ditor's Note: "Stories from the Helpline" is a recurring feature on The Bilerico Project, bringing in the personal accounts of Helpline counselors from The Trevor Project. The Trevor Project is the leading national organization focused on crisis and suicide prevention efforts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth. This installment comes from Brian Roach, a volunteer Helpline counselor at The Trevor Project who volunteers at the Randy Stone East Coast Call Center in New York City.
I take living in New York City for granted. I live in what seems like a proverbial place of acceptance where every morning I walk out the door knowing that I am going to encounter dozens of others who openly identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. I take the train to my place of employment without fear of being fired based solely upon the fact that I am gay. Every year, I go to the Gay Pride Parade where I can celebrate who I am with thousands of others, too consumed by my world of acceptance to acknowledge the fact that there are millions of others that do not have the opportunity to celebrate in the streets as I do at that moment.
When people think of the modern gay rights movement, they often focus on the coasts; New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, and California are immediately what come to mind when most think of large-scale acceptance. When I was in college, I was encouraged to think of social change like a ripple effect; small change in one place will influence change in its immediate vicinity, which will influence change in that immediate vicinity, and so on. What happens, however, when these seemingly progressive states are located on the coasts? It seems as if at least half of the "ripple" is wasted on the ocean while the other half does not have enough strength to make it all of the way across - or at least meet in the middle. How will we ever reach those states in the middle that are often considered less accepting? How will there ever be a gay pride parade in Evansville, Indiana, that attracts thousands of people? How will an LGBT Community Center form in Butler, Ohio?
During a recent shift, I received two phone calls, which gave some hope into how this goal can be accomplished. The callers could not have been more different; Cynthia, a lesbian who spoke of coming out in the 1950s, and Kyle, a 14-year-old gay man who recently broke up with his first boyfriend. Now, most would refer to a 14-year-old as a boy, however, after five minutes on the phone with Kyle it was clear that he was as much of a man as I am at 26. Both callers requested that a Trevor Survival Kit be sent to them with great expectations of starting change in an eerily similar way.
Cynthia plans to take her Survival Kit to the superintendent of a local school district in which she lives in Indiana, while Kyle intends to take his kit to his favorite teacher as well as the principal of his small school in Butler, Ohio. These two individuals, from entirely different generations and backgrounds, with similar plans of action, both called The Trevor Helpline on the same night. Cynthia's goal is to increase the awareness around LGBT suicide as well as create an overall environment of acceptance within the school. Kyle is hoping to start a Gay-Straight-Alliance (GSA) in his school with the hope that his classmates will stop judging those who may be different; his ultimate goal is to never have to hear "that's so gay" while walking down the halls again. When I was 14, I did not know what a GSA was - let alone know the steps required to start one. Needless to say, Cynthia and Kyle inspire me.
I consider myself to be dedicated to the fight for equality. However, I often forget how easy it is to be committed to change in a city with millions of others who are accepting of who I am. Cynthia and Kyle brought me back to reality as does every time I walk through the doors at The Trevor Project. When Kyle let me know that he does not know a single gay person, I could not imagine what that was like. The majority of this country does not live in a "Gay Mecca" such as New York City or San Francisco, and it's necessary to be reminded of that.
To Cynthia and Kyle I would like to say, "thank you." Your efforts are often not acknowledged on a large enough scale, and it is important to recognize the road-blocks that you face - and to plow right through them. I applaud you and thank you for creating your ripples that hopefully we will feel on the coasts soon.
*To learn more about The Trevor Survival Kit, please visit the education section of our Web site.