His father, furious that his son had just come out as homosexual, told the teenager that the family’s gun cabinet was unlocked and that his son should use one of the weapons to kill himself, to stop his father from being “embarrassed” by him.
” I don’t have anywhere to go ,” the 14 -year-old said.
The young man was calling the Trevor Project’s confidential, toll-free, 24 -hour’ Lifeline’ suicide prevention hotline earlier this year from a conservative, rural part of Middle America, and Amit Paley had taken his bellow. Freshly appointed as CEO of the Trevor Project, Paley, a hotline volunteer for six years, still does regular four-hour shifts taking calls from young LGBTQ people aged 13 -2 4 at risk of suicide or in crisis. In 2015, the nonprofit’s 920 volunteers helped over 200,000 young people.
On a recent afternoon in the conference room of the Trevor Project’s midtown Manhattan offices, Paley recalled to a reporter that he had looked up the resources available to the 14 -year-old caller.
” There was nothing within two hours of where he lived, so we really were a lifeline for this person ,” Paley said.
” I was able to tell him why their own lives was worth living. It sounds very basic and simple, but first of all I told him,’ I can hear how much ache and suffering you’re in. I know how difficult this really is .’ I told him I could hear from what he was describing how hurtful what his father did was, and how lonely he felt.
” I told him I wanted him to know there were people like him across the country and around the world who not only think there is nothing incorrect with being lesbian, but who would celebrate him for who he is. I told him that I was one of those people, and that I was so proud of him for being as courageous as he was for calling and talking to me .”
Paley said the 14 -year-old had thanked him and said that he didn’t know, until that moment, that anyone felt positively about being lesbian. Paley was able ultimately to ensure the young man was safe and able to find support.
Paley, a handsome 35 -year-old with thick darknes hair, is a former foreign correspondent and business journalist( with The Washington Post ), and former management consultant with the firm McKinsey. He joined the Trevor Project as a volunteer following a rash of headline-making LGBTQ teen suicides a few years ago, including that of former Rutgers student Tyler Clementi.
” I wanted to give something back ,” Paley said, the familiar motivating of many a volunteer( full disclosure, this reporter once volunteered for Switchboard, formerly the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard ).
Taking on the CEO position is” deeply personal ,” Paley said, because as a volunteer he hears” the voices of the young people who urgently need our help. After the election it became clear to me that young people needed our help more than ever .”
The day after the presidential election the Trevor Project’s call volume doubled, and there has been an increase in calls since then as the Trump administration’s rolling back of LGBTQ rights has gathered pace, a regression symbolized most starkly for activists in the lack of a presidential proclamation for Pride Month.
In May, Paley said, the Lifeline received more bellows from LGBTQ young people than in its entire 19 -year history.
” The policies of this administration , no doubt about it, are immediately harming young LGBTQ people ,” Paley told The Daily Beast.” What’s so upsetting and shocking for them is that up until this phase they had been growing up in a time of increasing acceptance and tolerance. Our mission is to end suicide among LGBTQ young people, and we are concerned by any activities that might reverse the progress we have constructed .”
” There are more people feeling in crisis and more people reaching out for help ,” said Paley.” When the president of the United States and politicians in positions of power stand up and attain LGBT people feel less-than, or construct them feel their rights are being taken away from them, that has a significant impact on their self-worth.
” That’s our reason to be here: to say,’ No matter what anyone in Washington says, you are worthy, you are loved, you have dignity, and you are who you are and who you love does not lessen you as a person .'”
Younger LGBTQ people may be coming out at a time of greater visibility and pop-cultural embracing, but their feelings of isolation and menace remain acute.
The Trevor Project is find as many young person defining themselves as gender nonconforming as trans, Paley said–and it’s not just their parents and friends of those young person struggling with these new self-definitions, but parts of the LGBTQ community itself.
Given the political climate, callers are telling Trevor volunteers that they are more worried than ever about coming out.
A 2012 Human Rights Campaign survey of 10, 000 LGBT-identified youth find 42 percent reporting to be growing up in a not-accepting community. A third said their families were not accepting.
” LGBTQ young people are at elevated hazard of suicide and other types of serious harm ,” Paley said.” Among that general population transgender and gender nonconforming children are at particular risk. The authorities concerned has taken a number of decisions pulling rights back from them.
” If you’re trans, 14 years old and in Alabama, you’re already “re going through” an unimaginable amount of challenges and suffering. If, under President Obama, the voice in Washington has been generally encouraging until now in support of you and now all of a sudden you don’t have that voice and they are taking back the right to use a restroom in peace, that’s devastating to some young people .”
