It is a time of hope and change but still a heavy weight of urgency is upon us acknowledging that September is Suicide Awareness Month.
David and I were friends in elementary school. We rode our bikes to each other’s houses, and he gave me a shell necklace in third grade. When I saw him at a gay event a year before he died, we were thrilled to be “out” with each other. I remember him saying playfully, “You are the only girl I ever loved.”
If you or someone you love is LGBTQIA+, there is a high chance your life has been impacted by suicide. The causes are linked to the stigma, discrimination and bias that LGBTQIA+ communities face and the lack of affirming spaces to uplift them.
The Trevor Project’s national survey found that 45% of LGBTQIA+ youth ages 13-24 seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year.
I knew Grace from a lesbian community I was part of when I first came out. Grace was not “out” to her conservative family. I mourned with a group of queer friends in the last row at her funeral, nervously staying inconspicuous so as not to “out” her even in death.
The data around LGBTQIA+ youth and suicide is alarming, but there is something we can do. According to the Trevor Project, LGBTQIA+ youth who have spaces that affirm their identity report lower rates of suicide.
The youth program at RCC understands this urgency. In July, we launched an LGBTQIA+ summer camp for rising 3rd-9th graders, naming it Camp Fierce, which stands for Freedom of Identity and Expression through Rainbow Community Empowerment.
With the support of community partners, we provided a place for youth to fully express themselves and feel empowered in their identities. We believe in the positive impact of LGBTQIA+ teen leadership and trained a group of them to be our beloved camp counselors.
The final project culminated into a stained-glass piece that represents the journey of the phoenix, a story with which the campers can relate. After camp, youth said they felt “safe,” “respected” and “free from bullies.”
Rainbow represents only one resource in our community. We need all of our allies to come together and create safer environments for our LGBTQIA+ youth. It is time to put up your rainbow flags all year, start an LGBTQIA+ club at your school, stand up to bias in your neighborhood, read books that are inclusive with your children, and use people’s correct pronouns and names. All of these actions are suicide prevention and send a powerful message to youth that they belong here.
Together, we can work to transform our communities and move the realities of LGBTQIA+ youth from surviving to thriving well into adulthood.
And when you need support, come visit us at newly relocated RCC, where the stained-glass phoenix hangs proudly in the window.
This article is dedicated to David and Grace and all of our LGBTQIA+ youth. If you or someone you know is in crisis, help is available. Call the Trevor Project 24-hour crisis line at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 678-678.
Laura Cartwright is a Queer educator and oversees the training and curriculum at Rainbow Community Center. Contact Laura at firstname.lastname@example.org