Editor's Note:: "Stories from the Helpline" is a new, recurring feature on The Bilerico Project, bringing in the personal accounts of Helpline counselors from The Trevor Project. The Trevor Project is a non-profit organization that operates the only nationwide, around-the-clock crisis and suicide prevention helpline for LGBTQ youth. In this first feature for "Stories from the Helpline," college student Wing-Sum Doud shares what it is like to help save young lives while answering calls on The Trevor Helpline.
People often ask me why I decided to get involved with an organization like The Trevor Project. Since I'm entering my second year of college, it's often assumed that I must be experiencing what many of the young callers are going through (which is not entirely false 100% of the time).
However, I was actually lucky enough to have a positive and relatively easy coming out experience, with the full support of my family and friends. I always knew there was somebody I could turn to if I needed help. This is what sparked my interest in a crisis and suicide prevention helpline for LGBTQ youth. Many of these young people have nobody to turn to for support during extremely difficult and confusing times. I wanted to be able to give that gift of support back to people who may not have been as fortunate as I was when I came out.
But something inside me constantly sends a reminder that my age is that of the majority of the callers. How am I able to help with so little life experiences of my own? What if it prevents me from being able to assist at all? These were fears that haunted me throughout my training process, and in some ways, have still not completely subsided. Having been on the Helpline now for a few months, I have since learned that I have a different kind of connection with a lot of the young people who call in. Rather than being an adult figure or mentor, I'm simply a friend with a non-judgmental ear.
I recently fielded a call that really hit hard and greatly impacted me. It really put into perspective why I decided to do the work that I do. A young girl called toward the end of my shift one night and told me that she no longer wanted to live. She then explained the abuse she endures every day at school. People give her bad looks in the hallway and refer to her as a freak. She told me that the kids call her a "dyke" and a lesbian and the teachers don't help her out. This young caller told me that she didn't even know what it truly meant to be a lesbian. She was upset and confused because her classmates were giving her this label that she didn't fully comprehend. She asked me why being a lesbian was such a bad thing and why her sexual orientation was someone else's concern.
Her question brought back memories of my younger years. She had just entered the first of her teen years and was asking questions that were more complex than what you would expect from someone her age. She didn't know where to turn and thought that suicide was her only way to escape this torment. I spent a good hour with her talking about the future and what she has to look forward to. As bad as things seemed now, they can't be that horrible forever, right? Unfortunately, this was nothing I could promise her, but she seemed more hopeful after I gave her some online literature I had found (she had said she wanted to learn more about what being a lesbian meant). Before ending the call, she told me that she wanted to be around to see the next day.
The Trevor Project's "I'm Glad I Failed" campaign is designed to open the eyes of many people, straight and gay youth alike. Our callers describe the harsh bullying and abuse that takes place in their schools' hallways and lunchrooms. Words like "fag" and "queer" are thrown around in such a derogatory manner without any thought about the emotional toll it could be taking on an identified (or unidentified, in some cases) lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning youth. It's important to build awareness about this harassment and the affects it has on today's growing youth suicide rate. Suicide is one of the top killers of young people and it is sad to note that LGBTQ youth are up to four times more likely to commit suicide than their straight peers.
At this point, many of you may be asking how you can help from home. The campaign that we are launching here at The Trevor Project can be used to increase visibility of our organization and the services we provide. The print and online advertisements are available for download free of charge at: www.thetrevorproject.org/ImGladIFailed. If you are interested, please help place our ads in publications, Web sites, and anywhere else that will increase support of The Trevor Project.
It is comforting to know that I will be there for LGBTQ youth when they call and listen to them and support them without judgment. The Trevor Project is here to lend an ear and to bring hope to many young adults out there who are feeling alone.