She is 18, from the South, and a Christian. And she’s a lesbian who has never told anyone that before. By the end of our online chat, she has a contact for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender center at the university that she’ll attend this fall. She tells me she had heard such welcoming places existed, but never had come across anything like that. She thanks me before we disconnect. We have not met and never will—our entire relationship lasts 33 minutes.
For two hours each week, I talk to people who reach out to peer-counseling volunteers like me at the GLBT National Help Center. Some come through online chat, and others call on the phone. I can’t tell who they are, what their phone number is, or where they are chatting from. Their anonymity is the essential component of what makes it safe for them to tell me who they are and how they are navigating their world. Sometimes I just listen. I am often the first person they have ever told about feelings that vary from the dominant heterosexual culture, after painful years of struggling with silence.
In my own life, I am fortunate to be loved and accepted as the B in LGBT, and it’s important to use that privilege to extend an anonymous hand to these people from all over the country. All of them are amazingly courageous people across the spectrum of ages, backgrounds, and gender identities. I am honored that they trust me to bare their most vulnerable selves, and my commitment to them is to hear their truth, listen with an open heart, and help them feel empowered to begin to let go of shame and fear—to take that first step toward being proud and embracing themselves as they really are.
The GLBT National Help Center operates the GLBT National Hotline and the GLBT National Youth Talkline: glbtnationalhelpcenter.org