By Arrate de La Cruz. Arrate wrote this piece for LGBT History Month about her time volunteering with RASASH and working as a Trustee for our organisation.
As we celebrate LGBT+ History Month, I reflect on my experience as a young LGBT board member in a feminist organisation.
RASASH is a charity committed to supporting survivors of sexual violence across the Highlands, providing outreach support so everyone can access the service regardless of location. It also promotes social change by raising awareness of sexual violence and campaigning.
I started volunteering at RASASH when I was 21 to support campaigning and fundraising as I believed in the importance of working towards preventing gendered-based violence.
As I learned more about feminist values and the urgency of supporting survivors of all backgrounds, I felt I wanted to help make an impact at the strategic level, but when I heard of the Trustee vacancy, I was unsure about what it implied and whether I would fit the role.
I was genuinely nervous about being young and still a student, which made getting involved in the governance of a charity feel huge. Still, encouraged by loved ones and colleagues, I decided to look into it further and apply for the role. I couldn’t be happier I did.
Even though, as a Trustee, you don’t work at the front line with survivors, you have a critical influence at the operational level and are able to contribute to the charity’s development and growth.
Being part of the RASASH’s Board has been an enriching experience, both personally and professionally. As a feminist organisation, we use consensus-based decision-making to embrace networks of connection and to allow everyone to have their say - rather than adhering to more traditional hierarchical approaches to leadership.
I’ve had the chance to meet like-minded people that I would not have met otherwise, and I feel that I can make a difference. As a young woman from the LGBT+ community, I wanted to contribute to RASASH’s services being as inclusive as possible as I believe in the importance of lifting the voices of those historically unheard, such as LGBT members, which Trustee roles can enable.
I would encourage anyone with a keen interest in social change and community impact to join a charity Board regardless of their experience or background. Becoming a Trustee enables you to gain a broad range of skills, to network and to support vital services. Although it may feel overwhelming at first, experience is something that is gained over time and with good mentoring.
After all, nothing ventured, nothing gained!
As part of LGBT History Month in February, we are keen to highlight some of our engagement work with LGBTQ+ communities in Highland who have generously shared their thoughts, ideas and experiences with us to help ensure we are as inclusive a service as we can be.
Sexual violence is everywhere: often, it is hidden, but it is out there. Even in the smallest of villages and remotest of communities in Highland where people insist things ‘like that don’t happen here’. As the Highlands’ only specialist support service for survivors of sexual violence, at RASASH we know this mindset all too well: the denial that there is a problem in this area of Scotland with ‘that sort of thing’.
Such refusal, disbelief and silencing within smaller, rural communities will often add another layer of challenge for those who’ve experienced sexual violence: how to speak out and disclose what’s happened when you’re embedded within a culture that you fear will not stand by you and at worst, may well ostracize you? These fears are well-founded, with the end result being that many survivors opt never to disclose what’s happened to them, often holding trauma for years, and sometimes, decades.
The challenges for survivors in remote and/or rural communities who also belong to marginalized communities, such as LGBTQ+ survivors, are further compounded. As part of RASASH’s ongoing work to ensure our service is as accessible and inclusive as possible across the region, we have heard from a range of LGBTQ+ individuals who have generously and courageously voiced their experiences and views on what it is to navigate life as a member of the community in Highland and what it means for a service to be truly inclusive and accessible.
The learnings from this work are far-reaching and have read-across for services across the board, beyond the Third Sector. Recurring themes which have arisen throughout our engagement with the LGBTQ+ community include:
- The need to be explicit about a service’s inclusivity: when this comes to RASASH, this means emphasizing in our external communications and materials that we support anyone of any gender or sexuality age 13+: sexual violence can and does happen to anyone, but those in the LGBTQ+ community are disproportionately affected.
In the current climate, services can and must do more in particular to promote trans inclusion.
- Gestures from organizations such as displaying Pride or Progress flags are good, but must not be tokenistic or just once a year; they must be backed up with concrete actions year-round. Specifically, rigorous staff training around diversity and inclusion was highlighted as an absolute baseline necessity for any service aiming to be welcoming to the LGBTQ+ population.
- Confidentiality: this is a concern for any sexual violence survivor when disclosing. For LGBTQ+ individuals it is especially important, particularly for those who are not ‘out’ in their communities. Services must be transparent and upfront about their privacy and confidentiality policies and under which circumstances information may need to be shared on to a third party. Being mindful of power dynamics at all times when working with survivors is of paramount importance: bearing in mind that sexual violence is an abuse of power, workers must endeavour to minimize replicating any imbalance of power in their relationships with service users, and this applies to holding information confidentially.
- There is no ‘universal’ experience of being an LBGTQ+ person. As one participant astutely highlighted, ‘if you’ve met one trans person, then you’ve met one trans person’. There can be a tendency for LGBTQ+ people to be viewed as a homogenous entity when it comes to service design, but as this participant emphasized, ‘one size fits none’. Instead, working from a truly person-centered standpoint entails meeting individuals exactly as that: individuals. This approach must be built into the ethos of the organization for it to not only meet users’ needs, but also for it to be truly equitable in its provision.
There is more work to be done to ensure that RASASH is working for all survivors, and we are have an ongoing commitment to this as an intersectional feminist organization. What we know is that there is always more to learn and reflect on: doing things better is never a tick-box exercise. We are incredibly grateful to the range of LGBTQ+ individuals we have spoken with in recent months whose openness and strength in sharing their experiences and thoughts has been not only hugely informative, but truly powerful to bear witness to. Thank you.
Temporary Support Line Update
Following on from our update in December, we wanted to let you know the current and ongoing plans for Support Line provision. Unfortunately, we're still unable to accept incoming calls at this time.Up to 24th January 2024 we will be:
- Text and Email only
- Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9.30am-1pm
- Tuesday and Thursday, 1-4.30pm
- Text and Email only
- Tuesday, 1-4.30pm and Wednesday, 9.30am-1pm
- Closed Monday, Thursday and Friday
Please be assured that if you need to speak with us via phone, either send a text, email or leave a voicemail requesting a call-back and we will do our best to arrange a call at a time that suits you. This will be subject to staff availability.
Please note - we are still accepting referrals to our service.
Text us on: 07451 288 080
Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
To leave a voicemail requesting a call back, please call us on: 03330 066 909
Thank you for your patience and understanding!
This holiday season, all of RASASH will be closed from Friday 22nd December through to Monday 8th January 2024, while the Support Line will re-open on Tuesday 9th of January. You can continue to send referrals and make enquiries via email or text, and we will respond as soon as possible upon our re-opening.
If you need to speak with someone, please reach out to Rape Crisis Scotland who will continue to operate their helpline daily from 5pm - midnight. You can contact them on 08088 01 03 02, text 07537 410 027 or email email@example.com.
Temporary Support Line update
We are currently running a text and email service only; unfortunately we are unable to accept incoming calls at this time. Please be assured that if you need to speak with us, either send a text, email or leave a voicemail requesting a call-back and we will do our best to arrange a call for you.
We wish all of our service users, supporters, volunteers and staff a warm and restful holiday season.