by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Suicide, the third-largest cause of death among teens, is a serious problem for LGBT youth. It is estimated that 30-40% of LGBT teens will attempt suicide at least once - and many of them will succeed. On September 21, the Youth Suicide Prevention (YSPP) OUTLoud program presented the premiere of You Are Not Alone, a YSPP video spotlighting the lives of three local LGBTQ youth focused on the risks for suicide, self-harm, and depression, and how to intervene with a suicidal youth.
The program was held at Richard Hugo House and hosted by local drag queen Aleksa Manila. The event featured a silent auction and a $25 suggested donation, with all funds benefiting YSPP OUTloud Program, which works to reduce the rates of suicide among LGBTQ youth in Washington state. In addition to the screening, music was provided by Satellite By Night, and there was a special performance of Michael Jackson's "You Are Not Alone" sung by local Michael impersonator Ryan.
The 11-minute You Are Not Alone follows the experiences of three different LGBTQ teens: Blue, Megan, and Trynket. No real names were used so as to protect the youth from being otherwise identified. Other youth who participated in other ways were David, Violetta, Patrick, Ryan, Ximena, and Antasia. YSPP project intern Jaden Euster wrote the script with help from Kaitlin Krhounek and Red Monroe, who both narrated the film.
"We conducted an exhaustive outreach effort for the youth in the video through organizations I partner with," Heather Carter, OUTLoud coordinator, told SGN. "Youth that responded were then interviewed in person. From those interviews, we narrowed the group to three youth's stories and a handful of additional youth to support the video."
The video can be viewed online at http://vimeo.com/10297324.
After the video was screened, State Senator Ed Murray (D-43) moderated a youth panel consisting of Ximena, Narvaja, Kaitlin Krhounek, Jaden Euster, Stephanie Taylor, and Red Monroe.
Sen. Murray asked a series of questions, but it was his last question that seemed to resonate with the youth and the audience: "What more should be done?" The youth all agreed that LGBTQ bullying is not a Gay community problem; it is everyone's problem. They recommended that more teachers and counselors should be trained to be LGBTQ-friendly, schools should focus on some LGBTQ issues and showcase LGBTQ role models, and that if the situation is safe, LGBTQ youth should be encouraged to come out of the closest.
Carter says she has learned a lot from the youth. "They remind me that it isn't all bad," she said. "Part of the reason that I am doing this work is because I remember all too well my own teen years. I remember the fear of people discovering who I really was, of hiding the most important parts of me, and of being bullied, and those memories help fuel me through this work."
Carter says that she believes that, in general, LGBTQ youth suicide prevention is not viewed as importantly as it should be. "These youth have many positive stories to tell, and [give] great advice - not only for youth, but for adults too," she said. "I learn something new from them every time they do a panel or presentation. They are the only ones who can teach us what it's like to be an LGBTQ youth today. They are the ones we should be listening to."
Carter said that the important work that YSPP OUTLoud and the youth are doing is saving lives. "We provide training throughout King County and beyond for free," she told SGN. "We provide much-needed education about LGBTQ youth and the issues they face. People need to know this information, but they must also celebrate these youth because many of them are survivors and are resilient and will triumph. They aren't just numbers on a page."
Events like the screening of You Are Not Alone "bring people together in a community of acceptance and support," said Carter. "I could feel that support and understanding at the event. It was very powerful. It was one of the most potent events I've been a part of in a very long time."
Carter admitted that the organization is low on funds. "We need money so we can keep doing the work I'm doing," Carter said. "The money donated to OUTLoud goes directly to support paying a salary and the expenses associated with running the program. General donations to YSPP keep the program running and work toward lowering the rate of youth suicide in Washington state. Honestly, we're in financial trouble right now due to state budget cuts."
If YSPP OUTLoud were to cease operation and training, the state would lose out, says Carter. Currently the organization provides public education and training that focus on LGBTQ youth suicide, depression, and self-harm, bullying, and bias-based harassment.
The three major training segments the group offers are:
o "You Are Not Alone" peer to peer training.
o "LGBTQ Youth Suicide: The Facts." Training provided for youth serving organizations, schools, etc. The training educates adults about the risk and protective factors for this group of youth, intervention, and how to increase support for LGBTQ youth, thereby reducing their risk.
o "Bullying Prevention = Suicide Prevention." A three-part curriculum that focuses on what schools can do, what families can do, and what community partners can do to reduce the rates of bullying and how to properly intervene when bullying occurs. It also educates about the links between bullying and bias-based harassment and negative mental outcomes, including depression and suicide.
If you are interested in learning more about YSPP or would like to make a donation, visit the organization online at www.YSPP.org. If you are an LGBTQ teen and in need of immediate help, call 1-800-273-TALK or 1-866-4-U-TREVOR.
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