For years, lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning teenagers and youth have been able to call The Trevor Project when they are in crisis situations (like thinking about committing suicide) or just in need of advice and kindness.
Starting Feb. 1, Utah will get its own hot line to help members of all ages who are part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning community.
This empathy hot line, which will be administered by the Utah Pride Center, is the brainchild of Melanie Squire, who describes it as “providing empathy, support and networking to people in the LGBT community.”
Squire, who identifies as straight, said she got the idea for the hot line after she and her husband attended a class on gay issues at Salt Lake Community College.
“I have two sisters who are gay and I’m from a religion that — what’s the best way to describe this? — is not very pro-gay,” said Squire. “One of my sisters had a partner and for about 10 years, and I was discriminative to her partner because I didn’t believe in their lifestyle. My husband and I decided to take an LGBT class at the community college and it kind of changed our lives. We realized the way we’d been treating this community was wrong, and I thought, ‘What can I do to pay it forward?’”
Following her change of heart, Squire said she spoke to administrators at the community college as well as the Utah Pride Center about setting up the hot line, which she will pass on to the organization after it opens “so they can continue running it and it doesn’t die with me.”
Currently, Squire and the Center are looking for volunteers to help staff the line, and while they have roughly all of the 50 they need, they can always use more help. This help, said Squire, includes donations to keep the phone line running as well as letting people know that they can call it. And while only people age 18 and over can work the phones, she was quick to encourage teenagers to get involved as well.
“We can find other ways for them to help,” she said. “We are always recruiting, so if they attend gay events and want to help distribute fliers, not only do we need help in getting word out that we need volunteers, but we need to let people know the phone line is up and running.” People of all ages, she said, can help in collecting donations, facilitating at training events and even putting together training manuals.
Training for volunteers will be held over two Saturdays in January, and will be taught in conjunction with Valley Mental Health. The 13-hour training, said Squire, will teach empathy line volunteers everything from practicing empathy skills to handling various situations that they may face when they answer the phone.
And while many people, said Squire, will likely call just looking for someone to talk to and offer sympathy for their situation, she knows the line will also get its share of callers who are in crisis, including those who are considering taking their lives.
“Valley Mental Health is going to train us on how to properly code over the line to them directly [when we get these calls], because they have received more training than we have on that,” she said.”
Squire noted that people of all sexual orientations and gender identities who support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people are welcome to volunteer.
“Regardless of your past or religion, we can all need more empathy and that’s what this line is about,” she said.
For more information about the empathy line or to learn about volunteering, call Tiffany Cole at 801-696-0074.