Hotline assistance at the Horizons

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 February, 2008, 12:00am

People share their volunteering experience

Pierre Cheng (not his real name) is a volunteer at Horizons, Hong Kong's longest running counselling organisation specialising in sexual orientation and gender identity issues and the first sexual counselling group to be granted charity status by the government.

Operating since 1992, Horizons has been providing hotline counselling services not only to lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people but also other members of the public who have sexual orientation and gender identity issues.

Mr Cheng, who has been a volunteer at Horizons for the past 15 months, said he was pleased to be part of it, putting in around nine hours a month manning the hotline with other volunteers.

The organisation receives about 180 calls a year, although that number is falling as people turn to the internet for information - something Mr Cheng says may not be such a good idea.

'I think Hong Kong people are getting more open. In the past, most people didn't have internet access. There is a lot of information over the Net, but a lot of the information is incorrect,' said Mr Cheng, a university student.

'I had never heard of Horizons at all before. I attended the phone counselling training and passed its exams before I started working on the hotline. I am interested in counselling because of my background in psychology. I want to contribute something to the community,' he said.

Mr Cheng's first call was from a mother who had learned that her daughter was a lesbian. 'She was a bit worried about her daughter and didn't know what to do,' he said. 'I tried to listen to her concerns and gave her my support. I found out that she had some misunderstandings about lesbians. I encouraged her to discuss her concerns with her daughter.'

Mr Cheng said most callers were gays and lesbians. Some were bisexuals, or people who were confused about their gender identity. About 40 per cent of callers concerned relationship issues. Other calls were related to legal and health issues. Some callers just wanted to know where to meet other gay people.

'We receive about 30 per cent calls concerning safe sex issues and 30 per cent on 'coming out' [disclosing one's identity as gay] issues. I cannot definitely say that I have helped them, but I do think I have helped them release part of their stress,' he said.