Quebec’s LGBTQ hotline says it needs funding to keep it operational 24/7

Amalan Thiyagarajah has been a volunteer at Interligne for five years and sits on the board.  (CBC - photo credit)

Amalan Thiyagarajah has been a volunteer at Interligne for five years and sits on the board. (CBC – photo credit)

Amalan Thiyagarajah knows firsthand how much it can help in times of crisis when someone listens and understands.

Thiyagarajah has been working with Interligne, a specialist helpline for members of Quebec’s LGBTQ community, for five years – and he has used the services himself. Calls range from people feeling lonely and isolated to more intense crises like suicidal thoughts and panic attacks.

“In many ways, being adrift in the ocean and not really knowing where to go for help is a life-saving raft,” he said.

“We’ve had callers who may have been literally on the verge of suicide or had plans. They called and told us that no one understands them, that they are alone and have no one around them who can listen to them.”

Interligne has been offering its 24/7 hotline for decades with the help of donations and project-related funding from the city and state. According to Thiyagarajah, the most troubling calls usually come in at night, “because that’s the time when people have a hard time coping with life in general.”

The hotline is also called from other parts of Canada and from other countries that may not be in the same time zone.

About a third of all interligne calls come in at night, Thiyagarajah said.

But funding is now lacking and Interligne could be forced to close its services between midnight and 8am at the end of March.

“If we don’t have service now at night, about 10,000 callers risk not getting the help they need,” Thiyagarajah said.

“Why cancel a service that works really well?”

Thiyagarajah and his team have worked unsuccessfully for two years to secure permanent funding from the provincial government, leaving the community feeling left behind, he said.

“With the government not responding, I really feel like we don’t matter or maybe our presence isn’t welcome,” he said.

“It feels like we’re a thorn in someone’s side when ultimately all we want is to live a happy life, and that’s what we’re trying to offer people.”

The office of Quebec’s social affairs minister told CBC it was exploring possible solutions.

According to LGBTQ organizations in Montreal, Interligne is a unique service that would leave a gap in the community that other hotlines cannot fill.

Those who work at Interligne are already trained to be aware of LGBTQ people’s personal experiences of discrimination and stigma, and are often from the community themselves.

According to Mona Greenbaum, executive director of the LGBT+ Family Coalition, Interligne is the only organization that has the resources to meet callers’ needs. For example, workers at 8-1-1 (the province’s telemedicine hotline) are already directing callers to Interligne.

“Those resources are already in place, people are already trained, the service is operational and has been running for decades,” she said.

“So why cancel a service that works really well?”

According to Greenbaum, LGBTQ organizations and community organizations in general have historically been underfunded in Quebec.

“The government needs to take action now because we’re talking about saving lives,” she said, noting that LGBTQ people are statistically at a higher risk of suicide.

“I think sometimes the most urgent calls come at night. We can cause tragedy if we cancel this service.”

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