Montreal, March 27, 2020 – The Interligne organization celebrates its 40th year of support to LGBTQ+ communities. The helpline, initially known as Gai Écoute, and which began serving the community from a closet-sized room, was able to surpass itself in order to offer information and comfort to as many people as possible, thanks to hundreds of dedicated volunteers and professionals.
When it was founded by a small team of volunteers in 1980, Gai Écoute was one of the first services for gay and lesbian communities in Quebec. The organization was initially only able to offer the helpline for a few hours per week, until Laurent McCutheon became president in 1982 and pushed for Gai Écoute to be incorporated which finally happened in 1986. This led to the consolidation of its activities and made it possible to offer its services daily. The organization saw its mission funded for the first time in the late 1990s thanks to Ministry of Health and Social Services. Then in 1997, the first ambassador promoted Gay Écoute’s services for youth, and the first public campaigns to fight against homophobia, «Ceci est une tapette» and «Fifi, cʼest le nom dʼun chien», made their appearance. In addition, Gai Écoute was the first organization of its kind to surround itself with artists and celebrities to raise awareness and so that people could find themselves inspired by role models such as Michel-Marc Bouchard, Yves Jacques, Daniel Pinard, Monique Giroux, Dany Turcotte, Éric Bernier and Alex Perron.
Over the years, the reputation of the organization was propelled to new heights and transformed it into an essential resource for the gay and lesbian communities of Quebec. Innovation continued and in 2010, the organization launched a private chat service to be able to respond to a larger proportion of the population. In 2016, thanks to the City of Montreal, Interligne’s helpline extended its hours to ensure a 24-hour presence, 7 days a week to remain an unwavering presence for LGBTQ+ people living in distress.
In 2017, Gai Écoute became Interligne. There had been an ongoing question for some time: how to make the service more inclusive and how to make everyone affected by LGBTQ+ realities feel that the helpline would listen to them, too? “On one hand, the name Gai Écoute gave the impression that the line was aimed only at gay men, explains Pascal Vaillancourt, Executive Director of Interligne since 2015. The direct allusion to homosexuality in the name of the helpline was likely discouraging people from calling, especially the youngest, for whom identifying themselves so explicitly with LGBTQ+ realities could prove too confrontational.” Admittedly, changing the name was a major challenge, but the benefits are unquestionable.
The name change was accompanied by new practices and new projects. “In terms of structure, we completely overhauled the organization’s statutes and regulations and we increased the number of seats on the board of directors by adding seats for people outside Montreal, notes Johanne Audet, president of the Interligne Board of Directors. We also made sure to hire trans and non-binary people in our permanent team and we renewed our team of spokespersons, now composed of Simon Boulerice, Gabrielle Boulianne-Tremblay, Sophie Paradis and Nicolas Ouellet.” These changes have had the effect of changing the portrait of the Interligne volunteer pool and, of course, the calls received. “Gay men and lesbian women still have a large place among callers, but it is now visible in our call statistics that the service is used by all LGBTQ+ communities”, observes Pascal Vaillancourt.
Today, in 2020, Interligne responds faithfully and proudly to a wide variety of people. At the 40th year, Interligne continues to develop its services according to the different communities that benefit from them. The organization has been piloting youth programs for almost two years, including Gender, Identity and Sexuality Alliances, as well as the violence programs, including a legal telephone clinic and the Alix platform, which allows anonymous online reporting of violence. Interligne also recently began to offer a text-based intervention service, which makes it possible to reach young people more effectively. With 35,000 uses of its services in 2019, Interligne has reached an unprecedented level of requests for help and is now, more than ever, considered as part of the essential services. Such a specialized helpline is indeed an undeniable safety net in regard to the mental health of LGBTQ+ people. The last few years have been marked not only by an explosion in the number of requests for kiosks and workshops, but also by a considerable increase in the volume of distress calls, which led to the Interligne team receiving additional accredited training in suicidal intervention and crisis management.
Interligne celebrating its 40th … in quarantine!
Situations as exceptional as the one we are currently experiencing, namely the health crisis linked to COVID-19, highlights the importance of the existence of resources such as Interline. Naturally, the organization is passing the forty-year milestone by putting its inventiveness forward. Since the celebrations that were planned are postponed, all of the organization’s efforts are aimed at mobilizing its team to offer the necessary support to members of the most vulnerable LGBTQ + communities.
“Being there for LGBTQ+ people in difficult times is of paramount importance for the people who are involved at Interligne. Even if the staff members and our volunteers are also experiencing the repercussions of the health crisis, their generosity, their commitment and their kindness are always there, adds Pascal Vaillancourt. It makes me very proud of our great team! “
A new program for Interligne’s 40th anniversary will be published once the situation has stabilized. In the meantime, Interligne would like to thank all the people, companies and government programs that, for 40 years, have enabled the organization to grow and fulfill its mission. Finally, Interligne will continue to provide a presence for LGBTQ+ communities 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.