This week’s Feel Good Friday hits close to home for this writer. It takes a look at a serious issue and one man’s efforts to help. I’m speaking specifically about the high rate of suicide among the nation’s LGBTQ youth, the Trevor Project, an organization dedicated to helping these young people, and Jonathan Foulk, one of the workers at the Project.
This week’s Feel Good Friday hits close to home for this writer. It takes a look at a serious issue and one man’s efforts to help. I’m speaking specifically about the high rate of suicide among the nation’s LGBTQ youth, the Trevor Project, an organization dedicated to helping these young people, and Jonathan Foulk, one of the workers at the Project. Paradoxically, feeling good isn’t always about feeling good. Sometimes, it’s about facing things that are unhappy, even painful, and doing something to bring about change. That’s exactly what this piece is about: facing unpleasant things in a way that might save lives. That is the part that feels good.
So, what is the Trevor Project? That’s a story best told by the folks at the Project. This is from their website:
“In 1994, producers Peggy Rajski and Randy Stone saw writer/performer James Lecesne bring to life Trevor, a character he created as part of his award-winning one-man show WORD OF MOUTH. Convinced Trevor’s story would make a wonderful short film, Stone and Rajski invited Lecesne to adapt it into a screenplay. Rajski directed the movie and TREVOR went on to win many prestigious awards including the Academy Award® for Best Live Action Short Film.
The Oscar-winning film eventually launched a national movement. When producer Randy Stone secured an airing on HBO with Ellen DeGeneres hosting, director/producer Peggy Rajski discovered there was no real place for young people like Trevor to turn when facing challenges similar to his. She quickly recruited mental health experts and figured out how to build the infrastructure necessary for a nationwide 24-hour crisis line, and writer James Lecesne secured the funds to start it. On the night their funny and moving coming-of-age story premiered on HBO in 1998, these visionary filmmakers launched the Trevor Lifeline, the first national crisis intervention and suicide prevention lifeline for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth.
The Trevor Project is the premier organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ teens and young adults.
Some may wonder why LGBTQ teens and young adults don’t just use generic suicide prevention hotlines (some do, of course). The answer to that is as sad as it is simple: at a time in their lives when they are most vulnerable, they’re also afraid of being judged. In fact, such fear is one of the reasons they may be suicidal in the first place. The fact that they can call the Trevor Project and speak to someone who not only understands them, but is willing to help in a non-judgmental manner makes a huge difference.
I should know.
I’m breaking a rule of journalism here (becoming personally involved with a story), but it’s for a good cause. As most of my readers know, I am an openly gay man. I first became aware of being “different” in my late teens (back in the 1980s). Add to that the fact that I grew up in a very conservative small town, and you have a recipe for potential disaster.
I finally acknowledged my sexuality the summer I turned 18. It was not a party. In fact, it was an experiment of sorts. I was very unhappy about being gay; so unhappy that I was suicidal. In fact, I had everything all worked out: how to do it, what to put in the note, everything. One day, part of my brain that I can only call “survival instinct” kicked in and I came up with my “experiment.” The plan was to give myself six months to figure out how to live happily as a gay man. I knew others were doing so, which meant it was possible. If I failed to do it by the end of the experiment, I planned to commit suicide. Needless to say, I’m still here, so my experiment was successful. Not so for many others.
I was fortunate to live near a city that had a support group for LGBTQ youth. I reached out to them, went to the meetings, and eventually “graduated” into being a volunteer counselor for the group. That is why, even though being LGBTQ is far more accepted now than it was when I was young, that organizations like the Trevor Project are important. Simply put, they save lives.
Even with the more accepting environment we have today, there is still a higher rate of suicide among LGBTQ youth than their heterosexual counterparts. According to data published by the Trevor Project
- “The rate of suicide attempts is 4 times greater for LGB youth and 2 times greater for questioning [Q] youth than that of straight youth.
- Suicide attempts by LGB youth and questioning youth are 4 to 6 times more likely to result in injury, poisoning, or overdose that requires treatment from a doctor or nurse, compared to their straight peers.
- LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.
- Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average.”
These are frightening statistics; even more so given the current political climate. Just since the infamous Trump tweets about transgender members of the military, the Project has seen calls from transgender youth almost double, from 7.3% of the average 178 daily calls to 17.5%.
In a statement made on August 2, the Trevor Project’s CEO and Executive Director Amit Paley said, “This data makes clear that our elected officials can no longer ignore that their anti-transgender rhetoric is putting lives at risk. Anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and legislation directly leads to crisis among our community’s young people. While The Trevor Project will continue to be there for them around the clock, our elected officials must stop throwing young people into crisis for political gain. Discrimination is un-American, and we will hold to account those legislators who attack the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community.”
There is no doubt that the help the Trevor Project provides is needed even in today’s “more enlightened” times.
Earlier, I mentioned a man named Jonathan Foulk. Not only does he work with the Trevor Project, he is also working to help raise much-needed funds to keep the good work going. I’ll let him put it in his own words:
“I can’t imagine myself working for any other national non-profit organization. We helped out over 200,000 LGBTQ youth last year. There are so many more we can help. Why did I join The Trevor Project? My biological mother gave me up when I was born. I was put into the foster care system at day one. I lived in over 30 different foster care homes and did not have a stable childhood. I was adopted at age 10 by a single parent. At age 18, I ran away to start my own life out of the closet. I wish I knew about The Trevor Project growing up. With all that I went through, I am so lucky to be alive today. That is why The Trevor Project is near and dear to my heart… Each dollar donated is an extra minute on our lifeline. An average call is twenty-five minutes.”
Jonathan’s goal is to raise enough money to help 1,000 LGBTQ young people.
So, this week’s Feel Good Friday is not warm, fluffy kitties. Instead, it’s about young people in pain who need to know that they are not freaks or outcasts. They need to hear that it’s not only fine for them to be who they are, but that accepting themselves is crucial to their well-being.