Supporting LGBTQ Youth in the Wake of Suicide

We all have a responsibility to educate, counsel, organize and demonstrate so that no LGBTQ youth feels life is not worth living.

Editor's Note: This blog post first appeared on Gender Spectrum's website under the title "Responses in the Wake of Suicide: What You Can Do to Support Gender-expansive and Transgender Youth." It is reposted here with permission.

Gender Spectrum joins in the pain and sorrow following the recent death of a transgender* teenager whose online expression of pain and call to action has gone viral.

The outpouring of support from those sharing this story clearly comes from those yearning to make the world a better place for young people.

But while online calls to action can be effective tools to create visibility and action, there can also be a downside to some viral stories depicting deaths by suicide.

Three years ago twelve LGBTQ and Mental Health Organizations co-published a guide with recommendations about how to talk about suicide and LGBTQ youth. The document shared the best research in the field, which indicated that:

  1. Viral campaigns about suicide and LGBTQ youth can make suicide seem like a logi­cal consequence of the kinds of bullying, rejection, discrimination and exclusion that LGBTQ people often experience
  2. Idealizing people who have died by suicide may encourage others to identify with the victim or seek to emulate them
  3. The underlying causes of most suicide deaths are complex and can’t be explained by one incident or factor
  4. Detailed descriptions of a person’s suicide death can be a factor in leading vulnerable individuals to imitate the act

We encourage everyone who cares about transgender young people and suicide to learn more by reading this 4 page document.

Now is a time for us to be proactive. We all have a responsibility to use the variety of tools at our disposal to educate, legislate, counsel, organize, and demonstrate so that no young people feel that being transgender means their life is not worth living.

We need to identify the many ways in which individuals experience personal resiliency while facing the challenges inherent in society’s narrowly defined gender roles.

It is not enough to temporarily mobilize in the wake of tragedy. There are simple, yet powerful things every one of us can all do as a regular part of our lives. Gender Spectrum collaborated with the HRC Foundation in 2014 on a report called, “Supporting and Caring for Our Gender-Expansive Youth.” In the report we identify three ways we can all make a difference for youth:

  1. Educate yourself. There is so much more to gender than we realize. Even for those of us who spend our lives dedicated to this issue, we continue to learn every day.
  2. Create space in which children and youth can safely explore gender identity** and expression. Listen to what young people are telling you about themselves. You don’t need to worry about what to say, just listening will make a tremendous difference.
  3. Advocate for more gender-inclusive environments within your community’s schools, medical facilities, religious and other institutions. Your voice can make all the difference to a child or teen who otherwise feels isolated and alone.

Before you forward a viral image or story related to young person who died from suicide, consider how you can help youth see a future that they can be a part of.

The Gender Spectrum website has considerable resources focused on parenting, teens, education, medical, legal, mental health, social services and faith.

Additional useful resources include:

  1. PFLAG: provides specific resources for parents with transgender children.
  2. The Family Acceptance Project: a research, intervention, education and policy initiative that works to prevent health and mental health risks for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) children and youth, including suicide, homelessness and HIV – in the context of their families.
  3. The Transgender Law Center: works to change law, policy, and attitudes so that all people can live safely, authentically, and free from discrimination regardless of their gender identity or expression.
  4. The Trevor Project: provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24.

*Transgender: Sometimes used as an umbrella term to describe anyone whose identity or behavior falls outside of stereotypical gender norms. More narrowly defined, it refers to an individual whose gender identity does not match their assigned birth sex. Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation (attraction to people of a specific sex and/or gender.) Therefore, transgender people may additionally identify with a variety of other sexual identities as well.

**Gender identity: One’s innermost core concept of self which can include male, female, a blend of both or neither, and many more—how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One’s gender identity can be the same or different than the sex assigned at birth. Individuals become conscious of this between the ages 18 months and 3 years. Most people develop a gender identity that matches their biological sex. For some, however, their gender identity is different from their biological or assigned sex. Some of these individuals choose to socially, hormonally and/or surgically change their physical appearance to more fully match their gender identity and some do not.

Gender Spectrum provides education, training and support to help create a gender sensitive and inclusive environment for all children and teens.

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