The following story contains mention of suicide. If you or someone you know is in need of help, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or visit www.trevorproject.org/get-help.
Peer educator and hairdresser Flame always knew they were different. They remember wearing their mother's clothing and shoes around the house as young as 3 or 4 years old.
"When you're young, you kind of think that you're the only one in the world that's different in this way. And it's very isolating," Flame said.
Instead of being celebrated, Flame's differences made them a target. Flame was routinely subject to verbal and physical bullying, but didn't feel like they could confide in their parents.
"I knew that my parents would say, 'well, it's your fault because you're, you know, acting a certain way,'" Flame said.
Flame's mental health declined. They left home at 13 after a suicide attempt. Sadly, Flame's story isn't unique.
Some 45 percent of LGBTQ+ young people, including 53 percent of transgender and nonbinary youth, seriously considered suicide in the past year. According to the Trevor Project's 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, 14 percent attempted it.
"LGBTQ+ people are not born inherently more likely to attempt or consider suicide. It's because of the rejection and discrimination that they face in society," said Amit Paley, CEO and executive director of The Trevor Project.
Rates of anxiety, depression, and considerations of suicide have only increased among LGBTQ+ youth since 2020.
"For so many LGBTQ young people, their sources of support might be when they're at school," Paley said. "During much of the pandemic, they were cut off from those sources of physical support and were trapped in homes with families that might be either unsupportive or emotionally abusive, may be physically abusive."
Furthermore, LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to experience homelessness. According to Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago's Voices of Youth Count, they are 120 percent more likely to experience homelessness than heterosexual and cisgender youth; and roughly 40 percent of youth who experience homelessness identify as LGBTQ+, according to National Network for Youth.
Fortunately, there are resources. The Trevor Project offers a 24/7 crisis hotline for LGBTQ+ youth. And, when virtual resources aren't enough, there are places like the AIDS Center of Queens County (ACQC) Homeless Youth Drop-In Center in Woodside, Queens. The center offers comforts like showers, games, and microwaveable meals; along with resources for job searching and education; screening for sexually transmitted diseases; and referrals for physical and mental health treatment.
"Success is when I see a kid who comes to the drop-in center and we help them get a job, we help them get treated for either a mental health issue or [a sexually transmitted disease] … When they send me emails saying, 'Hey, I miss you. I'm back home. I was able to make amends with my family,'" said Juliana Campos, ACQC youth program supervisor.
As for Flame, they've written their own success story. Flame said they are now "best friends" with their mother. Professionally, they educate kids at ACQC about safe sex practices and participate in Drag Queen Story Hour. Flame also seeks to motivate others by sharing their personal story, however much it hurts.
"It's 100 percent necessary for the sake of other people that might be out there going through the same thing that I was going through hearing that story. And not only hearing the story but realizing that there can be a happy ending," Flame said.