AMERSHAM: Chilterns group of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, based in Amersham, is negotiating with the Samaritans for the Samaritan counselling service to refer all gay help-callers to the CHE group for more help.
And, to “combat the loneliness and isolation suffered by many homosexual people particularly in rural areas”, the group is launching its own news-sheet.
The group, formed in 1970, will publish a monthly newsletter featuring a page of news items of general interest and a page of interest to CHE members.
They hope that by this new medium of communication will also help draw attention to their campaign for equality for gays.
Meanwhile the group has had a lecture on humanism from the former chairman of the British Humanist Association, Mr David Pollock.
He said that humanism emphasised the joy of living as a virtue, whereas religions put their emphasis on paradise after death.
The only grounds for judging whether an action was right or not should be humanitarian ones.
“I think I’m a homosexual. Please help me.” This plea for help has been heard by thousands of Samaritans either on the phone or in interviews. The question that we, as homosexuals, must ask is, “What kind of advice and follow-up do they receive?”
The answer, inevitably, consists of thousands of replies. The following remarks, admittedly subjective, are impressions gained from talking to Samaritans in a general way, from meeting gay women and men who – at one time – were befriended by the Samaritans, and from some limited experience as an ex-Samaritan in the north of England.
It is doubtful whether the Samaritans see a cross-section of the homosexual population. Some gay people may try to hide this, and even a widely experienced Samaritan may have difficulty in understanding or even detecting concealed homosexuality.
Most gay clients, however, are simply lonely, isolated and sex-starved. Quite likely, they will have no close gay friends, will know next to nothing about the gay scene (even the terminology) and will be scared stiff about “anyone knowing”. Religious confusions and suicidal tendencies (not necessarily a firm resolve) are common. Quite a number may never pluck up courage to meet a Samaritan befriender face to face. This is left, quite rightly, to the wishes of the client. And strict confidentiality is the watchword.
The Samaritans deny they are an advicegiving body. They stress confidential and sympathetic listening and, on the whole, they do this well. It is, I’m convinced, a great relief for many lonely gay women and men to “get the whole thing off my chest”, possibly all the more so with someone kindly and anonymous. A minority of clients may genuinely want nothing more. The majority, though, will surely want some form of follow-up:
a) where do I go from here?
b) how do I meet other homosexuals?
And this is precisely where the trouble starts.
It is sad, but true, to say that hair-raising advice is not unknown. Many Samaritans, notwithstanding the exceptions and the organisation’s propaganda, are not well-trained, at any rate in cases of sexual difficulty, particularly homosexuality.
Perhaps suggestions such as “keep yourself busy with hobbies”, “take up sport”, “think of other things” have a temporary stop-gap value, but our gay friend – fortified with his cup of coffee, will wander off into the night to resume an empty life. Referral is another possibility: “see your doctor”, “I think there’s a cure”, “I’ll try to arrange for a psychiatrist”, etc. This is a dangerous game, not only in terms of advisability but of the limitations of the National Health Service as well. Even for the misguided gays who “want” to be “cured” ten minutes with a psychiatrist and a bottle of pills (and it happens – often) is no answer.
Many Samaritan branches offer befriending facilities for clients, i.e. a chat or drink with a Samaritan at weekly or monthly intervals. This is excellent for as far as it goes, but may have restricted value for a gay client whose need may be for homosexual company. Lastly, some Samaritan branches keep a list of local meeting places, mainly clubs and pubs, which are revealed on suitable occasions. The dangers of an inexperienced and shy homosexual, particularly if belonging to an older age group, becoming more unhappy and isolated as a result of wandering into a gay pub can hardly be exaggerated.
What, then, can be done to improve the lot of gay Samaritan clients, assuming that most are lonely and distressed? It would certainly be helpful to know the size of the problem, from a statistical point of view. I doubt whether the Samaritans have anything to learn about confidentiality and sympathy; but that is not enough. Talks and seminars led by homosexual organisations may have much value, depending on whether they bear in mind the needs of the type of gay person under discussion. CHE could produce tape-recordings (I wouldn’t open here the big question of content) which could be played by Samaritans in less busy moments. Above all, much more personal contact between the Samaritans and the gay organisations.
