Austerity Has Killed London's Leading LGBT Mental Health Charity

PACE closes its doors today after 31 years.

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29 January 2016, 3:23pm

(Photo by Lily Rose Thomas)

Today, London-based LGBT mental health charity PACE closes its doors after 31 years. "The financial climate is very difficult for small charities, especially those delivering services at a local level with continuing cuts to local authority budgets," reads a statement on its website. "Sadly, despite work to support the charity, raising the income needed has proved increasingly hard and it has become clear that it is no longer financially viable for the charity to continue."

PACE's outgoing Communications and Training Officer, Tim Eastwood, tells me the charity's closure "shows the impact on real people of the austerity measures we're all having placed on us now". LGBT charities have a "mountain to climb", he argues, "and the current government's strategy just isn't helping at all".

His comments are borne out by the statistics. Shockingly, the LGBT charity sector accounts for just 0.04 percent – or 4p in every £100 – of overall voluntary sector funding.

PACE's closure is a devastating blow to Britain's LGBT population, which according to a 2014 survey by the University of Cambridge is twice as likely to suffer from chronic mental health problems.

"Mental health issues don't just affect the LGBT community – of course not," says Ryan Butcher, Deputy Editor of Gay Times magazine. "But the circumstances in which mental health issues impact on the lives of our community can be unique. It could be a situation borne from homophobic, biphobic or transphobic bullying growing up or in school. It could be internalised homophobia or our own difficulties with the shame of being LGBT. There's no end to the reasons why we as LGBT people might suffer problems with anxiety, depression, panic, body dysmorphic disorder, eating problems, loneliness, drug problems, self-esteem issues... the list goes on and on, unfortunately. So we absolutely need specifically-tailored mental health care."

PACE, which stands for Project for Advocacy, Counselling and Education, has offered this since 1985 through one-on-one counselling, support groups, workshops tackling specific issues such as domestic abuse, research into LGBT mental health issues and a broad range of advocacy – advice on everything from health and housing queries to combating homophobic and transphobic discrimination. It's difficult to quantify how many thousands of people PACE has helped, particularly as it often partnered with other non-profit organisations for specific projects, but its impact has been considerable. During LGBT History Month in February of 2013, PACE reached the milestone of offering 5,000 hours of counselling support to LGBT clients in the Hackney area. The same month, it launched an online interactive support service providing help to LGBT people nationwide.

Louise Kelly of LGBT rights charity Stonewall says PACE was an "amazing organisation that has done fantastic work for LGBT people over the past 30 years", while Will Young, PACE's patron since 2013, tells me regretfully: "It saddens me that PACE will be dissembling as a charity. They have helped so many young LGBT people through direct contact, as well as affiliating with other charitable projects and initiating white paper research."

One of these young people, Alex Morgan, went to PACE's headquarters near Euston Station after he faced abuse and sexual assault while working in the adult entertainment industry. The services he was able to access there were "life-changing", he says.

"Male victims of abuse are still stigmatised – there is still an idea that we can't be victims of rape or abuse," he tells me. "I didn't have much success finding help through the NHS, so I went to PACE. They gave me the support I needed to re-engage with university and put my life back on track."

Since then, Alex has become CEO of Stay Brave UK, a non-profit organisation for male victims of abuse and exploitation.

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For other LGBT people, PACE was helpful simply because it seemed more approachable than the NHS.

"Some people don't feel comfortable talking to their family GP about issues to do with sex or sexuality," says mental health campaigner Jonny Benjamin. "I went to PACE because I didn't want to talk to my GP about my sexuality while I was still coming to terms with it. I didn't think my GP would be homophobic or anything like that – I had a great GP – but coming out was difficult for me, and I decided I'd rather go to PACE. I knew there was someone there who'd understand what was I was going through and wouldn't judge me for it."

As well as paying tribute to PACE's three decades of good work, Matthew Hodson of gay men's health charity GMFA says its closure should be taken as a warning sign: "Many of us working in LGBT health do this work not because it offers financial security, but because we believe in it and recognise that if we don't make that effort, nobody else will. The sudden, sad closure of PACE demonstrates how urgent it is that small charities receive support, not only from local and national government, but also from the communities that they serve."

Or as Jonny Benjamin puts it succinctly: "PACE offered LGBT people a lifeline for over 30 years. Who knows how many more people it could have helped?"

If you need support, PACE recommends contacting LGBT Switchboard on 0300 330 0630 or via their website.

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