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In this issue: The Trevor Project by Mandy Fuller, Understanding the LGBTQ+ Community - Terms and Tips by Ted Lewis, Tech Corner: Preschool Assessment Survey, VASP News: Join our Social Justice Book Club!, Call for Articles, Contact Us!
Saving young LGTBQ Lives
by Mandy Fuller, Ed.S., NCSP (she/her pronouns), Crisis Services Digital Associate at The Trevor Project
Suicide is a public health crisis. It is the second leading cause of death among young people — and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth are at significantly increased risk. According to CDC data, LGBTQ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers.
With this reality, it is imperative that school psychologists are aware of common risk factors and warning signs of suicide, along with protective factors and best practices for supporting students with marginalized identities. One resource that all school psychologists should be aware of when working with LGBTQ students and recommending mental health resources is The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people.
The Trevor Project works to save young lives by providing free and confidential crisis services on platforms where young people spend their time: a 24/7 phone lifeline, chat, and text. The organization also runs TrevorSpace, the world’s largest safe space social networking site for LGBTQ youth, and operates innovative education, research, and advocacy programs.
This past July, The Trevor Project released its 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health. Representing the experiences of over 40,000 LGBTQ youth, it is the largest survey of LGBTQ youth mental health ever conducted. Alarmingly, the survey found that 40% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.
The disparate rate of suicide attempts among LGBTQ youth is staggering. But these findings should also not be interpreted to suggest that LGBTQ youth are inherently prone to suicide because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTQ youth are at a higher risk of suicide because of increased experiences of internalized stigma, discrimination, violence, and rejection from others.
And we see this reflected in the data: 1 in 3 LGBTQ youth reported that they had been physically threatened or harmed in their lifetime due to their LGBTQ identity. And 61% of transgender and nonbinary youth reported being prevented or discouraged from using a bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity, with school being the most frequent place where this discrimination occurs.
These startling statistics are often the ones that lead the news, and for good reason: LGBTQ youth who experience discrimination and victimization also report higher rates of suicide attempts. But focusing entirely on doom and gloom is unhelpful. It paints a pessimistic picture for the young people we serve and most often leaves out the most critical point of all — that suicide is preventable and every person can make a difference.
LGBTQ youth who reported access to at least one LGBTQ-affirming space were significantly less likely to attempt suicide compared to those who did not. Among transgender and nonbinary youth, those who report having their pronouns respected by all or most of the people in their lives attempted suicide at half the rate of those who did not have their pronouns respected. And The Trevor Project’s research has also found that LGBTQ youth who report having at least one accepting adult were 40% less likely to report a suicide attempt in the past year.
The fact that just one person can have such a huge impact on the life of a young person is inspiring and should command more attention in conversations around LGBTQ youth suicide. School psychologists can play a critical role in promoting LGBTQ youth mental health by advocating for school policies that prevent discrimination and victimization and actively foster the creation of safe, affirming environments where LGBTQ students can thrive.
Our work is ongoing and the task before us is daunting. COVID-19 has exacerbated many of these challenges and The Trevor Project estimates that there are more than 1.8 million LGBTQ young people who seriously consider suicide each year in the U.S. But we also know that safe spaces and support systems work to save young LGBTQ lives and progress is being made every day.
If you are ever wondering how you can help, remember you can be that one accepting person in a young person’s life. And by doing just that, you can help prevent suicide.
For references and more resources, consider exploring this padlet.
Meet the author!
Mandy began working part-time as a Digital Crisis Worker for The Trevor Project in February 2019 in which she directly worked with youth who reached out for crisis support on Trevor’s chat and text lines. Mandy accepted a full-time position with The Trevor Project in August 2020 as a Crisis Services Digital Associate. Mandy now works with the Crisis Services team to ensure digital staff and volunteer success and assist with special projects and core tasks of the crisis services program.
Prior to working at Trevor, Mandy worked as a school psychologist for 6 years in the elementary, middle, and high school settings in Wise County and Washington County Schools. She presented her research findings regarding suicidal behavior in elementary schools at the National Association of School Psychologists 2016 Annual Convention. She has also facilitated workshops for teachers, school counselors, and school social workers on topics such as childhood mental health disorders, suicide prevention and intervention, non-suicidal self-injury, coping strategies, compassion fatigue, and self-care.