Many CHE branches already have their own befriending services, although co-ordination and general principles are not fully worked out yet. Indeed, CHE may have much to learn from the experience of the Samaritans about the techniques of befriending. As a bare minimum, CHE should be prepared to offer lonely Samaritan clients some hope of social integration, however small at first. In particular, we must teach ourselves if necessary, the Samaritans, then clients and anyone else that homosexuality is not just a matter of releasing sexual tension at frequent or infrequent intervals. On the other hand, sex is important. It would be foolish to deny that an inexperienced forty year old man will not readily find “the affair” he so often desires. Indeed, CHE befrienders may well have to give serious thought to the question of the middle aged Samaritan client whose immediate problem is primarily sex (or rather the lack of it).
All this of course is to talk in generalisations. Individual cases more often than not will not fit. The married homosexual and the pedarast are different again. We must remember, too, that the aims of CHE or GLF for that matter are likely to be a complete bewilderment at first to Samaritan clients. They will tend to expect a lot of personal satisfaction too quickly; we must be prepared for this and understand it. Obviously, the Samaritans themselves have not got the answer, they can and must improve. Closer contact with CHE will go part of the way, even though the politics of the organization may be an irrelevance to some.
This is a challenging and urgent task. But we ought not to be alone, surely there must be gay Samaritans?
Many people who are lonely, frightened and isolated go to the Samaritans for guidance and comfort – and although they advertise themselves as a last ditch help service for suicides, they are accustomed to handling personal and social problems at all levels of intensity. Their policy of deliberately keeping their distance and not giving active advice makes them an attractive prospect for people like gays, who don’t want or need someone to moralise at them. Anyway, this is what they say about themselves – it is written as advice to Befrienders on how to deal with homosexual clients. Technically it is confidential; however, a copy did come this way.
BEFRIENDING HOMOSEXUAL CLIENTS
Forget the label and treat as you would any client who comes our way.
Remember that there are male and female homosexuals.
What brings them our way?
a. Loneliness: It is up to the branch to try to discover the cause of the isolation. Is it an innate inability to make any kind of relationship, or does it arise from a lack of homosexual contacts? Befriending sets out to help the client to become more of a social being (counselling or some kind of social therapy may make befriending more necessary).
Beware of being misled by homosexual tendencies manifested by the grossly inadequate or extremely mentally disturbed, for whom homosexuality may not be the main problem.
About 5% of the population appear to be homosexuals, so that, particularly in smaller towns, there is great practical difficulty in finding friends. It is easier to find someone with whom you can have a brief sexual encounter than to meet someone who is emotionally and inter-sexually compatible. There is a great need for responsibly supervised groups for lonely homosexuals over 21 – if you have any suggestions or queries, please contact me at the London branch.
b. Insecurity: There is the longer term insecurity that many homosexuals feel. The analogy of marriage which they seek in a relationship, in practice is seldom achieved. They are, therefore, faced with recurrent cycles of relationships followed by break-ups and the resultant decline as a human being. Befriending by a non-sexual Samaritan Volunteer can help such a person to avoid being drawn into another emotional crisis, and enable the homosexual to feel an accepted part of the community at large.
c. Bereavement: The death of one partner or the break-up of a relationship of long or short standing is in no way different from the ending of any strong relationship. There’s going to be shock, prolonged grief, guilt and depression as time distances the event. Society’s attitude can become positively cruel here. How would a heterosexual person feel if their loved one’s relatives forbade them to be present at the funeral. This has happened not infrequently to bereaved homosexuals. A Samaritan befriender can be a tremendous support to a bereaved homosexual client.
d. Fears of Police Harrassment: The age of consent for male homosexuals is still 21 and not 18. (For female homosexuals there is no such prohibition.) It would be useful for all Branches to know of sympathetic solicitors to advise and represent, if necessary, clients on homosexual charges.
What is homosexuality?
Common misconceptions: It is not a sickness. nor a disease that can be cured, nor a wilful perversion. Common psychiatric practice is to help the individual to adjust to his or her condition, and to attend to any depression or other symptoms resulting from attempted repression.
Homosexual behaviour: Sexual behaviour is not always entirely directed in a neat way. Often homosexuals are marginally capable of heterosexual activity, and this can lead to unwise marriage. This can lead to great guilt and fears for their sexuality. There is a small population which is not sexually committed either way.
