A 2022 national survey shows that thoughts of suicide among youth identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, two-spirit, intersex and asexual+ (LGBTQ2SIA+) have increased over the last three years. The Trevor Project, a national non-profit focused on preventing suicide in this group, surveyed nearly 34,000 LGBTQ2SIA+ youth ages 13 to 24 across the United States. Forty-five percent of the respondents were LGBTQ2SIA+ youth of color, and 48 percent identified as transgender or nonbinary. It was the fourth annual survey of its kind and one of the most diverse among LGBTQ2SIA+ youth ever conducted by The Trevor Project.
Sadly, the trend holds true in Oregon, with LGBTQ2SIA+ youth reporting thoughts of suicide at higher levels than their peers. “This is not due to how they identify,” said Meghan Crane, Zero Suicide in Health Systems coordinator at Oregon Health Authority (OHA). “Rather, it’s due to issues such as discrimination, transphobia, lack of acceptance from their families, the trauma of experiencing rejection, and not having access to health care that supports their ability to live their authentic lives through gender-affirming health care.”
Crane also emphasized The Trevor Project’s research showing the power of supportive families and communities. The survey shows LGBTQ2SIA+ youth with high support from their family, schools and community reported lower rates of suicide attempts than those with less support. The takeaway: each person in Oregon and across the nation has a role to play in supporting LGBT2SIA+ youth.
We spoke with Crane about how we can support LGBTQ2SIA+ youth and bring that trend down.
OHA: What is happening in Oregon to support Oregon LGBTQ2SIA+ youth?
MC: “There are many organizations and agencies working across Oregon to support LGBTQ2SIA+ youth. The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) published the LGBTQ2SIA+ Student Success Plan that establishes a framework for creating safe, inclusive and welcoming schools for LGBTQ2SIA+ students and addressing barriers to their educational success. Health systems across the state continue to build programs specifically to support LGBTQ2SIA+ youth through gender-affirming care that is medically appropriate and necessary. OHA has provided funding to the Oregon Alliance to Prevent Suicide, which will give grants to organizations that support LGBTQ2SIA+ youth and adults in both rural and urban communities throughout the state. One myth we’re trying to dispel is there aren’t LGBTQ2SIA+ individuals outside of Oregon’s urban areas. The statistics are eye opening – eight percent of Oregon students identify as a gender different from their biology, and one in three identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual. That feels compelling to me in helping people understand we’re not just talking about youth in the urban areas. The grants also support events such as Pride celebrations, in some communities the first such event, around Oregon.”
OHA: How do events like Pride celebrations help?
MC: “Pride events not only show LGBTQ2SIA+ youth that there are people like them in their community but show community acceptance they may not have known was there. That increases feelings of safety, belonging and being a member of the community.”
OHA: How can people in Oregon support LGBTQ2SIA+ youth?
MC: “Become an ally by learning what it means to be a LGBTQ2SIA+ youth in your community. Learn the differences between sexual orientations – who you are attracted to; and gender identity – how individuals perceive themselves (male, female, a blend of both or neither). Encourage others in your workplace and community to do training around LGBTQ2SIA+ identity and talk about what you’ve learned. June is Pride Month, so it’s a particularly good time for those discussions.
Also, it’s really important to talk and listen to LGBTQ2SIA+ youth. Recognize that many youths know what they need to thrive, and their voice must be central to our work. Make sure they’re involved in policy discussions so the things we as adults are putting in place to support them are informed by them.”
OHA: Lots of people are sharing their personal pronouns. Why is that important?
MC: “By sharing your personal pronouns, you are showing you’re an ally, that you respect other people’s pronouns. It creates a welcoming environment.”
OHA: What specifically can teachers and students do to support their LGBTQ2SIA+ students and classmates?
MC: “Teachers can be role models for kindness and inclusion. As I mentioned, June is Pride month—a national month of recognition of the LGBTQ2SIA+ community. It’s an ideal time for educators to talk about what Pride means, and to share the lives of LGBTQ2SIA+ individuals in their teaching. It’s really important for everyone to speak up when they hear anti-LGBTQ2SIA+ comments, like “This is so gay.” If you hear someone saying derogatory things, tell them you’re not OK with that. In school settings, it comes down to bullying and acceptance, for staff and students to see LGBTQ2SIA+ students as youths wanting to learn and grow in the school setting. They’re just kids that want to enjoy life. ODE has provided resources for teaching around LGBTQ2SIA+ as part of their Pride Month message.”
OHA: How is the medical community helping?
MC: “Many leading medical groups have stated that medically appropriate, gender-affirming care is a medical necessity. We have several large health systems around Oregon that have LGBTQ2SIA+-specific centers or clinics to provide care.”
OHA: What can someone do if they are concerned a friend or student needs help?
MC: “If you as a parent or caregiver are worried about a youth, you should talk to them directly about it. You can’t put the idea of suicide into someone’s head. If someone is thinking about suicide, asking them directly can be a huge relief because they will know there is someone they can be open and honest with. You might want to call Lines for Life (1-800-273-8255), which takes calls in Oregon for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Lines for Life also runs YouthLine, (1-877-968-8491) a teen-to-teen crisis and help line. And The Trevor Project has a LGBTQ2SIA+-focused crisis line (Text START to 678-678 or call 1-866-488-7386). These call centers are not just for individuals who are in crisis, but for you – their friend or loved one – as well.
If you are a young person and fear a friend or classmate is in trouble, talk to them and a trusted adult. You can ask your friend if they are OK or if they need help, but you should always tell a trusted adult, too, so they can get the person the help they need. It could be a teacher, coach, school nurse, parent or guidance counselor.”
OHA: How can a person contemplating suicide help themselves?
MC: “Talk to someone they trust and love. Reach out to the resources we’ve identified and posted below. Talk to a health care provider or therapist. Know that you don’t have to suffer in silence. People who love you want to help you; let them know how you are feeling.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, please know that help is available.
- 24/7 Suicide Prevention National Lifeline number: 1-800-273-8255
- 24/7 Spanish Lifeline: 1-888-628-9454
- 24/7 Crisis Text Line: Text “OREGON” to 741741. En Espanol: Text AYUDA to 741741.
- 24/7 Trevor Project Crisis Line for LGBTQ+ youth (24/7): 1-866-488-7386 or text START to 678-678.
- YouthLine for teen-to-teen crisis help: 1-877-968-8491, or text: TEEN2TEEN to 839863. Trained teens respond from Monday – Friday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. PST. Adults are also available 24/7.
- The Trans Lifeline: 1-877-585-8860, 7 a.m. – 1 a.m. PST. Volunteers may be available in off hours.