Education and Advocacy

St. Louis Queer+ Support Helpline: Q&A with Founder Luka Cai

The following is a transcript of an email interview. Some responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

Q: How was the idea for the St. Louis Queer Support Helpline (SQSH) generated?

LC: I came up with the idea of SQSH after observing the value of peer support helplines at WashU such as Uncle Joe’s and S.A.R.A.H. as well as support groups for the St. Louis LGBTQIA+ community (such as MTUG’s Locker Room, FemmeSpec, and Expression Spectrum support groups). At the same time, I observed that WashU’s peer support helplines are not available to the broader St. Louis region nor specific to the LGBTQIA+ community, and support groups are not always immediately accessible to folx who need support. So, after being accepted into the Civic Scholars Program, I decided to use my $5,000 Civic Scholars Grant to start a LGBTQIA+ peer support helpline for the St. Louis region. Upon completing a Community Needs Assessment, I found need for a LGBTQIA+ peer support helpline because the St. Louis LGBTQIA+ community faces high rates of violence, discrimination, employment and housing insecurity, and substance use; medical, mental, and sexual health disparities; and barriers to accessing the identity-affirming resources needed to meet those needs.

It was important to me that I incorporate local community wisdom in this project’s design, so I pitched the idea to various community partners in St. Louis, including Trans Education Service, MTUG, Pride St. Louis, Safe Connections, Black Pride, PROMO, and the St. Louis Anti-Violence Project. Based on various community leaders’ and members’ suggestions and my own prior experience working on a peer support helpline, I designed the helpline’s basic operational features and the volunteers’ training curriculum. I recruited the first two training classes of helpline volunteers to train over the summer and fall of 2019 and recruited other project team members into our advisory and steering teams along the way. We held our Helpline Launch Party on Aug. 15, 2019, and officially launched the helpline on Sep. 20, 2019.

Q: How did you establish connections with the rest of the group, and how did you select people to work the helpline?

LC: We recruited volunteers from the St. Louis region by putting out recruitment flyers, spreading the word among our community partners, and attending community events. After submitting applications and undergoing an interview process, community members signed up for various roles in SQSH, including helpline volunteer, graphic designer, community advisor, and other roles. We selected helpline volunteers based on their openness to learning, dedication to the Helpline’s mission, passion for serving the St. Louis LGBTQIA+ community, empathy, commitment to active listening, self-awareness, and willingness to learn about intersectionality and its role in the Helpline’s work. No prior experience was required. We particularly encouraged folx who have personal experiences with or strong understandings of multiple marginalized identities (e.g. queer+ & trans folx of color) to apply.

Q: What sorts of resources does the helpline rely on and what are you looking to expand into in the future (if anything)?
LC: The Helpline relies on grants and donations to fund our training materials, office space, VoIP service (Nextiva), liability insurance, and other operational costs. We build trust within the St. Louis LGBTQIA+ community to spread the word about our resource and rely on our community partners to make mutual referrals. In 2020, we hope to increase our Helpline’s operating hours, add a peer support text service to our existing phone service, and launch a resource database called the SQSHBook by and for the St. Louis LGBTQIA+ community.

Q: What are the broad goals y’all are hoping to accomplish with SQSH?

LC: SQSH’s goal is to provide free, confidential, identity-affirming emotional support and resource referrals to the St. Louis LGBTQIA+ community. With the Helpline, we hope to improve the holistic health and day-to-day well-being of LGBTQIA+ individuals in the St. Louis region. The Helpline’s mission is to provide a non-judgmental listening ear to St. Louis LGBTQIA+ community members, to connect callers safely and reliably to LGBTQIA-affirming resources, and to create larger systemic change in the St. Louis social service system by increasing the visibility of LGBTQIA+ concerns, needs and resources. It can mean a lot simply for the St. Louis LGBTQIA+ community to feel like there is a resource that belongs to them and is specifically responsive to their needs. In addition, we hope that Helpline Volunteers gain peer counseling skills that empower them to more effectively participate in the St. Louis LGBTQIA+ community outside of their role on the Helpline.

Q: Anything else you’d like people to know about the helpline or LGBTQIA+ support work more generally?
LC: SQSH will grow as much as our community is willing to invest in it as a community resource. Learning peer support skills and being in community with other queer folx have personally changed my life, and I welcome you (the reader) to join or contribute to SQSH in any way that you can. We’ve taken 10 calls so far (as of Dec. 24, 2019) and are hoping to become an increasingly accessible and helpful resource for our community. Check out the “Support Our Work” tab on the SQSH website to learn how you can help!

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