Transvestites (T.V.s) are usually heterosexual and believe that, by a strange stroke of nature, they are women born into men’s bodies, or vice versa. Every client of this kind should be under the care of a doctor who is a specialist in the field of gender reassignment therapy. There are only half a dozen specialists in Great Britain. Do not take on for longterm befriending a trans-sexual client without the specialist’s knowledge and agreement. Trans-sexualism can be a symptom of schizophrenia or psychopathy.
I should be glad to hear from Volunteers or Directors who would like to take this brief article further. If there are any Volunteers or Directors who have considerable experience of helping homosexual clients, please write to me at the London branch.
Newsletter No.87, December 1971. (Confidential to Samaritans) By Michael Butler (London Samaritans)
So that is the idea. But actual practise can be different – the Samaritans are after all a volunteer organisation, so standards can vary from branch to branch. Here we print, in their own words, the accounts of what happened to-three people who turned to the Samaritans for help.
I am a 20 year old gay girl. I rang Samaritans last April, because I was very depressed about having no-one to talk to about it. I live with my parents and work in a bookshop. I rang, and told the woman who answered that I was depressed because I was a lesbian and very lonely. She invited me to talk about it. I told her that I knew no-one else who was gay, and I needed to tell someone. I explained that I had had a male friend who I no longer see, and that I felt very attracted to a girl who I work with.
She told me that it was not necessary to have sex to lead a fulfilling life. She said that she was three times my age and did not regret not every having a physical relationship. I said the, “Do you mean with a woman?” She replied, “No. with anyone.” She told me she had a number of wonderful friendships. She asked me if I thought I could go on to get married. I repeated that I was homosexual. She asked me if I was sure, I could have convinced myself I was, thus making a terrible mistake, ruining my chances of a heterosexual relationship. I tried to explain how positively I felt about women, and I was sure there was nothing wrong with how I felt.
She advised me to read about “Sappho and her girls”, and to glamourize it in my mind. This would reduce my need to have a physical homosexual relationship.
“I feel,” she said, “that it would spoil your love to put it to the physical test.”
I asked her if there was any homosexual organisation she could refer me to. She denied this. I asked her again, since I felt sure there must be someone. She replied, “Only for male homosexuals – you wouldn’t like them. Male and female homosexuals don’t get on with each other.”
Eventually she gave me the name of a gay club in the town. She told me to go along there and talk to them. She said, “I’m sure they’ll be very serious people. It’s very intellectual, it began with Sappho, lesbians are serious people you know.”
Shortly after this my parents arrived and I had to ring off. I didn’t ring back. Soon after I found out about the local Young CHE group and the GLF group. It’s lucky I did. I don’t know, quite honestly, what I would have done otherwise.
GAY NEWS COMMENTS:
A Gay News reporter mentioned confidentially this case to Chad Varah, director of Samaritans. He told her that the Samaritan who gave that advice would be on the carpet for it. He agreed that it was misguided and commented, “Most people do need sex in order to be happy.”
I am a 19 year old male student. I rang Samaritans because I needed to know where to find other homosexuals. I was becoming very isolated on my course. He immediately told me about the student homosexual society. He then warned me to make quite sure that I was homosexual before I went to them. He said that the only people who could tell me that were the medical profession. He advised me to go to my G.P. for a check-up. I said I didn’t think this was a good idea, as I was sure I was a homosexual. He also recommended me to speak to a student counsellor whom he knew. I thanked him very much and rang off.
I went to the University Union and found out about the homosexual society he mentioned.
For now at least, we’ll leave you to your own conclusions as to how far the branches live up to their instructions from head office. Next issue, however, we’ll be printing some thought on the whole idea of a counselling service, with special reference to the Samaritans, and how effectively they do, or do not operate. BUT…. we’d like to know how you found them, and if they helped or hindered you, and in a future issue well print a selection of you experiences.
