 calls between each other.

Literature found in the Lothian Gay and Lesbian Switchboard archive [Acc 09/021, Acc 09/027]

In addition, the Switchboard offered other services and activities besides phone calls, such as a twice-monthly social group (also known as their face-to-face befriending service), fundraising parties, liaison with research groups (providing surveys and results for studies on homosexuality), speakers for talks on homosexuality and training for outside groups on a range of topics to do with homosexuality. The Switchboard also maintained a referral list of professional contacts, which included doctors, lawyers, psychiatrists, clergy and others who have a positive attitude towards homosexuality. The Switchboard also kept a list of ordinary people, such as LGBT+ people in long-term relationships and parents with LGBT+ children, who were willing to share their experiences with others.

Promotional material for a fundraising event held by Lothian Gay and Lesbian Switchboard [Acc 09/021, Acc 09/027]

It is significant to note that the work that Lothian Gay and Lesbian Switchboard did in the 70s, 80s and 90s is still relevant today. Stonewall Scotland, a charity that “supports individuals to work out how they can make a difference for LGBT people at work, home and in their communities”, conducted surveys in 2015 on the experiences of LGBT+ people today. They found that:
  • A quarter (24 per cent) of patient-facing staff working in health and social care have heard colleagues make negative remarks about lesbian, gay or bi people
  • A quarter (26 per cent) of lesbian, gay and bi health staff say they have personally experienced bullying or poor treatment from colleagues in the last five years as a result of their sexual orientation
  • Almost one in 10 (nine per cent) health and social care staff are aware of colleagues experiencing discrimination or poor treatment because they are trans
  • Nearly half (48 per cent) of trans people under 26 said they had attempted suicide, and 30 per cent said they had done so in the past year, while 59 per cent said they had at least considered doing so
  • A quarter (26 per cent) of lesbian, gay and bi workers in all sectors are not at all open to colleagues about their sexual orientation
  • One in eight (13 per cent) lesbian, gay and bi employees in all sectors would not feel confident reporting homophobic bullying in their workplace
  • Nearly half (42 per cent) of trans people are not living permanently in their preferred gender role stated they are prevented from doing so because they fear it might threaten their employment status
  • One in five (19 per cent) lesbian, gay and bi employees in all sectors have experienced verbal bullying from colleagues, customers or service users because of their sexual orientation in the last five years
  • Almost a third of lesbian, gay and bi pupils are ignored or isolated by other people in educational environments
  • More than half (55 per cent) of lesbian, gay and bi pupils have experienced direct bullying in educational environments
Clearly, there is still a lot of work to be done, so that LGBT+ individuals can be treated with the dignity and respect that all individuals deserve. Due to the discrimination that LGBT+ people continue to face today, the Switchboard continues to run as the LGBT Helpline Scotland, offering to confidentially discuss a range of issues including sexuality, coming out, gender identity, relationships and sexual and emotional wellbeing with its callers. It functions as a part of Edinburgh’s LGBT Healthy Living Centre, which was set up in 2003 “to promote the health, wellbeing and equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Scotland”, providing “support, services and information to improve health and wellbeing, reduce social isolation and stimulate community development and volunteering”. In 2006, the Switchboard also funded Remember When, an oral and community history project which documented the lives and achievements of Edinburgh's LGBT people, past and present. The project resulted in a series of recorded interviews, a book about the history of Edinburgh’s LGBT+ community, an archive held within the social history collections at Edinburgh’s Reminiscence Centre, and an exhibition at City of Edinburgh Council.


  1. Thanks for sharing this great piece of local history!

  2. Thank you for reading, Ste - we're hoping to use our collections to celebrate more of our local LGBT+ history in the near future!