In Love and War: How the Trevor Project Battles Against Modern-Day Homophobia
In Love and War
How the Trevor Project Battles Against Modern-Day Homophobia
By Paige Gilmar
It seems strange to make war out of love–a perfect paradox, really. In human beings, love makes life–it makes us. To see love as an enemy would be waging war against ourselves, our humanity. Yet, man has fought against his kind for many millennia by his cruel dissection of the species, dividing mere people into races, genders, and sexualities. Though these labels are worn like cultural lapels today, its original creation in history was to isolate and ostracize, providing justification for such societal cancers as social Darwinism and eugenics. But like the mad surgeon who amputates his own limbs, dividing the body of humanity is its own self-sabotage. By sewing stereotypes onto beating hearts, by casting individuals in and out of groups like dreams down a drain, we undermine humanity’s greatest power and most profound beauty: our diversity.
While we inch our way towards all-inclusive equality at a snail’s pace and have made stunning progress in recent years, people that fall through the chasms of the self-entitled “neurotypical, white heterosexual” are still shamed, with some hoping they will bury their identities like a ghastly corpse to the grave. With prejudice and hatred swirling about the twenty-first century in a blizzard of ignorance, people of the LGBTQ+ community are particularly at risk.
According to the National Center of Biotechnology Information (NCBI), there is a strong link between sexual orientation and suicidal behavior, with gay and lesbian youths 2 to 3 times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population. The rate of suicide is especially staggering for transgender youths, with 32% to 50% attempting suicide across studied countries. The NCBI claims that the high numbers of suicide in queer youths metamorphose from victimization, bullying, discrimination, and more. And like the young gay boy who puts the gun to his head, we commit our own cultural suicide, persecuting people who simply want to love and be loved like everyone else.
Though there are many people who love to hate, there are also many people who love to love and will fight for it. And like many powerful displays of human altruism, it begins in the most unexpected places–in this case, a stage. In 1994, James Lecesne personified Trevor, a character used in his award-winning one-man show, “Word of Mouth,” with writer-director Peggy Rajski and producer Randy Stone in the audience. Inspired by Trevor’s troubled character, Rajski and Stone transformed Lecesne’s imaginary stage prop into the beloved gay protagonist of Academy Award-winning short film “Trevor.” In this heart-wrenching, borderline black comedy, Trevor struggles to accept his sexuality in a close-knit homophobic suburb. After his failed suicide on a bottle of ibuprofen, Trevor is dealt a lucky card and is given a happy, Diana Ross-filled ending.
Though their short film was a stupendous success, Lecesne, Rajski, and Stone recognized that life extends beyond the silver screen, that life does not always end as happily as Trevor’s. Acting upon this inclination, Rajski recruited mental health professionals, while Lecesne acquired the funds to form the Trevor Lifeline, a 24-hour crisis line for LGBTQ+ youths nationwide. Since its beginning in 1998, the Trevor Lifeline ballooned into the Trevor Project, creating a diverse set of resources fit for those in- and outside the LGBTQ+ community, including TrevorChat, TrevorSpace, and Trevor Education Workshops.
The Trevor Project’s Head of Communications Kevin Wong commented, “There was definitely a need for an LGBTQ+ crisis intervention program then and now. And because people saw that need, that was why it was able to expand so fast.
“I knew that I wanted to work at an LGBTQ+ organization that progressed our community and made sure we were getting the support that we need and deserve. It’s something that touches my heart and is pretty near and dear to me.”
Located in West Hollywood, California, the Trevor Project in 2016 alone has helped over 200,000 youths. It has also received countless awards, including Esteem Awards’ National Institutional Award. All resources provided by the Trevor Project are free and accessible for any member of the LGBTQ+ community having trouble with their sexual identity, relationships, mental health, and more.
Wong states, “What it really comes down to is making sure that you are supporting queer youth, so they can thrive. They should know that they are never alone and that there are people out there who will not only accept them but celebrate them for who they are. And, I’m one of those people.”
The Trevor Project also uses its funds for psychological research, working with schools like the University of Rochester and the University of Southern California to understand the sociocultural factors that create a correlation between mental illness and sexuality.
Wong continues, “We do research because it helps us do our job and reach our goal of trying to end suicide in LGBTQ+ young people. This is because there is not a lot of research on LGBTQ+ people to begin with. It’s really important for us that we are doing all that research. We just concluded a big study with respondents of nearly 35,000, making it the largest study for LGBTQ+ youth and mental health in that cross-section.”
Because homophobia has sedent roots in the Judeo-Christian tradition, many often wonder if a person can be of faith and LGBTQ+ simultaneously. The Trevor Project seeks to ensure that this diverse dichotomy can and should exist.
Wong states, “Because of public rhetoric, you are almost made to choose between the two because some values may speak to one side, and some values may speak to another. That being said, all those values can still be inside the same person. That’s why it’s important for people to know you can be both.”
Though the Trevor Project works as the first and largest crisis line for LGBTQ+ youth, the non-profit is still looking to continue its expansion in the coming months.
Wong states, “We are doing a recruitment campaign to increase the number of volunteer crisis counselors, so we can build a larger staff for more shifts in digital services. With that, our digital services can run 24/7, and we will be able to help more people. Something like 1.5 million LGBTQ youth could benefit from this expansion.
“Right now, we serve 68,000, but we could be doing a lot more. We want to be meeting youth where they are which is mobile. And we hope to expand to social media services like Facebook Messenger, Instagram DMs, and so on soon.”
The Trevor Project works as one of western society’s greatest displays of altruism and philanthropy. It is hoped there will come a day where we won’t need these non-profit initiatives, and we can have a real conversation about social identity without turning to homophobia, racism, or sexism–when the war against love comes to an end, and we find a safe space in the world rather than in the closet.
Wong concludes, “For anyone dealing with suicide or suicidal ideation, I would like them to know they are beautiful just the way they are and that they are never alone. The Trevor Project is here for you 24/7, and I cannot stress this enough: your life has value.”