Ask any LGBTQ person, or any person for that matter, about the impact of an affirming adult on their life, and you will likely get more than a name. You’ll get a story.
In a Trevor Project meeting last week, we did exactly that. We went around and shared the impact of allies in our lives when we were young. Some of the answers made us laugh and some moved us close to tears. Everyone at Trevor vividly recounted someone — a parent, a coach, a friend’s parent (and a disproportionate amount of English, drama, and art teachers) — whose support got them through a difficult time.
I think a lot about my upbringing — I had a messy coming out during high school, and I had to be careful about who I could be my full self with. I was lucky enough to have a network of supportive friends and their parents at other high schools besides my own parochial school who made me feel accepted and loved as I was working through coming out. As I toggled between public and private personas, I always knew I had people who cared about me and could be 100% honest with, even as I learned that honesty wasn’t always necessarily the best policy when it came to who I wanted to date. One of my friends’ mom was LGBTQ, and, while she never pried or made me feel pressured to talk, she always made sure I knew she was there to talk to when times got tough. Even knowing that I had a place to turn alleviated so much anxiety and fear that I was alone.
We often we talk about the power of our adult allies to make a life-saving difference just by donating to Trevor, ensuring that young people have someone to turn to 24/7. Support like that allows Trevor to continue to be there for young people who don’t always have an affirming adult to turn to. We cannot understand the power each of us has to have an effect on each other, to lift up our young people, to help them see a brighter future. Growing up is hard, whether you’re LGBTQ or not. It’s easy to feel lost. But even grown-up LGBTQ people vividly remember how adults made them feel less lost and helped them develop their confidence and sense of self.
LGBTQ history has been made by the community because of their resilience and bravery. But when things get tough, overwhelming, or we feel demoralized, those allies have tremendous power to remind us that we’re not alone in this fight. Allies can always keep learning, arming themselves with knowledge that has the power to heal through our trainings and guides.
In a world where there are still so many reasons that prevent LGBTQ young people feeling accepted and loved — harmful bills in the statehouses, misinformation, stereotypes, and violence — one supportive voice can be the light that makes an LGBTQ young person believe that a bright future is possible. For me, I wouldn’t feel empowered to make positive change without the security of supportive adults in my life. Building a world where LGBTQ young people see that future for themselves will take all of us, but change starts with one person. Be the one.
Ryan Bernsten is a Senior Managing Editor at The Trevor Project, the leading suicide prevention and mental health organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people.
If you or someone you know is feeling hopeless or suicidal, our trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386 via chat www.TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678-678.