Paley was referring specifically to the Departments of Education and Justice in February withdrawing guidance to schools to let trans students use facilities that corresponded with their gender identity.
” Imagine being a teenager, going through puberty, the challenges of that, especially if your gender is different to how the world watches you ,” said Paley.” Imagine hearing from the leaders of the country that you don’t deserve to go to the bathroom that conforms to your gender identity, so you literally have to hold it all day. Forget the medical issues that causes. Forget how that makes people feeling. Suppose about how that builds “youre feeling” not listened to. It’s heartbreaking .”
Young people are calling the hotline to talk about Trump, and also anti-LGBTQ policies within the states they live, such as Texas, whose Supreme Court recently banned same-sex matrimony benefits, and where an anti-trans bathroom bill may soon become law.
One hotline volunteer, Katie, told The Daily Beast the young people she spoke to expressed their fear of the Trump administration, both in terms of laws and how the administration negatively viewed LGBTQ people more generally.” They are frightened for their emotional safety and physical safety ,” Katie said.
Ashby Dodge, the Trevor Project’s clinical director, said:” What is different about this administration to any administration I’ve ever seen is that its behavior normalizes negative and bullying behavior towards minority groups, including LGBTQ people.
” If you add that public behaviour to already fighting young people dealing with suicidal supposes, behaviour and feelings, and to homophobia and transphobia more generally, it’s magnifying their stress and nervousnes by hundreds of percentage .”
” The policies coming out of the authorities concerned are having a direct impact on LGBTQ young people ,” said Paley.” In many cases it is literally affecting their ability to do physical types of activity, like go to the bathroom or feel safe in their schools. The policies are affecting the mental health of young people, which we see in the increased number of bellows we are getting from LGBTQ young people in crisis .”
It is unknown if Trump’s presidency has led to more LGBTQ people committing suicide because there are no statistics tracking that. The Trevor Project backs the LGBT Pride Act, a recently introduced bill by Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney which would require the CDC to improve data collected on the sex orientation and gender identity of victims of violent crimes and suicide.
” It’s critical for so many reasons to measure this. Always in management, we said,’ If you’re not counted, you don’t count ,'” said Paley.
The Trevor Project wants legislators to be aware of the negative impact of their policies, and for young person to know that they are not alone and because this is cared for.
On the phone line, Paley said the most basic thing to ensure is that the caller knows that they are being listened to.” It’s so deeply powerful to tell person,’ I hear you .’ They’re in so much pain that simply hearing that they are able mean the world to them and be life-changing .”
Volunteers also pass on information about support services if the caller so wishes–and if the caller’s threat of suicide is deemed to be serious and immediate, then get in touch with local emergency services is, said Paley,” a last resort .”
” We hope to be able to help them by talking to them ,” Paley said.” If they need it, if they do not want to be physically alone, we will find them support. Our top priority is to ensure the safety of every young LGBTQ person who reaches out to us .”
Paley grew up in the Boston suburb of Newton, within an” incredibly loving and supportive household .” His father Jack, is a businessman, his mother Ziva a retired plant biochemist. He has a younger sister, Shimrit.
But even in such circumstances,” in a liberal place like Massachusetts, with Barney Frank as my congressman growing up, I really struggled a lot with my sex orientation ,” Paley said.” It was very difficult for me to be open about who I was. I didn’t come out until I was 22 in my senior year college of college[ at Harvard ]. I was someone who always felt very driven. Probably a lot of that, like many LGBTQ people, was me channeling a lot of my disarray and feelings into’ I will succeed, I will not let anyone judge me or think I am less-than. I will show people I am deserving.’
” A lot of that was motivated by impressions of insecurity, disgrace, and concern that if people found out who I truly was and who I loved that they wouldn’t love me back. We see it here as Trevor as well. We get bellows from New York, San Francisco, L.A.–places where you’d suppose people might be OK. It’s incredibly challenging to accept who you are .”
Paley thinks he knew he was gay late in secondary school. In retrospect he knows it may sound irrational but he thought he would not be successful, happy or loved if people knew he was gay. The horrific slaying of Matthew Shepard happened while Paley was in high school. It was the year after Ellen DeGeneres’ momentous came to see you, the beginning of Will& Grace . Queer as Folk was soon to debut in both its U.K. and U.S. incarnations.
The Trevor Project itself was founded in 1998 by James Lecesne, Peggy Rajski, and Randy Stone, on the night their Oscar-winning short film, Trevor , premiered on HBO.
The 18 -minute movie tells the story of a 13 -year-old boy in 1981 who loves Diana Ross and who aims up attempting suicide as he fights to make sense of a world which seems not to want to make sense of him as a young lesbian man. The making of it inspired Lecesne, Rajski, and Stone to set up a hotline for young person just like the fictional Trevor.
