Guest Blogger

Stories from the Helpline

Filed By Guest Blogger | September 07, 2008 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: HIV/AIDS, LGBT youth, suicide, Trevor Project

Editor's Note: "Stories from the Helpline" is a recurring feature on The Bilerico Project, bringing in the personal accounts of Helpline counselors from The Trevor Project. The Trevor Project is a non-profit organization that operates the only nationwide, around-the-clock crisis and suicide prevention helpline for LGBTQ youth. This installment comes from Dave Reynolds, who is the East Coast call center manager at The Trevor Project. He is also a volunteer Helpline counselor at The Randy Stone East Coast Call Center in New York City.

Dave%20Reynolds[1].jpgSince joining The Trevor Project's dedicated team over a year ago, I have taken and listened in on hundreds (or maybe even thousands) of calls. When asked what I do for a living, I respond with almost automatic precision, "I manage a crisis and suicide prevention helpline for LGBTQ youth." This universally elicits a "deer in headlights" response as people search for the appropriate response. It is not every day that we actually get to meet those of us who manage the phone lines and outlets that save desperate and isolated lives every day across this country. Personally, I take pride in saving these young lives, but really love the fact that I, accompanied by all of the fabulous volunteers who take our phone calls, have a direct stake in seeing the healthy future and vitality of the next generation of LGBTQ people.

As one may guess, some calls stick with counselors more than others, and I would like to share a story of a call that I took at the beginning of my career at The Trevor Helpline that I think about to this day. I still use this call to guide my work and development as a counselor. A young gay man that we'll call Jake reached out to us from a city in the Midwest. Jake was calling from the psychiatric unit of a nearby hospital in which he was staying on a 72-hour mandatory hold that accompanies suicide attempts. He had attempted to overdose on pills and had a history of two prior suicide attempts.

Jake disclosed to me that he had bipolar disorder as well as borderline personality disorder. When he woke up in the hospital, one of the first things he wanted to do was call The Trevor Helpline.

Jake had just broken up with his boyfriend Eddy, and lost a close friend and gay mentor to AIDS. To some, this may seem harsh but not atypical, until we realize that Jake was only 18 years old. My work at The Trevor Project has taught me many things, but above all, that young LGBTQ people are forced to cope with real situations that many of their peers do not, and that they are no better or worse equipped to handle these situations. They just do. For young Jake, losing his boyfriend was the straw that broke the camel's back.

I worked with Jake to focus first and foremost on taking care of himself in the days and weeks ahead. We talked about putting himself first as he began his recovery. Jake admitted that he had been calling his ex-boyfriend upwards of six times per day, and we talked about scaling that back to just one call, to let him know that Jake was alive and going to be okay. Jake ended the call by saying "Thanks so much, I always feel better after talking to you guys." After hanging up, I knew that Jake had a long way to go in his recovery, but I was also comforted to know that he could reach out to me or my colleagues at The Trevor Project 24 hours per day, seven days per week, 365 days per year.

Be sure to check out our previous installment of "Stories from the Helpline" from volunteer Wing-Sum Doud, Adrienne Smith, and Michael Vacha Jr.

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These stories tug at my heart like no other posts here.

I know that its important to preserve callers identites and I would never ask that information of anyone. Is there a way, though, that these stories could be recounted and assembled into a book(s) without compromising the callers identies. If we could give a voice for these people, tell these stories as faithfully as possible, maybe more people outside our community would begin to understand what people are going through. Equally important would be the other side of the phone call, the response of the volunteer. Often our hotlines for both young and old are targeted by uninformed, fearful people and conservative organizations, thinking that we're somehow "recuiting" by taking advantage of people in crisis. Illuminating actual responses of councilors, without giving away personal information, might be reassuring to parents and qwell the misinformation often spewed forth by conservative groups.

Please forgive me if this is old hat and books have already been written. Lately I'm not as well read as I should be for various reasons, I just wanted to somehow offer a solution.

Thanks, Dave, from a guy who was Jake at one point. 18, bipolar, suicidal and all. I reached out to the Indiana Youth Group; they saved my life.

I have no training in the area, and sometimes I'm dreadfully afraid that I'll say the wrong thing when dealing with such situations.

Being TS, I get them a lot.

One that sticks in my mind. Not a case of suicidal ideation, but heartbreaking just the same.

A 15 year old boy in Kansas. His neighbours, fine upstanding people that they were, didn't approve of a boy with a female body. So they poisoned his 3 month old labrador puppy to show their disapproval.

There he was at 3am local time, cradling the body in his arms, and asking me "why?". The time zones meant that I had the duty then, in far off Australia. We try to provide 24/7 service, not that we're organised or funded, just that we all are there to help each other in an ad-hoc way.

He has nowhere else to turn. The nearest support group was in Kansas City, many hours away.

I'm tearing up again as I write this, though it's been 2 years now.

So if I get a little too emotionally involved now and then what with ENDA and all, even though as an Australian it doesn't affect me, hopefully you'll understand and cut me some slack.

Rick Elliott | September 8, 2008 9:30 AM

I am a 63 year old liberal minister who is gay. I came to this understanding when I was married and in my late thirties. I was sexually abused over a long period of time, beginning when I was 4 or 5 years old. Being a straight-forward kind of man I suffered emotionally and physically because of leading a double life. I attempted suicide and received good hospitalization.
This may sound naive, but growing up I didn't know what gay was and didn't really until I went to college. I grew up in a small town in East Texas. Particularly in junior and senior high school kids taunted me with "sissy" and occasionally "fag," but I didn't know what that meant and had no one I could talk to to ask its meaning.
But I am now at the point in my recovery from abuse and understanding--and being-- gay that I can see that something good came out of all this--the gift of vulnerability to people and the gift to be able to quickly empathize.

rick_from_kansas | September 8, 2008 9:33 AM

Zoe, it never ceases to amaze me that parents dont love their children unconditionally , Why would parents do this to their child? I just dont get it. I just hope that this young Ts is away from that situation and he is doing great. Your response brought me to tears.

I work on a small, local LGBTQ helpline. The calls that tend to stick with me the most are the ones from mothers, aunts, etc. calling about wanting to help their LGBTQ son/daughter/niece/nephew, etc. They're so passionate and truly caring about the individual. They want to know every option and form of support they can possibly provide. Those calls really lift my spirits.

That's great work that you're doing here. Thank you.

Great work, I live in Las Vegas, but as a Human Services specialist and social work student, I would love to volunteer.

BAGLY, the Boston Alliance of Gay and Lesbian Youth, recommends a Peer Listening Line (1-800-399-PEER. BAGLY saved my life, and your work is hopefully doing the same for other youth.

The more we help our youth, the stronger leaders we have tomorrow.