Q&A: Carolyn Rogers, Coordinator for the LGBTQ Helpline

Rogers is the coordinator for the LGBTQ Helpline, which is staffed nightly from 7-11 p.m. at 865-531-2539. The helpline is seeking new volunteers to provide information, a listening ear, and referral services for the LGBTQ community and their parents, friends, and families; training is Jan. 21 and 28.

When did this start and what was the original mission?

The Gay and Lesbian Helpline was started in 1985. The mission is the same now as it was then, to reach out to those in need to give support, referrals, and a listening ear—welcoming, supporting, and caring for each other. Callers can find out about local gay groups, organizations, and activities, list their group's activities with the Helpline, get info on the local gay bars or local referrals for lawyers, supportive churches/clergy, medical services—and more.

When did you become "LGBT"? And why did you later add the "Q"?

The original Gay and Lesbian name was an effort to be as inclusive and simple as possible. Later, we thought that LGBT would be more inclusive for those who feel invisible as a bisexual or transgender person. Adding a "Q" was an attempt to reach out to those who are ‘q'uestioning their sexual identity or self-identify as ‘q'ueer, which is a very broad term for anyone who feels different from society. This is a question that thoughtful people have been considering for years and I know there must be a clever answer rather than adding more initials. Maybe we should just call ourselves the Human Connection?

Who needs the Helpline most urgently these days?

There is not any one group that stands out. Who needs help most urgently anywhere? Those who are isolated, searching—and not just youth, but all those who are learning to accept their sexuality at all ages, from all walks of life. This may be the married man with children who is becoming aware and questioning his sexuality; or the older woman whose children are grown who now feels free to follow her own heart; or the transgender person who has just been able to give voice to these questions. There are still closeted people and scared people who need someone to talk to through a confidential phone conversation with a real human voice.

Could you have used a helpline like this when you were younger?

Over and over in volunteer training sessions, I hear personal stories of past struggle, "Oh how I wish I had this Helpline when I felt like I was the only one, when I thought there must be something really wrong with me! If I could have only known that I was normal!"

Do you receive any prank calls?

It has been many years since we have received prank calls, and we've never had any hostile callers. We have had a few hang-ups—callers who are scared to talk the first time or too timid to say the "g" word out loud. When we advertised in the student paper many years ago, there would be an occasional caller who would say that someone asked them to return a call to this number, and then realize the intended humor.

Are any callers suicidal?

We have not received any calls from suicidal people in the past few years. Our volunteers are not trained emergency personnel. However, we do receive training to make sure that a suicidal caller gets the appropriate emergency help they need, even to the point of calling emergency personnel for them. If someone is in an emergency when we're not available, they should call 911, or the Mobile Crisis Unit at 539-2409 or the nearest emergency room.

You are affiliated with the Metropolitan Community Church—is there any religious component to the Helpline answers?

The LGBTQ Helpline is an independent program that is loosely associated with MCC-Knoxville primarily through the use of the phone line, but also for printing of materials and space for meetings. Any religious information is in the form of referrals to welcoming churches, only if that is the information the caller has requested. We have an extensive list of referrals from organizations who are supportive and accepting of the LGBTQ community, including legal and medical services, temporary housing, personal counseling, and religious organizations.]

How do you maintain confidentiality?

We use first names only and all Helpline calls are confidential within the Helpline staff. Callers are never identified by name.

Does the ideal phone volunteer have to identify as LGBTQ?

An ideal phone volunteer is any human being who has a desire to be a calm and accepting listening presence for a fellow traveler who may feel isolated or scared.

LGBTQ Helpline training is Jan. 21 and 28 from 6:30 p.m.-9 p.m. Call 865-531-2539 any time to register.