Both organisations already provide a confidential telephone support and information service for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, as well as for their family and friends.
The new online messaging resource will be accessed via each organisation’s website and will be staffed by trained volunteers who are LGBT identified. The free and confidential service will complement the organisations’ helplines. Once on the site, an instant message box prompt will appear, allowing the user to ‘chat’ in real time with a trained volunteer.
Initially, a weekend online support service will be offered for the summer months, with service hours being extended from the autumn. The LGBT Helpline’s online support service will operate from 4pm to 6pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The service will be extended to match the helpline’s hours of operation from September.
Gay Switchboard Ireland will also initially offer a weekend online support service, operating on Fridays from 6.30pm to 9pm, on Saturdays from 2pm to 6pm and on Sundays from 4pm to 6pm. It will extend its hours to mirror its phone service from September.
Coordinator of the LGBT Helpline, Paula Fagan said: “We have seen a huge increase in the level of traffic to our website and online messaging looking for support so we wanted to respond to that need. The top three visited pages provide information on LGBT, coming out, and getting support locally.
“More than 60 per cent of visitors to our site are under 34 years of age and we believe that an instant online support service would appeal to that younger demographic. In the age of smartphones, it also provides a more discreet way for people to access instant help and support.”
She added: “The passing of the Marriage Equality Referendum last month offers great progress and the positive result encouraged more people to come out, and to seek support from us. However, while this is a step in the right direction, people still need support and it will take years to change the stigma for LGBT people.
“This is Dublin Pride week and we felt it an appropriate time to announce details of our new online support service.”
Adam Shanley, director of Gay Switchboard Ireland, said: “We too have seen an increase in traffic to our website. We decided to explore an online support service in a bid to ensure that we adapt to the way in which LGBT people and their families seek support in a digital age.
“We have found that some service users can find it difficult to verbalise how they are feeling over the phone. Last year we launched email support in an effort to create new ways in which LGBT people can reach out to us. This chat support service allows us to expand and diversify the support we offer to the community even further.”
The LGBT Helpline and GSI online support services launch on July 3.