Lancashire LGBT in lockdown: "It's about being there when people need us"
The figures from Lancashire LGBT's survey on the impact of lockdown on LGBT people across the county are stark. The majority of respondents reported a big reduction in their well-being. 72% said they were concerned about their mental health the most, 8% said they were experiencing domestic abuse, and 7% reported experiencing hate incidents.
Given that the registered charity's mission statement is to 'make sure LGBT people are happier, healthier, and better connected,' according to Chief Executive Dr Lewis Turner, lockdown has been tough, particularly given their main avenues of encouraging the LGBT community to come together and reducing social isolation are temporarily off limits.
But their role is still vital.
"During lockdown, it's all about being there when people need us as much as we can," says Dr Turner, a member of the Government's LGBT Advisory Panel who has worked for the charity since 2012. "We've actually had more people getting in touch saying 'I want to transition gender' - people who are in their 40s and 50s and who have been thinking about it for years.
"It's like people have had more time to think and have had an epiphany."
Founded in 2009 and based in Preston, Lancashire LGBT works to make Lancashire a place where, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, people are safe and able to participate in all aspects of society whilst feeling a sense of pride and belonging.
From providing info and support to individuals to helping organisations in becoming more LGBT-friendly and generally raising awareness through research projects, the charity does crucial work.
"People want to get out and do things together and make new friends in a less formal setting, so all the things we do are based on evidence of need," says Dr Turner, who has worked with the trans community for 22 years. "We listen to communities.
"For example, our LGBT swimming sessions were started after doing research with Active Lancashire on what barriers - like people anticipating homophobic or transphobic environments - the LGBT community faced when getting involved in physical activity," adds Dr Turner.
"We also get quite a few parents phoning us saying 'my daughter or son has just come out as trans to us and we don't know what to do to support them', so we have a volunteer parent who will often phone them or grab a coffee and encourage them to come to a parents group.
"It's so important to meet other people who have walked the walk and who can say 'this was difficult, this is what I did'."
Their group for the parents of trans people has been running for six years and the charity has a partnership with Leeds Gender Identity Clinic to help them offer more trans-specific support. With the outbreak of the coronavirus curtailing physical interaction, a phone support service (Mon to Wed, 9am to 4.30pm, 07788 295 521) is available for those who just want to chat, and the charity is encouraging people to access their Information Support Service via email, phone, or Facebook.
With just one full-time employee and one part-time employee as well as six volunteers, some of the charity's most influential work is with organisations.
"A lot of our work is awareness training for organisations," says Dr Turner, who has also worked as a hate crime officer in the past. "People know they'll get the right guidance and, in the long run, the best strategy is to help every sector understand how to be LGBT-friendly.
"All it takes is a little tweak to make a big change for the better," he adds.
Named Lifetime Achiever at the 2018 National Diversity Awards, Dr Turner nevertheless says that he dislikes the limelight. "I nearly fell off my chair when I won the award," he says. "I prefer to let the work do the talking and I'm keen on empowering other people.
"That's the most rewarding thing."