With anti-LGBT, and in particular anti-transgender, rhetoric on the rise during one of the most hate-filled and divisive political climates in recent history, the services provided by organizations like The Trevor Project, which has led the way in suicide prevention and crisis intervention services for LGBT youth since 1998, have never been more imperative.
On Sept. 16, the Gray Hotel in downtown Chicago was the venue for over 150 people to not only receive a poignant education about the need and effects of The Trevor Project's mission, but an intimate concert from rapidly rising star and openly gay musician Steve Grand.
The vicious dialogue emerging from religious and right-wing organizations is having such a devastating effect on youth trying to live day-to-day fighting bullying, depression and anxiety about even stepping foot into a classroom has left the staff and volunteers of The Trevor Project with a mountain to climb in order to stem the risks which, according to the CDC, have contributed to LGB students being more than four times as likely to have attempted suicide as their heterosexual peers and at least a 25 percent reported rate in suicide attempts by transgender youth.
"We started with a phone number that people could call and now our lifeline is available 24/7, 365-days-per-year," Trevor Project Executive Director/CEO Abbe Land told Windy City Times. "We also have Trevor Chat so young people can instant message and text with us. That's really important because not everyone wants to talk on the phone. There's a fear of talking and having someone misgender you, and also you might not want your parents to hear you talking on the phone."
Land added that The Trevor Project's work has now expanded, putting the organization in classrooms nationwide. Social media has also proved an invaluable tool to reach an international audience.
"We're in schools helping young people understand about the issue of suicide and how to be there and be a support for their friends," she said. "Trevor Space is our international program which is a Facebook-like community of young people aged 13-24. It's a community designed for you to talk to other young people. We have over 140,000 young people on there from 135 different countries."
According to Land, those who think life for LGBTQ young people must be improving in a post-marriage equality age need to understand the reality.
"We get calls every day from young people throughout this country," she said. "Thirty-five percent of calls do come from the South but we also get calls from cities like Chicago, L.A., San Franciscoplaces you would think were cosmopolitan and open. But when you are young and think you are different from other people, it is isolating and scary and you don't know how to navigate that. It is still very hard to come out."
Land stressed such realities to the audience with a devastating number.
"Every 95 minutes a young person takes their life," she said. "The work we do is hard. I don't think I have to remind anyone in this room about the massacre that occurred in June at the Pulse nightclub in Florida. When our staff and volunteers heard that news, even though they weren't scheduled for shifts, they came into the offices because they knew that we would, and we did, have some of our highest call volumes after that."
The cumulative effect of The Trevor Project's work was summarized in a letter the organization received from a 16-year-old.
Land read it to the audience.
"A couple of months I was completely in the closet," the author of the letter wrote. "I was feeling alone, depressed and suicidal. I finally decided to call your suicide hotline and I truly believe it saved my life. The person on the other end of the phone allowed me to, for the first time in my life, speak out about my situation and feelings. Through something as simple as just listening to me, that person saved my life. The man on the other end of the phone also gave me the confidence I needed to unveil my true self to one of my closest friends. I hope to come out to my family very soon."
When Grand took the stage, one of the songs he opened with was a cover of Elton John's Your Song.
"I hope you don't mind that I put down in words, how wonderful life is while you're in the world."
For more information on The Trevor Project, visit TheTrevorProject.org .