Of that period in the late 1990 s, Paley recollected:” There were surely cross-currents of things getting better and people becoming more accepting, and yet there were other cross-currents that gay people could still be murdered for who they are, or being rejected. There were all the policies of the time, which were against us and since we have been lucky to insure reversed .”
Did Paley ever feel suicidal himself as a gay adolescent?
” I mean, I did experience impressions of sadness and depression, and thoughts of,’ the world would be a better place if I were not here ,'” Paley said,” and so I know what a dark place feeling ashamed of yourself can lead to .”
What stopped Paley at the time?
” I had a very loving family, and I guess I retained hope and optimism, and I felt supported in other styles by the community .”
He has not asked his parents immediately about that time, but he doesn’t think they noticed anything was wrong with him, instead ensure the self-motivated, driven teenager he himself presented himself as.
” I never told anyone. I didn’t have sex. I had a girlfriend in college. I didn’t have relationships with men until after I came out. Anecdotally, I believe I’m somewhat unusual compared to my friends. I had to be comfortable saying’ I’m homosexual .'”
While he was still in the closet at Harvard in 2002 and working for the Crimson newspaper, Paley broke the story–that was later attained into two plays, Unnatural Act s and Veritas –about the secret Harvard court in 1920 that investigated and later expelled gay students.
Harvard authorities initially tried to prevent Paley from obtaining records to report the example, then insisted he redact the men’s names, arguing that they should not have further dishonor bought upon them if they were still alive.
” It was strange, reporting this while I was in the closet myself ,” said Paley,” but I have always felt driven by pursuing injustice, and a sense of correcting injustice. On the one hand I was telling the stories of men whose lives were destroyed and in some cases succumbed themselves because of this thing around their sexuality, and on the other I had a fear that I wouldn’t be successful at the same institution if it was known that I was gay .”
Harvard released a strongly worded statement at the time saying what happened to the men accused of being gay should never have happened.
” But then Harvard not wanting to uncover their names seemed to add another indignity upon indignity ,” said Paley.” I wanted to tell the story of these men who had their whole lives ahead of them and whose lives were destroyed just because they were lesbian or knew someone was gay. I wanted their narrative told for their sakes, and for everyone to know that what they did wasn’t wrong. They should be honored for who they were, and we should remember, especially now, how easy it was for people in positions of power to destroy and harm LGBTQ young people. We can’t let that happen again .”
Paley’s crusading self, he said smiling, comes from both his father, a Republican, and his mother, a Socialist. He was brought up” with both sides, with diametrically opposed’ right answers ,’ but the feeling that every answer should be thoughtful and you should be vocal about what you think is right .”
As a self-confessed “wonk,” it was a major legal decision that would demonstrate pivotal in Paley’s own life.
Justice Anthony Kennedy’s wording of the Supreme Court majority decision in the case of Lawrence v. Texas in 2003 was so affirming it stimulated Paley both sobbing, and come out.
The ruling, which ruled that nation statutes banning sodomy were both unconstitutional and an invasion of privacy, enshrined for Paley” the institution at the highest level of American life saying there was not only nothing incorrect with being lesbian, but that you can also be celebrated. I thought,’ Well, if the Supreme court is saying there is nothing incorrect with being gay then this is not going to be an impediment in my life .’ If I had any doubt it would be, it ran with SCOTUS saying lesbian people are part of the fabric of the country in soaringly eloquent language .”
After the Goodridge decision in 2004, striking down the ban on same-sex wedding in Massachusetts, Paley and his first boyfriend, elated, watched the first marriages take place at Cambridge City Hall.” I felt comfortable being myself. I had my first boyfriend. It was such an incredible hour, strolling with him, and seeing this swell of optimism and hope around real progress. I simply felt lucky to be alive.
” That’s why I know how important what senior legislators say in Washington is because it directly influenced and impacted my narrative in a very positive route ,” said Paley.” Now I can see how negatively it can affect people too .”
Paley told two of his best friends first that he was gay, more friends within days of that, then his parents.
” They were supportive, but they fought ,” Paley said.” Sometimes people think in liberal places it’s so simple to come out, but my parents knew me for 22 years and always imagined I was straight, and that I would marry a woman. They had that image of me.
” After 5 seconds it wasn’t like,’ We totally get it ,’ but they have always been caring, always supportive, and always wanted the best for me. Over day, as the country has changed and also as the government had assured me have deep and caring relationships, they have changed. I have a partner I love and care about[ Jonathan, who works for a tech startup; they have been together nearly three years ], and I is considered that has done a lot to change what it means to have a gay son for them .”