We knew the programme was going to be about homosexuals again, but, like everyone else except Michael Butler of the Samaritans, who was, it seems, doing the inviting, we didn’t know when or where. I rang Rev. Roy Trevivian’s secretary, who made apologetic noises about the smallness of the room, and the ‘specially invited audience’, so I politely solicited such an invitation for four of us from the paper. She promised to check with the producer himself to are if there was room, and to phone us back the following day. Neither she nor anyone else at the B.B.C. had the courtesy to bother. The day after that I phoned again, only to get the same blurb from the same girl, but this time she added that they’d made up their audience list yesterday and we’d been left out as we weren’t really suitable, and she was terribly sorry. At no time was Roy Trevivian available in person, so we were told. They had come across us “in our researches”. So much for Gay News.
The next stage in the saga took place whilst we were having a collective meeting, and it came to light that one of the C.H.E. members of the collective had been invited to be part of that audience. He had first been telephoned and asked to keep Thursday evening free for “something rather secret”. Later that same week he had been phoned again and told it was another edition of Speakeasy on Homosexuality. Someone else had told him where and when it was to be recorded, but he was “officially” told, by phone, whilst we were sitting in our meeting on the very day it was to be recorded! It was becoming clear that only nice, safe, respectable homosexuals who would conform to the B.B.C.’s idea of the programme and of Gayness were going to get in. As to who decided the criteria for this we weren’t, and still aren’t, quite sure, but since the invitations we knew of had come from Rev. Michael Butler and all his angels, and since it also seemed that both he and the B.B.C. had assumed Gay News was a synonym for Gay Lib., he was the obvious man to contact.
The reasons for all the secrecy and exclusion about a programme supposedly concerned with free speech and letting the unedited words of ‘ordinary people’ out over the air waves was then made clear. I was told that every effort was being made to exclude GLF because the B.B.C. did not want them there, and had threatened to scrap the show if they did get on. I was told that GLF had “ruined” the last edition of Speakeasy on this subject, (all this meant was that one GLF member actually took 5 minutes to finish what he was saying, which the producer didn’t like anyway) forcing the B.B.C. to re-record part of the programme in order to cut out what they had said (!) and that in any case another organisation would be “represented in a roundabout way”. When asked if I was in GLF I replied that I was, but that I wished to be present on the programme as Gay News. The reply was to the effect that what was really wanted was people as people, not as organisations, (though on the programme itself it was clear that everyone there was from some organisation, and, like me, determined to plug it. That’s all very well. but without GLF or Gay News it would have been a depressingly one-sided picture). But Michael Butler did at last relent, bless his heart, and said it was O.K., I could come along, he was sorry to be so cagey about it, and I could bring one other person if I could “guarantee them”, whatever that meant. So the three of us who went from Gay News were placed in the unfortunate position of trying to make the distinction between GLF and Gay News clear, whilst all being members of both. Though GLF did come to know of when and when it was, no-one could be bothered to come although several apparently promised to, largely because no-one at the B.B.C. bothered to correct their impression that it was being recorded, as it usually is, on Friday, when it was,i n fact, done on Thursday.
So, who an we to believe in this welter of secrecy and intrigue from the public broadcasting body and its ‘friends’? Roy Trevivian, along with his secretary, his researcher, and Jimmy Saville, who all, when asked, spread their thin little story about limited space (and why not in the Paris Studio on Friday? Oh, because Jimmy’s going away on Friday. So why not do it another week?) and invited audience amongst whom there was ample space for twenty more at least; or are we to believe the man they seem to have put in charge of the inviting? The whole setup was an open invitation to GLF to disrupt, and they would have been more than justified in doing so. And who told them Gay News was GLF? Why didn’t they bother to do their research properly? Who else did they miss out, and why?
It seemed very ironic to be asked in the course of the programme if we felt that gay people got a fair deal from the media. The point is that we very largely get no deal whatsoever, unless it is either patronising, derogatory, or just plain ignorant, and this bunch, apart from taking comfort from the unctuous phrases of the Albany Trust and the Samaritans, went all three. Their hypocrisy as regards their public image of the programme is self evident. Like most other broadcasts, the people they invite are not there to show how they feel to the general public, and thus present the truth, but to conform to what the producer wants them to look and sound like so as to enhance what he is going to say. Why else is almost everything on radio or television pre-recorded – to render it safe. So why do they wish to exclude the most open and vocal sections of the gay community from the media, when they open to the gay community at all? Because they are not going to be manipulated, as gay people always are, to suit somebody else’s concept of us, and thus be party to even the most liberal and well-meaning lie, such as Speakeasy is.
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