Preventing LGBTQ youth suicides in Birmingham

Published: Aug. 20, 2021 at 3:34 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - As students head back to school, we’re On Your Side looking at the many challenges they will face.

That includes the growing problem of suicide, which jumped more than 40% in Alabama in the last decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The latest numbers show suicide is the second leading cause of death among the 10-24 age group.

For those in the LGBTQ community, the numbers are worse.

“We’ve attended more youth funerals than we should have ever had to attend,” said Lauren Jacobs, Assistant Director of the Magic City Acceptance Center in Birmingham, which offers several programs helping youth.

The Trevor Project, a national organization that helps LGBTQ youth, says young people in this group are five times more likely to consider suicide.

The organization tells us their volunteers received more than 2,300 calls from Alabama over the past year.

The Trevor Project estimates that’s less than nine percent of LGBTQ youth in our state who are seriously considering suicide, meaning more young people consider suicide, but don’t reach out.

“We know when young people don’t feel accepted they are at risk for a lot of negative things,” said Jacobs.

It’s not just suicide. Data shows this group is also at a higher risk of drug use, homelessness and sexually transmitted diseases.

“It sounds so simple, so basic to say that a lot of folks don’t imagine growing up as happy LGBTQ adults, but we know that. That’s been studied,” explained Jacobs.

Amanda Keller is Director of the Magic City Acceptance Center.

“The fact we have served over 1,200 young people says there is definitely a need for this in Birmingham, Alabama,” said Keller.

“It’s not like we’re a big scary program, like we’re doing strange things,” continued Jacobs. “We’re simply just four walls, where we say you are accepted as a LGBTQ person.”

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the center to go mostly online, but they said that led to more people being able to get help.

Keller says, “We see people in-person and online from all over the state, and the need is equally spread out across the state.”

Research by The Trevor Project shows just one accepting adult can make a big difference.

“It matters just so much to even make the smallest of gestures to signify, to signal to your kid that you’re accepting. Again, that is life saving,” explained Jacobs.

That’s one reason for a new charter school in Birmingham.

“A lot of our young people just were not thriving in traditional school environments or turning to home school because of bullying, harassment, or because of unsupportive teachers,” said Keller.

The Magic City Acceptance Academy is set to open its doors Tuesday, Aug. 31, to LGBTQ youth.

So far, we’re told there are around 250 students enrolled.

Keller said, “We’re really excited to see what that looks like for young people to attend a school where they can just go and be their selves and bring their full authentic self to school everyday and worry about their math test instead of their identity.”

There are also growing resources in public schools.

Gay-Straight Alliances, also know as GSA, are being formed in several local schools.

Abigail Snyder co-founded Calera High School’s GSA club.

“Our first meeting went off without a hitch, and we had about 25 students who joined,” Snyder continued. “It was incredible to see how comfortable people felt having a safe space to talk about their identity, and who they are, and what they hope to be and just know it was a completely judgment free zone.”

Snyder’s work as an ally for the LGBTQ community earned her recognition by the United Nations, being selected for the UN’s Girl Up program.

Now a senior, Snyder hopes the club she helped found will be around long after she graduates.

“I just hope it will empower more individuals to use their voice to step up and speak out,” Snyder said.

For youth thinking about suicide or harming themselves, there are resources available 24 hours a day. The Trevor Project can be reached by calling 1-866-488-7386. The Crisis Center is also available to help. The number is 205-323-7777. According to Keller, most youth connect to the Magic City Acceptance Center via Instagram @mcacbham. For more information on the Magic City Acceptance Academy, visit their website.

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