Being a Friend
Ron Hughes talks to Bfriend’s Desmond Ford and Matt Potter about Adelaide's successful “buddy” service.
The Bfriend project has been operating successfully for years now, pairing newly-identifying same-sex attracted and trans people with volunteers who can help ease them into the LGBTI community.
Matching newly-identifying people with a person of similar age and experience means volunteers are needed across a whole range of ages, cultural and religious backgrounds and life experiences.
“For example, you might have a man who’s been married and had a couple of kids who is only now coming out in their middle years, and you need someone who understands what he’s going through,” project coordinator Desmond Ford tells blaze.
“Culture and religion is another area, because there’s a special knowledge that goes with that,” men’s worker Matt Potter says.
There’s a whole process that goes with becoming a volunteer, including interviews, police check and training sessions, with the next volunteer workshop slated for April.
How the volunteer interacts with the newly-identifying person comes down to the needs of the individual.
“The service is driven by the needs of the people who come through the door,” Ford explains. “We run groups, we facilitate workshops for newly-identifying people. Plus there are a couple of social groups formed by volunteers and clients.
“One role may be to link people to community groups such as sports and social groups.”
“Every person’s path is different,” Potter says. “Some people may just want to talk about their concerns, such as What’s out there for me? Or What do I have to give up [from my old life] and what replaces it?”
“Some people think the gay community is all about partying, drugs and drag. But there’s a choir, there’s a walking group, a book club, a tennis club, all that sort of thing,” Ford says. “To a degree it’s all about putting things in context. For newly-identifying men and women part of the role is to work through these myths and untruths.”
“We need to work out what the new person wants: social introductions? Someone to talk to?” Potter adds. “There’s no prescribed way of doing it; to one extent that’s negotiated between the person and the volunteer.”
So what makes for a good volunteer? “We’re looking for people who are confident in their sexuality and/or gender identity,” Ford says.
“You just need to recognise there are common areas around fear and acceptance. You need to be able to guide someone alongside rather than push them along.” Potter adds.
“We’re not a crisis service, our volunteers are not unpaid counsellors, we’re a peer-based project,” Ford says.
“You need to come in, do the training. We decide ultimately who’s matched with who, but you’re not signing up for a fixed period.
“And if you are the sort who thinks I want to do some volunteer work for three hours on a Friday, well, this is not that kind of thing.”
Currently Bfriend need younger men and women and trans people and also parent volunteers, parents of LGBTI people who can talk to the parents of newly-emerging LGBTI people about their own concerns.
If you want to extend a helping hand to a newly-identifying member of the community, contact Bfriend through Uniting Communities, 10 Pitt Street Adelaide. unitingcommunities.org or call (08) 8202 5190 and speak to coordinator Desmond Ford, men’s worker Matt Potter or women’s worker Fiona Meade.