Mandy graduated from Radford University in 2012 with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a minor in Sociology. She attended James Madison University where she received her Master of Arts in 2013 and Educational Specialist degree in 2015 in School Psychology. Mandy was awarded Graduate Student of the Year by the Virginia Academy of School Psychologists while attending JMU. Mandy’s thesis and research interests focused on current needs in suicide prevention practices at the elementary school level.
by Ted Lewis (they/them), Executive Director of Side by Side VA
Side by Side VA is the oldest and largest LGBTQ+ youth organization in Virginia and we are excited to share details on terminology to help educators better understand the LGBTQ+ community. Side by Side provides training and technical support for K-12 schools throughout Virginia to learn more about how to best support LGBTQ+ youth. Learn more here.
Sex assignment, the process where we are assigned a sex, usually by a medical professional, based solely on external genitalia. We typically think of sex assignment as a binary of male or female, but the reality is bodies are more diverse than this. The term intersex refers to anyone whose body is somewhere outside expected norms of male or female and replaces the outdated term hermaphrodite.
Gender identity is our understanding of who we are in relation to gender. Someone assigned male who identifies as a man or someone assigned female who identifies as a woman would be cisgender. “Cis” means aligned with, referring to the person’s sex assignment aligning with our expectations for their gender identity. Transgender is an umbrella term used to describe people whose sex assignment differs from our expectations based on their assigned sex. A transwoman would be someone assigned male who identifies as a woman while transman would be someone assigned female who identifies as a man. Transwomen are women so you can just use the term women, trans denotes the type of woman. The same is true in referring to transmen as simply men.
Some people’s gender identity does not fall within man/woman binary and would identify as non-binary. There are several terms under this umbrella to denote degree of gender identity (demi-boy, demi-girl), absence of a gender identity (agender), a gender identity outside the binary (third gender, non-binary), a combination of gender identities (bigender, genderqueer), or even a fluid understanding of gender (gender fluid, gender flux).
Sexual orientation is our feelings of attraction. Sexual orientation is not sexual behavior, you can be gay without having sex just like you can be heterosexual without having sex. Heterosexual refers to someone attracted to the opposite gender. Gay refers to liking someone of the same gender and can be used for any gender identity, while lesbian refers to women who like women. The term bisexual refers to someone who is attracted to more than one gender, omnisexual means attracted to all genders, while pansexual means attracted to the person regardless of gender. Asexual means not having a sexual attraction and is on a spectrum of its own and can include other terms such as demisexual or greysexual meaning having some level of sexual attraction. Sexual orientation is different from gender identity and you can be both gay and transgender.
Terms to avoid include slurs such as fag, lesbo, dyke, tranny, etc. But you also want to avoid outdated terms like homosexual or transsexual or transvestite. Additionally, avoid terms that have value judgements such as the term straight instead of heterosexual, it infers that not being heterosexual is somehow crooked or wrong. You also want to be cautious about a term like queer, because while it has a negative history as a slur, many view the term positively and are working to reclaim it.
Finding a term that speaks to who you are feels like finding a community, feels like finding a home. Thus, understanding the various terms within the LGBTQ+ community is the first step to making your school more inclusive. The second step would be to consistently use the name and pronouns your students use. Ask your students what name they go by and note that in your roll. A study by Stephen Russell found that consistently using a transgender youth’s chosen name at work, home, school, and with friends decreases suicide attempts by 65%.
Typically, we rely on people’s gender expression, or their outward appearance and make an assumption of which pronoun (he or she) to use. A more inclusive way is to ask people what pronoun they use and to use it consistently when referring to them. Additionally, many nonbinary people use other pronouns such as the singular form of they to refer to themselves. The Trevor Project found that transgender and non-binary youth who reported having pronouns respected by all or most people in their lives attempted suicide at half the rate of those who did not have their pronouns respected.
A link to our padlet that includes the resources highlighted in the article can be found here.
Meet the author!
Ted Lewis (they/them) serves as Executive Director of Side by Side VA, an organization dedicated to creating supportive communities where Virginia’s LGBTQ+ youth can define themselves, belong, and flourish. Ted has over a decade of experience supporting LGBTQ+ youth and their families including work at UNC Charlotte, the University of Richmond, and Campus Pride. They are a graduate of Mary Washington and the University of South Carolina.
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The VASP Social Justice Committee invites you to join our new social justice book club! It’s open to all VASP members, including students, current practitioners, faculty members, and non-practicing members. The book selection for Spring 2021 is Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debbie Irving. This book was selected because it begins at the beginning; with awakening, consciousness and self-reflection. Please sign-up here.
If you would like to write a feature article, please contact us (see information below). We are currently looking for articles on pre-kindergarten/early development and foster care. If so, please contact us by January 15, 2021.
If you have a question, comment, idea, or tip for an upcoming issue, please contact us. We’d love to hear from you!
Michele Gamble, Lee County Public Schools
Robyn McNiel, Campbell County Public Schools
Jamie Blair-Walker, Richmond Public Schools
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