Bulla Co X MindOut Charity: Supporting students in the LGBTQ+ Community
The other day it was great to sit down and have a chat with MindOut, a mental health charity for those in the LGBTQ+ community. This chat is full of advice and support for the LGBTQ+ community but also their loved ones. We’ve pulled together the best parts of the interview; so let’s get into it:
Emelia: Good morning Gabi, I hope you’re well and thanks for hopping on this call with us! Could you tell us about yourself and your role at MindOut?
Gabi: Hello Emelia and Ari, lovely to meet you both! My name is Gabi, pronouns she/ her, and I am the Online Service Manager at MindOut. MindOut is an LGBTQ+ mental health charity. We have an online service and telephone befriending service which are both national, as well as in person services in Brighton which we will get into.
I like to think of the online service as an online, instant messenger, chat helpline. The service is international, so we have messages from service users around the globe. It is mostly volunteer-led, who are trained up to answer the chats. This could be about mental health, LGBTQ identites, or people who are lonely and want to have a chat. We are primarily a listening service, but we can talk you through and sign post you to long-term support.
If you would like to check out MindOut’s online service, please click HERE.
Ari: What’s your opinion on the university support for the LGBTQ+ community within the UK?
Gabi: I think it really varies depending on the university. There are some universities which do fantastic work and have loads of support in place; unions, support groups and student support for the LGBTQ community. There are other universities that aren’t doing it so well, and don’t have a lot in place. I think when you are looking for a university, this could be something which is important to you when picking your choice.
You also have to remember that a lot of the support groups are student-led, so if you end up going to a university which might not have the support; this could be a gap and a need in which you can do some really amazing things.
Emelia: Would you be able elaborate on what MindOut has done within the university sphere?
Gabi: One of the things that MindOut does is that we have a training programme, and I sometimes lead some of the workshops. They’re mostly training for staff, and we have a package that we often deliver but we tailor to the needs of the institution. So we have the LGBTQ A-Z training, which can be a whole day looking at LGBTQ identities, terminology, mental health and where that intersection lies between mental illness and LGBTQ identity. We look at minority stress and privilege, and allyship as a part of that. We also have a specific trans 101 training. I don’t lead that as it is led by the trans members of the team. This training goes in even more depth of trans identities, trans health care pathways, and support that is needed in universities.
Emelia: Can I just ask what kind of response you have had from the staff you have trained at universities and do you feel it is important for people to be trained?
Gabi: I think it is extremely important. From the sessions I have done the staff have been incredibly receptive and keen to learn. During the last one, we generated some really interesting conversations. There were staff members in the group who were part of the LGBTQ community, and so shared some of their personal experience and shared about some of the students that they supported.
On the flipside, there were members who had less knowledge; they said they really learnt about the practical tools they can put in place to help support their students. They liked the fact that we had created a safe space where people felt like they could ask a silly question to us without feeling uncomfortable. It is important to have that space where staff can ask questions rather than asking the student who is going through that at that moment.
Emelia: Do you think it is something which should be incorporated more throughout the national curriculum?
Gabi: I think being taught from a younger age would be great. I know there are things changing in the national curriculum, but not as quickly as I would hope. Especially in the trans community, some of this is being held back; which is a real shame. Especially because some trans people come out in early childhood. That support needs to be in place before their teen years. Also there are more and more LGBTQ people who are having kids.
That doesn’t mean that every person needs to know every label, every terminology, and letter in the alphabet. But knowing some of the more common ones is important, learning an idea of what it means. That kind of open, tolerant, accepting, loving environment is how all of our young people should be growing up.
Emelia: You mentioned briefly about terminology, do you include the importance of pronouns within your training and what is your view on that?
Gabi: Pronouns are a big conversation at the moment, and I think it is really important. I think it is really important that sharing pronouns is optional. For me, as a cisgender women it’s very easy for me to say ‘Hi I’m Gabi, my pronouns are she/her.’ That’s easy because people always assume my pronouns correctly, it is not anything vulnerable, for some trans and non binary people that can be more difficult. When I am leading training, I model it. I will introduce myself with my pronouns, they’ll be in my zoom name, my email signature and that sort of thing. The intention of that is to make it easier for those whose pronouns are not as obvious, or always assumed correctly, to make it easier for them to share theirs.
We have to remember that we do get it wrong and make mistakes- and that is ok. What is much more important is being able to correct yourself when you have made a mistake; apologise briefly and move on. Getting it wrong is something we talk about the training amongst the student population, a lot of them are exploring and changing their pronouns; they’re seeing what fits. It is good to have those opportunities to check in with people about their pronouns or give them space to change them if they want to.
Ari: Would you be able to give our students your top tips for generating that conversation at university that maybe they don’t know how to?
Gabi: I really like the reframing; rather than coming out, you are inviting people in. You are sharing something that is personal, special and important about you. If you’re sharing that, it should be because you trust them. The majority of the time people are wonderful, and let’s say they don’t get it and want to ask questions, they are kind and loving and want to learn and help. In terms of top tips, sorry I’ve gone on a bit of a ramble! Let me go back.
