By Emily Younker
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Kristen Stacy appears to be in a good spot in her life, attending classes and experiencing on-campus living at Missouri Southern State University.
But as a gay young adult, Stacy has had her share of dark moments, having struggled with the acceptance — both her own and others’ — of her sexual orientation.
She’s not alone in her struggles, and that’s something that the Trevor Project is trying to change. The Trevor Project, a national organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youths, will be the host for a workshop in Joplin this weekend to help adults learn about suicide prevention and how to reduce suicide risk among LGBTQ youths.
The workshop is being brought to Joplin by members of MSSU’s gay-straight alliance and Ozark Center, the behavioral health services branch of Freeman Health System. It is recommended for parents and family members, educators, health care professionals and anyone who wants to support young adults in the LGBTQ community, said Debbie Fitzgerald, coordinator of crisis services and suicide prevention at Ozark Center.
“We will talk about some warning signs specifically for this group of youth, 10 to 24 years of age,” she said. “We’ll talk about some ways to support and help connect them to resources. We really want to focus on: How do you respond to someone that’s having a suicide crisis?
“It’s one of our last taboo or stigmatized subjects that we have left in our culture, and I’m hoping that we can have some frank educational conversations in a safe environment to be able to support those in our community who have known added risk factors.”
LGBTQ youths are about four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, Fitzgerald said. Within that community, those whose families reject them are about eight times more likely to attempt suicide than those who experience little to no family rejection, she said.
Fitzgerald said the risk of suicide is higher among LGBTQ youths because they have an extra set of stressors on top of the everyday stressors of being a young adult that can increase the risk of harm.
“Being a youth is stressful in itself, but if you feel isolated or alone or confused, and maybe you’re not conforming to gender standards that the rest of society expects to see, it causes increased risk factors and stressors,” she said. “A lot of LGBTQ youth report higher levels of bullying and victimization in school and college, and sometimes higher levels of substance abuse. In general, we believe that the increased risk of suicide is not a factor of identifying as a sexual minority or gender variant, but it’s the way that young people are often treated in their home, their schools, their community at large and sometimes their religious institution.”
Stacy said she figured out during her junior year at Joplin High School that she was gay. After wrestling with the knowledge internally for about eight months and battling some suicidal thoughts, she finally came out, or disclosed her sexual orientation to others.
“School was a lot more accepting; a lot of people at Joplin are gay or gay-friendly,” she said. “By my senior year, I found a lot of people who were very accepting and willing to be my resources and guide me in things I needed to talk about. And my sister said she knew it already, so she was very accepting.”
Her transition into university life at Missouri Southern has gone relatively smoothly. Now a sophomore majoring in graphic design, Stacy said she is part of a “tight-knit and close” gay-straight alliance called Equality Alliance, whose members routinely get together to discuss issues that they face.
“People are like, ‘Oh, OK, it’s fine,’” she said of her sexual orientation. “It’s not an issue here.”
Stacy said the Trevor Project had been one of her online resources when she came out, and she plans to attend the workshop to help in whatever way she can. She said she thinks the organization’s message will be helpful to those who attend.
“I know that Missouri’s the Bible Belt, and I just know how many of my friends needed someone to say, ‘Hey, you’re not alone’ or ‘We know what you’re going through,’” she said. “I just hope that the LGBT people here realize how much people love them around the country and around the world because some of us don’t get that from our family or our friends, especially in Missouri.”
The Trevor Project was founded in 1998 by James Lecesne, Peggy Rajski and Randy Stone, the creators of the short film “Trevor.” The film depicts a 13-year-old boy who has a crush on another boy in his class; tormented by his classmates’ teasing, the character tries to take his own life.
The Trevor Project’s national hot line for young people who are in crisis, feeling suicidal or in need of someone to talk to can be reached at 866-488-7386. The number receives 30,000 calls each year, and Missouri ranks 16th in call volume among the states, according to the organization.
The organization also offers suicide prevention services and counseling for LGBTQ youths through TrevorChat, an instant messaging program, and TrevorSpace, an online social network.
Ozark Center offers assistance and prevention services through its 24-hour hot line, which can be reached locally at 347-7720 or 800-247-0661.
THE TREVOR PROJECT’S CARE (Connect, Accept, Respond, Empower) workshop will take place from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday in the Billingsly Student Center ballroom at Missouri Southern State University. The workshop is free; reservations are required by calling 347-7720.