PACE’s Closure: The Loss of a Lifeline
And just like that it was gone. After providing mental health support services to LGBT+ people for more than three decades, the charity PACE closed its doors on 29 January 2016 due to lack of funding. I heard the news a day after I’d sent an email to PACE’s counselling service telling them I needed to talk to someone. It was the second time I’d contacted the charity. The first time was two years ago. I had just come out to my parents and broken up with a person I loved because I could no longer ignore my sexuality. I had recently lost my uncle, my grandfather and my grandmother. I was struggling to cope with my grief, my emotions around the break-up, and my father’s homophobia. PACE arranged for me to see one of their counsellors. I was new to counselling. As a child, my father would tell me that rationality trumped emotions, that feelings of hurt were misplaced, that I should get over my problems. My tears made him irritable. He would very quickly lose his temper. His daughter falling in love with a woman was something he found difficult to accept. Initially he told me that my sexuality was ‘a phase’. He advised me not to tell my friends and colleagues because once I ‘switched back’, I’d be seen as ‘damaged goods’. It wasn’t long before he lost his patience with me and his disapproval swung from passive aggression to open hostility and bullying.
I’d self-harmed for the first time and had been having panic attacks regularly by the time I contacted PACE. The charity was my lifeline. I don’t use that term lightly. I would see my PACE counsellor once a week. I got through the days because I knew the hour would come when I would sit down and talk to a mental health expert about my anxiety, depression and thoughts about hurting myself. Gradually the panic attacks subsided and, although the thoughts still linger, I have not harmed myself again. I will always feel grateful to PACE, to my counsellor, for listening to me, encouraging me to speak, and for telling me that my emotions matter, my mental health matters and that I deserve to feel better.
Without charities like PACE, not only is the mental health of LGBT+ people at risk, but so is the broader project of ending systems of structural oppression and violence that victimise people in marginal identity categories. It is racist, heteropatriarchal social structures that make LGBT+ people, particularly those of colour, vulnerable to mental illness and suicide. 1 in 5 BME lesbian and bisexual women have an eating disorder compared to 1 in 20 of the general population. 83% of BME lesbian and bisexual girls harm themselves compared with 71% of white lesbian and bisexual girls. 76% of BME gay and bisexual boys have considered taking their own life compared with 56% of white gay and bisexual boys. The closure of PACE is not an isolated event. The impact of this government’s austerity policies and deep funding cuts to local authority budgets has seen the closure of a range of services for disadvantaged groups across the UK. The long-term sustainability of LGBT+ services is severely threatened. Yet specialist support services are needed because mainstream institutions and services are not only themselves facing financial difficulties, but, crucially, were not built for the marginalised and oppressed.
News of the closure of PACE knocked the wind out of me. I knew I would not receive a reply to my email asking for the charity’s support. We never know when we will need to call on support services. Only a year before I harmed myself for the first time, I recall a conversation with a friend during which I was unable to imagine ever having such thoughts let alone acting on them. I am grateful for the time and support PACE gave me. I am fortunate that I can afford to look for support elsewhere. I fear for those who were receiving counselling at the time PACE closed and are now without support. PACE’s closure did not hit the headlines. It’s one of countless vital support services lost to austerity. It may appear to be a drop in the ocean, but it was a lifeline for some of the most vulnerable and oppressed.
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