Gay switchboard: a brief history

Brighton Lesbian and Gay Switchboard 30th birthday card
Photo from Brighton Lesbian and Gay Switchboard

In 2005 Brighton Lesbian and Gay Switchboard celebrated a very important event – their 30th birthday. The organisation is one of the oldest Brighton-only charities, and is certainly the oldest lesbian and gay organisation in the city.

Beginnings and the growth of a network
It was on April 26th 1975 that the Switchboard took its first call, from a room in a Brighton cafe. The service was launched by four men and two women and was initially known as ‘The Lavender Line’. This rather innocuous title was used so callers would not have to announce their sexuality.

Over the years the Switchboard has provided vital support to the city’s gay community, offering help with issues ranging from health to accommodation. In the late 1990’s a service was launched which aimed to offer individuals low cost counselling. Currently, this service helps over 150 people a year and has ten counsellors and one administrator.

Switchboard today
Today Switchboard provides a help line, an email help service and a Minicom facility. They deal with over 5,000 calls per year. Switchboard is entirely manned by ordinary gay men and lesbian women volunteers who lend a friendly ear and keep people in touch, whatever their need.

Comments about this page

  • Great to see Gay Switchboard is still going, in a world when we perhaps take sexuality issues more for granted, and where we have internet access to other services and resources. I was an early volunteer at ‘Switchboard’ back in the 1970s, and (I’m guessing) this was 1977 to, maybe, 1980 something. A lot of us joined a group like this not just to help others but to find a community ourselves, and some great people worked there. The shifts on the phone could be either dull or fun. Sometimes you ended up chatting to lonely or isolated people on the other end of the phone, feeling you really helped, and at other times it was simply a case of dishing out factual information about which pub to go to on a Wednesday, or recommending a guest-house where the owners would not be phased by two tourists of the same sex sharing a bed. Your reaction to that last point might remind how times have changed. Back in the 1970s, the ‘Lavender people’ thing, or ‘Lambda’ people was indeed about using words that made queer more acceptable, so hence the ‘lavender line’. In the early days, Switchboard was housed in a tiny room over the ‘Open House’ cafe, which later became ‘Greens’ and then ‘Cripes’ restaurant (at the top of Victoria street). Then we moved (mostly just our filing cabinet and plug-in phone) to another office just off London Rd. It’s curious that friends I now have are also ‘BLGS’ veterans, albeit from a different era.

    By Billy Short (03/10/2012)

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