If you are an ally, make yourself visible. Using your pronouns, sharing stuff on your social media about pride, talking about these issues and making sure that it is not always the LGBTQ person doing all the work.
- If you are someone who is considering coming out, I think it is helpful to reframe it as a welcoming in or an inviting in. Remember you are sharing something precious with people you love.
- Remember you do not have to come out. It is completely optional if you don’t feel ready or don’t want to. It is a wonderful powerful thing to do, and you get to choose how and when you want to.
- The last thing that comes to mind for me is that we should keep these conversations open. People’s identity can be fluid and change, and sometimes not. It is ok to ask someone, ‘what does this mean for you?’, ‘you said you use these pronouns, can you tell me a bit more?’ You should be open enough to ask the person whether it’s ok for you to ask the questions. Being able to keep the communication open is really powerful.
Emelia: That is very interesting and some great tips. I was going to ask, do you have any advice from the counter- part? Or someone who is receiving that news?
Gabi: The first thing I like to do when someone comes out to me is say thank you, thank you for telling me. This is because they’ve shared something personal and positive. A positive thank you for telling me is great, is my starting point.
I think sometimes it is helpful to ask if there is anything specific that person wants you to do. If they are coming out as trans or non-binary for example, do they want you to use different pronouns or a different name. If they’re coming out to you as gay, lesbian, bi, or pan maybe ask if there is there anything they want you to do in terms of the language that you use in relation to people they might date.
Emelia: Yeah, let’s say that someone is at the start of transition period as a trans person; have you got any additional advice who is at that starting point. They’re moving to uni, experiencing these hormonal changes; have you got any additional support for those people?
Gabi: I think it is important to say that I am not trans, and I haven’t gone through it personally although lots of my loved ones are, and have done so. I think having people around you who are going through something similar can be very helpful. At universities, there are lots of societies and groups; online and in-person which can provide support. There is no one way to transition, there is not one path to go down, some people will have a social transition; change their name, their pronouns, and change the way that they dress and look. Some people might choose the medical transition with hormones, and some may choose surgery but you don’t have to do any of those. You need to choose what is right for you. If you do want to go down the medical route, that can take time and can be difficult, so it can be good to have support from loved ones but also potentially professional support is really helpful for that journey. The last thing I would add would be to be kind to yourself.
Emelia: Would you suggest students be more open about the situation?
Gabi: I think it depends on the person and depends on what you want. For some people, it would be really great to have a small, close group to be open with. You don’t have to be open with everyone; do what feels right for you when you are ready.
Ari: Have you got any support for someone who is in their transition period?
Gabi: We often have trans support groups at MindOut which can be helpful. On Friday lunchtime we have a session online which is with our trans advocate. If you’re not sure you’re trans or want to chat with someone anonymously, it is the perfect session to go to and you are welcome to message us. The trans advocates who deliver that session are fantastic and have created a space to share.
Emelia: Do you do workshops or is the online service a confidential online chat?
Gabi: The online service is a 1-1 confidential chat, but we offer workshops and groups which are Brighton based. Some people message us and want to ask about groups in their area, so we sign and post them to the right people.
Emelia: You mentioned at the start you have volunteers, would you be able to talk about the volunteering you do for anyone who might be interested?
Gabi: Yes of course. Our volunteers are incredibly important to the work which we do. We have:
1. Volunteering Counsellors: some of those are trainee counsellors, and some of them are trained counsellors. If you are a student or master’s student training to be a counsellor, it might be something you’d want to get involved in.
The other services you don’t particularly need any qualifications for; they are all roles for people who are part of the LGBTQ community and personal experience of mental health is viewed favourably. We recruit twice a year, starting in October:
2. Online service: replying to instant messenger chats as they come in. You can be based remotely.
3. Peer-mentoring: this is Brighton-specific. As a volunteer, you get matched up with service users who have similar identities or life experiences to you. You meet up in Brighton for an hour per week. This is usually goal-focused; recently we had someone who wanted to apply to university. They use those peer-mentoring sessions to help write their application. They’ve now got a place at their starting university in September which is brilliant.
4. Telephone befriending: This can also be remote. You are paired up with someone with a similar experience to you and have a 45-minute phone conversation once a week. We’ve done intergenerational work; we’ve paired a service user aged 70+ with a volunteer who is under 30. That has been amazing because that is our living history, as a young person it is amazing to hear someone who has lived seventy-odd years as an LGBTQ+ member.
For anyone who is interested in applying to become a volunteer for MindOut, they recruit around October so make sure to keep an eye out on their website: https://mindout.org.uk
Ari: Finally, can you talk about your fundraising and how they can get involved!
Gabi: We’re always happy for people to fundraise and give us money, that is great! People run marathons or half marathons for us. You can also buy merchandise which gives us money. A bake sale is another idea which people have done! On 3rd August, we have a big fundraiser event in Brighton. It is a big comedy night with loads of local performers all of which are part of the LGBTQ+ community, so if you’re around please come and say hello! Anyone can come and watch and support!
Also, if you’re interested in fundraising for MindOut, please email firstname.lastname@example.org, they do some really great work and support!
It was really great to speak with Gabi, and if you have any questions please feel free to drop email@example.com about the interview.
Bulla Co x