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Teacher Sparks Mental Health Conversation with Jonathan Van Ness Video

BY: Josh Weaver
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The Trevor Project recently released “Jonathan Van Ness Talks to Trevor: Chasing Passions and Finding Safe Spaces.” Jonathan sits down with the organization to talk about his upbringing and small-town roots, how he found his safe spaces and passions, dealt with bullying and depression, and developed his identity.

The video resonated with people nationwide. Just last week, 9th grade English teacher Amy Hayes found the video during her nightly scroll through Instagram, and shared the video with her Connecticut classroom.

“It jumped out at me as special because I saw him talking specifically about his life in high school, and what that was like,” she said in an email to The Trevor Project.

According to The Trevor Project’s National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, 71% of LGBTQ youth reported feeling sad or hopeless for at least two weeks in the past year. Amy said she wanted her students “to hear real talk from someone who has struggled and come out of it. I wanted them to see it, instead of just hearing about it from me.”

Amy’s students gave their full attention to the video. “You could hear a pin drop during the video. It was incredible. I just sort of stood back and watched them.” She then asked the students to write down any thoughts, feelings, ideas, or questions about the video over the next two minutes. While Amy facilitated the conversation, she did not share her thoughts or opinions and left the floor open to her students.

“At the end of the two minutes, we had a lot of hands raised. We had about a 20-minute conversation about accepting others, about connecting to JVN, about The Trevor Project and we even touched on the idea that social media can be used for good. We also talked about empathy — which is amazing because that is the theme of our current literature unit – and about creating a safe place within our own lives to find something to bring us joy! They heard JVN when he said that – I loved that!”

While The Trevor Project’s research shows that less than half of LGBTQ survey respondents were out to an adult at school, Amy was excited over her students’ enthusiasm and willingness to share their thoughts — including students who came out to her privately. “These kids opened up today! This video gave them the space to talk and write about what their story is.”

To continue fostering environments that value openness, inclusion, and support, Amy stresses showing students compassion. “My students have seen me cry, they’ve seen me angry, they’ve seen me at the top of my game. But mostly, they’ve seen me love them. The most important part of my classroom is that my students know they are wanted there.

She continues, “Just be open and honest about yourself and your understanding of the LGBTQ+ community and mental health. Include students in the conversation if you’re feeling confused or have questions — or are going through something yourself.”

If you or someone you know is feeling hopeless or suicidal, contact The Trevor Project’s TrevorLifeline 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386. Counseling is also available 24/7 via chat every day at TheTrevorProject.org/Help, or by texting START to 678-678.

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