It’s like we’re speaking the same language”: Rainbow call companions is telephone befriending for older LGBT+ people who would like to speak to someone who’s also LGBT+
Rainbow call companions is a UK-wide telephone befriending service specifically for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender plus (LGBT+) people aged over 75 who would like to speak to someone who’s also LGBT+. The project was set up in response to research which has shown that:
- Older LGBT+ people are less likely to have intergenerational relationships and children.
- Older LGBT+ people will find that their family of choice is sadly dwindling.
- LGBT+ older people are more likely to live alone.
- Older gay men find youth-centric spaces make them feel overlooked.
- Older lesbians often see loneliness as the price they have to pay for their sexuality.
For those who are open, moving into a care home and having to go “back into the closet” is a real fear. Older LGBT+ people have reported that there are little to no services especially for them. Our aim is to offer a service that openly and explicitly welcomes older LGBT+ people and gives them the opportunity to be their authentic selves.
Calls from a rainbow companion last for half an hour or so and people can chat about anything that interests them. The same volunteer phones every time, so people can get to know each other and share stories and laughter – for as long as they both want.
Re-engage is the leading charity that focuses on supporting the UK’s old people aged 75+. This is the only project in the UK that offers support specifically for the 75+ LGBT+ community. Although other befriending services are available for all, people may feel that they are welcome as long as they don’t talk about their sexuality or gender identity. Rainbow call companions recognises the need for a dedicated welcoming service for the LGBT+ community in order to feel comfortable to be their true selves.
Here are some feedback from people using the service:
"All of the aggression I had inside me has completely disappeared"
“It’s definitely better that he’s gay as he understands me. It’s like we’re speaking the same language”
“This has made me realise how lonely our LGBT seniors are. It’s a huge problem in our society. There are so many that will be lonely. We have to get to them”
Samuel Higgins, the LGBT engagement officer at Re-engage, said “I’ve learned that the older LGBT+ community is incredibly hard to reach, due to years of essentially being “in hiding”. I’ve also learned that no-one is ever too old to make new friends. The biggest thing I’ve learned is how important it is to always ask open questions, as you never know what information might be relevant to help find the right service for someone.”
“People often assume that questions about gender and sexuality aren’t relevant, but they are to the person, and they can inform what services are suitable for someone. At 34, I’m always asked by the barber if I have a girlfriend, and I almost always lie to avoid awkwardness. When I’m asked if I have a partner, with no gender assumed, I’m a lot more comfortable to answer honestly. The amount of information we can gain by asking open questions without assumptions can make a huge difference to someone.”
“I’m delighted to say that Rainbow call companions is now a key part of our charity’s infrastructure and isn’t going anywhere. We are working on increasing our numbers and reaching as many older LGBT+ people who need support as possible. Our charity is known for tea parties and face to face activities. It’s my goal for us to be able to develop the project into LGBT+ tea parties or activity/exercise groups in the future, whereby we can encourage peer to peer engagement as well as bringing generations together”.
Re-engage supports older people with loneliness.
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