Paley chose to volunteer at Trevor because, he said,” while there are many worthwhile organisations, there are very few where you are helping very literally to save lives, or where your direct presence has such an immediate impact .”
The training is rigorous, and there is full is supportive of volunteers. He felt nervous and a huge sense of responsibility when he did his first shifts.
” The volunteers here change lives ,” Paley said.” Someone may be on the brink of killing themselves, and there is no higher calling than saving the well-being of people in crisis. This type of work is always with you, but that’s OK. It’s such a privilege and blessing to be able to expend my professional life doing something like this .”
On a shifting earlier this year Paley took a bellow from a 19 -year-old man from the western part of the U.S. The man had called the night before and spoken to another volunteer. He had been worried how his family would take his coming out, had a weapon in his hand and planned to kill himself.
” The volunteer induced him feel heard ,” said Paley, and told him that while some people may not accept him, many others would love him for who he was.
The volunteer convinced the young man to get rid of the weapon and expend the night with his parents. To Paley, the next night, the young man said he wouldn’t be alive had it not been for that volunteer.” That’s why we do what we do ,” said Paley.
Despite their glitzy, star-studded benefits that are typically grace the pages of entertainment magazines–John Oliver hosted the most recent TrevorLIVE gala in June–Paley says many people do not know about the Trevor Project.
The organization wants to publicize its new chats and text services, alongside the Lifeline which operates 24 hours, seven days a week, to reaching more young person. It also wants to sign up more volunteers to reach more young people.
” I would ask them to put themselves in the shoes of an LGBTQ young person who is struggling today, whether they’re a young lesbian girl in the big city or a fighting transgender teen in the Deep South, and understand what the implications and harm caused by their policies is having on them.
” I would ask them to do the right thing, stand up and protect and help these LGBTQ young people, and stop taking such action that are putting their lives at risk .”
Paley also called on the Departments of Education and Justice to allow transgender and gender nonconforming someones to” use the bathroom of their choice in peace. I would ask people to imagine what their lives would be like if they were not able to go to the bathroom when they were at school. It’s devastating and so sad and so harmful, and it’s just not right. It’s not American to be treating young people as less than because of who they are.
” I would ask Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence to reconsider their decisions. They have taken away the rights of LGBT young people at school. They should allow young LGBT people to flourish whoever they are .”
The Trevor Project is also campaigning for the outlawing of conversion therapy, which the helpline receives many bellows from young LGBTQ people about after parents and family members have either set them through it or threatened to.
The nonprofit is lobbying for more funding and research into suicide more generally.” It is the second resulting cause of death in young person[ after collisions ],” said Paley,” and we need to expend more money and resources around it. We should learn how to talk about suicide prevention, and not feel dishonor and stigma about the topic .”
Paley and I met a few days after New York’s Pride March. He, like me , noted the many young people in attendance. But the day before the March Paley had done a phone switching which reminded him there were many other young LGBTQ people” not at Pride, and who are struggling to be open and proud .”
If the March and smiling faces reminded Paley of the amazing advance the LGBTQ movement has attained, his telephone change reminded him” of the huge amount of work still to be done. In cities we may think it’s all over but we cannot forget there are people across the country who are still in huge pain, huge suffering, and who have been left behind and they need our help more than ever because they are facing a backlash.
” The cost of some of these victories has been borne by a lot of LGBTQ young people in the rest of the country. I think we all have an obligation to fight for and support them, and send them a message of love and hope, so they know we are here for them and they never feel alone and never forget they have a community of people fighting for them .”
The volunteers themselves, for all the pain and agony they hear, are inspired by the resilience and bravery of their callers.
Volunteers Katie and Travis and training coordinator Joie DeRitis all say how impressed they are by the callers and how rewarding the calls can be, sometimes going from somewhere very negative and ending somewhere much more positive.
DeRitis recalled a volunteer saying after one call that they weren’t sure if they had helped the caller.
” I told that volunteer that for those 32 minutes the caller was not alone, that was the simple fact. It is so rewarding and challenging, and you hear the most stunning tales of resilience and love, and care and self-care and self-preservation ,” said DeRitis.” So often you get off the phone at the end of a change and you feel an astonishment around the vulnerability the callers dedicate us and around the vulnerability the volunteers and people who work here have in order to do this work. I think it’s really special, really beautiful, and really magical in a lot of ways .”
And with that, DeRitis and the others headed off for another life-saving shift.
The 24 -hour, toll-free Trevor Lifeline is on 866 -4 88 -7 386. Its website, detailing all its services and how to volunteer, is here .
Read more: www.thedailybeast.com