14th May 2020 – COVID-19 Briefing from Birmingham LGBT Director Steph Keeble

Our sincere thanks to Steph Keeble, Director of Birmingham LGBT, for taking time out to brief our network on the impact of CV-19. Birmingham LGBT is a registered charity and provides a range of services and activities for the LGBT Community in Birmingham and beyond. Including sexual health, events, domestic violence, counselling, support, fitness, arts, LGBT Asylum counselling and more. You can find out more on https://blgbt.org

Thursday 14th May 2020

Guest Speaker: Steph Keeble, Director Birmingham LGBT

Key notes and discussion points:

Following an introduction from Mike Morgan, Steph Keeble discussed the work Birmingham LGBT is delivering, and in a broader discussion, some of the key impacts of COVID-19 on the LGBTQ+ sector that she was seeing and hearing about across Birmingham and nationally, and her views on some of the longer term impacts for the LGBTQ+ and VCS (Voluntary Community Sector).

Birmingham LGBT Services:

  • IDVA (domestic violence) Service is still running digitally and via phone
  • Wellbeing Support and Professional Counselling Services are also still being delivered. Steph discussed that the LGBTQ community has always had higher incidents of poor mental health and the staff expect an upsurge in clients due to Covid-19 and the negative impact it will have on the mental health of many of our community.
  • Sexual Health promotion is still happening but all digitally.
  • Sexual Health Self Testing Kits and condoms are available to order online
  • Helplines have extended their hours of operation
  • A Befriending Service is up and running, providing a light touch regular communication and support to those isolated, vulnerable and/or lonely
  • A weekly Mindfulness Session is being run free of charge, and to which everyone is welcome to join online
  • A regular online yoga class is being developed and will be up and running shortly
  • An Online coffee/chat/social presence has been established and (virtually) meets regularly
  • The charity has held it’s first Quiz and plans to continue to have more of these and other social events to provide the community with some entertainment, and with a virtual place for people to socialise and interact

Key issues and impacts arising from Covid-19:

Steph discussed that Digital Poverty is a significant and growing issue for people who don’t have internet access, or whose access is limited by data quotas due to budget constraints (many older people, asylum seekers, poorer households and other groups). 

She is talking with funders to try and secure some funding that could buy dongles to enable people to get internet access without additional costs they can’t afford.

Another increasing issue developing is the lack of privacy and suspension of usual support networks due to the lockdown. As well as rising incidents of domestic abuse, the usual avenues of support (like the support groups particularly) are no longer there for individuals who may suffer from domestic abuse, or people who aren’t ‘out’ due to circumstance, family background, culture, age and any number of other reasons, and who need a support network in their lives.

Birmingham LGBT staff are now supporting many individuals by email, which is a safer, more secure form of communication and offers privacy in an environment where a phone call could be overheard.  Even so, there are concerns for many individuals who are dealing with increased isolation during this time.

Trans/Non Binary individuals, the most victimised of the LGBTQ+ community, have not only lost their usual support networks but many are also facing the huge disappointment of having scheduled operations postponed, so this is a particularly tough time for this community.

On the national platform there are a number of LGBTQ specific charities facing uncertain futures due to the lockdown. Two charities have already closed. While Steph was able to reassure that Birmingham LGBT doesn’t face imminent closure they are losing income as donations are down, pride (from whom they traditionally receive a donation or grant) has been postponed, and the government funding is very slow to materialise. They have received some support from the National Lottery Community Fund, but they are also having to utilise their reserves.

Questions from the audience:

Q:        Are young people accessing the services more during the lockdown?

A:         Steph didn’t have the figures to hand but doesn’t believe there as been a marked change in numbers. She mentioned that the youth groups have obviously had to be suspended but that the replacement support mechanisms seem to be working so young people aren’t feeling isolated.

Q:        How can we capture the impact Covid-19 and the lockdown are having on the LGBTQ+ community?

A:         Birmingham LGBT will be undertaking a survey to assess and measure the impact at an appropriate time. A contract has just been won from Birmingham City Council’s Public Health Department that will assist in the gathering and capturing of impact

Steph feels that they need to prepare for an upsurge in services such as mental health and bereavement support and she expressed her worry about an increase in suicide rates.

She also discussed that while most workplaces have support structures for staff she has found that a number of mainstream counsellors or support officers aren’t always culturally competent to deal with LGBTQ+ community members, so believes there will be a need for specialist support.

She also strongly advocates for training for mainstream counsellors and support officers so that they can be culturally competent.

She also feels there will be greater need for therapeutic counselling alongside befriending support and the professional counselling offer.

Q:        Will Covid-19 and the lockdown influence or shape your future services, other than those mentioned in your previous response?

A:         Steph felt initially sexual health will be a key priority. STI testing reintroduction at the clinics and dealing with the probable increase in STIs due to the clinic closures.

In terms of any other alterations post Covid-19 she also felt that Birmingham LGBT will maintain a stronger online presence, and that they will utilise software like zoom more frequently for national meetings etc., also that the Shout Festival could have a stronger digital presence in future years

Justin Varney (Director of Birmingham Public Health) commented that traffic on social apps was still high and has recently gone up. 

Steph commented that a strong campaign and messaging throughout the community around safety could be beneficial. She is concerned with the rise in homophobic and other hate crime since Brexit, and our human rights being lost as well as won, and feels we all need to remain vigilant and to lobby

Q:        How can the LGBTQ+ leads, champions and advocates amongst our [Alliance Network Members] organisations take the key messages around support and    awareness raising back into our organisations?

A:         Steph suggested they promote the support mechanisms established to all LGBTQ+ staff – she mentioned a regular zoom social held at lunchtimes, a Whatsapp group for support and interaction. She reiterated initiatives such as the regular mindfulness session and the upcoming yoga classes.

She suggested that we all be conscious of our language and terminology. Don’t think of some people as ‘service users’, recognise that as a community we are all more socially isolated at the moment, and encourage a feeling of ‘us and our wellbeing’ when beginning discussions with staff.

Finally, please let all relevant staff know about Birmingham LGBT’s services and activities and that if they want to join the effort and help, there are volunteer places as a befriender, a board member or a volunteer for the charity. Any donations or support fundraising always welcome too.

Q:        How is your mental health?

A:         Steph said she was keeping busy – busier than ever at the moment. She is also chatting a lot with friends and family and she’s taken up the opportunity to receive some coaching which is giving her some extra support.

Final remarks:

Steph thanked the Alliance Network for the opportunity to speak, reiterated to all to let staff and colleagues know about the services and support Birmingham LGBT provides, also the opportunities to get involved, stating that the LGBT community apparently gives twice as much as any other community in terms of volunteering time, and encouraged us all to begin, or continue doing so in this time of crisis.