by Jessica Carreras
One in every three LGBT youth will attempt or commit suicide, and Kalamazoo-based nonprofit organization Project Light intends to do something about it.
That’s why just over a year ago, Director Adam Taylor decided to start a forum to see if people were interested in helping depressed LGBT teens. That’s why he has donated over 1,000 hours of his time since then to building the organization, raising funds and recruiting volunteers.
That’s why, on Sept. 13, Project Light will participate in the Out of the Darkness walk at Prarie View Park in Kalamazoo. Through this event, Project Light will join other groups to raise up to $30,000 to donate to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which helps to educate, do research and raise awareness about suicide.
And one of the key groups affected – gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people – will benefit, said Taylor. He should know: Taylor used to be a depressed youth.
Now a college student at Western Michigan University, Taylor, like many gay youth, had a difficult time coming out during high school. “Personally, for me, when I was coming out I had a huge amount of depression for about two years.,” he recalled. “I call it the balloon syndrome. You keep pumping and pumping air into a balloon and eventually it’s going to go flying off and make that cool sound and everything’s OK and happy or, it pops.”
Unfortunately, for many LGBT youth, it pops, resulting in an attempted or completed suicide. Whether because of bullying, a lack of acceptance at home or self-esteem issues, the rate of suicide is three times higher for LGBT youth than for straight youth. Some estimates are even higher, and transgender youth top the risk list with one out of every two attempting or succeeding.
The Out of the Darkness walks, which take place all over the U.S., bring together those who have attempted, those who have lost someone and anyone concerned to raise money for an issue that causes over 30,000 deaths each year, and over one million worldwide.
According to Taylor, helping LGBT youth is crucial.
After having a rough time coming out, Taylor organized a GSA at his school and delved into issues of depression brought on by coming out or being bullied. “I’ve just really noticed the issues and have classmates who were skipping class out of fear of coming to school, who would be drinking, cutting, attempting,” he said.
When he went to WSU, he began an internship that opened his eyes to the fact that there was very little information on LGBT youth and suicide. Taylor decided he needed to do something to help. Project Light was born, and shortly after, it was picked up as part of the Kalamazoo Gay/Lesbian Resource Center.
Now, the group is in the middle of fundraising efforts for the walk, and has raised over $500. Taylor said they hoped to double that number, and are currently waiting for checks from prospective donors.
Taylor hopes that donations and volunteering will continue, whether to the AFSP, Project Light or other suicide prevention groups, to help stop suicides – especially in the gay community. “It’s just unacceptable to have a national standard like that,” he said of the high attempt rates of gay and lesbian youth.
“Transgender suicide – there is still so much that is unknown,” he continued, citing the most hard-hit group. “I did a research paper on it in 2006 and it took me three weeks just to get one estimate as to what could possibly be the number range, because no one knew. Getting people educated and getting the information out there that is known and trying to further expand that information is really critical. That’s what we do.”
They do it at several events each year, too, including the Out of the Darkness walk, an educational forum and others. “We attend as many youth events as possible to make our presence felt,” he said, “and we always try to get the youth connected with services they need when in crisis.”