PHOENIX – A 2022 survey of nearly 34,000 LGBTQ youths in the country, ages 13 to 24, found that 45% of them had seriously considered suicide within the past year. In Arizona alone, the survey showed 49% of this group seriously considered suicide and 16% attempted it.
According to The Trevor Project, the nonprofit organization that conducted the survey, these mental health and suicide risks are related to the harmful ways LGBTQ+ youth are treated, including discrimination, harassment, family rejection, social rejection and violence, rather than something intrinsic about being LBGTQ+.
One·n·ten is an Arizona organization responding to this serious mental health problem. The organization formed in 1993 and started as a volunteer-led meet-up group for LGBTQ+ teens. It opened a youth center in 2017 in downtown Phoenix that currently offers resources for the overall well-being of LGBTQ+ youth, ages 11 to 24.
“The volunteers who started one·n·ten at the time noticed that there was a really big need for a space for LGBTQ+ teens to meet one another, and build community and hang out in a safe, sober environment,” Wallace Hudson, training and digital program manager for one·n·ten, said. “So that was why we started in 1993.”
The Trevor Project survey found that less than half of LGBTQ youth in Arizona identified school as an LGBTQ-affirming place, and 81% reported having low to moderate support from their families. A key take-away from the survey is that a lack of affirming spaces can negatively impact the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth.
The staff at one·n·ten provides support by connecting youth to counseling services, conducting support groups and activities and helping with homelessness. The organization says one of the most important aspects to its approach is that it offers a safe space for youth to be themselves and connect with others. The youth center in downtown Phoenix is open Monday through Friday from 3 to 7 p.m., and includes a fully stocked kitchen, gender-affirming clothing closet, computer and gaming area, movie room, music room and more.
Hudson said every day the youth center is open, they run a program from 3 to 5 p.m. that can range from serious topics like sex education, to more light-hearted activities like movie or game nights. Hudson said he has seen LGBTQ+ youth improve significantly after they get involved at one·n·ten.
Andrea Rodriguez, 24, said she started transitioning into a woman less than a year ago and her family kicked her out because they didn’t support her transition. She said she was homeless and looking for resources when she found one·n·ten. “The first day I remember I was welcomed with open arms and yeah, it was just an amazing realization that I wasn’t alone, that I had people supporting me. It just meant a lot,” Rodgriguez said.
Rodriguez was placed in one·n·ten’s Promise Of A New Day (POND) program, which helps LGBTQ+ homeless youth find secure housing. She said they provided her with an apartment and helped assist her with rent.
“Just by providing additional support, that can make a huge difference,” Hudson said. “I’ve seen youth come into our programs who were really confused and really trying to figure themselves out, and then they settle on a name, they settle on pronouns and they bloom. Their mental health gets significantly better.”
A 2020 study published in the journal, Global Public Health, found that loneliness and social isolation among LGBTQ youth are some of the main influences for depression and suicidal thoughts. The study goes on to emphasize that “identity-safe” spaces can make a difference: “…a nurturing environment where LGBTQ youth, who may experience rejection from their biological families and/or in schools, can build a family of choice that will provide emotional, informational and material support.”
Rodriguez said she has been “out and free” for the past three years, but knew she was different since she was 5 years old.
“My mom is a single mother and she raised me,” Rodriguez said. “I was 5 years old the first time I remember that she was against it. I, you know, did my makeup with the lipstick that I got out of her purse and then I would take a shirt and I would put it on top of my head. She caught me one day and she pulled me up to the mirror and she was like, ‘You see that? What are you doing? It’s not right. I don’t want you doing that. It’s incorrect.’ So I did have to repress it a lot of the time.”
Rodriguez said her family did as much as they could to try to suppress her feminine self-expression because they were embarrassed by it. She said she loved to dress up and that female clothing was always more interesting to her and made her feel more like herself.
The Trevor Project survey found that fewer than one in three transgender or nonbinary youth considered their home to be a gender-affirming place.
“I feel like my mental health has gotten better now that I’ve transitioned. I mean I’m not perfect. I’m also a human being, you know, I’m just like any other person, I feel, I hurt,” Rodriguez said. “Mental health is important and one·n·ten has helped me with that. I’m here living my true identity, my true self and I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. I think that it’s worth fighting for.”
Hudson said he has “seen firsthand the positive impacts of just having even one space once a week that you can go to and they don’t have to worry about being judged.”
“They don’t have to worry about having to explain themselves, they don’t have to worry about what name they’re going by or what pronouns they’re going by, they can just, like, be a teenager or be a young adult,” he said. “That has been drastic.”
A 19-year-old who has been with one·n·ten for six years prefers to use no name or to use the pronouns “it or its.” It said it considers itself to be outside of any gender identity.
“I was outed in the middle of the cafeteria at a middle school in Mesa and I got called ‘It’ by essentially the entire school that wasn’t people I already knew,” It said. “Pretty much everyone in that school would call me ‘It’ and wouldn’t refer to me as any name, so I’ve kind of decided to reclaim that because I’ve realized I don’t connect with any names. Any name I try to use, it feels tired after a few days or few weeks.”
It said its mom found one·n·ten while looking for resources for transgender youth. “For all the stuff my mom has had difficulties with in the past, she has always been supportive of me being trans. Even if it sometimes felt conditional, it was always actionable and she was always putting in the work to find me help,” It said.
It said having supportive parents makes a huge difference and gives LGBTQ+ kids hope.
The Trevor Project found that LGBTQ youth who felt high social support from their family reported attempting suicide at less than half the rate of those who did not feel supported.
It said its first experience with one·n·ten was at age 13 when it attended Camp OUTdoors, a trans and nonbinary youth retreat. It said that the retreat completely changed its perspective, particularly on judging and labeling others. It said it has gone every year since and recently started going to the youth center for the past two years.
It said it loved being in the youth center so much it has been there for at least half of the days out of the year.
“Pretty much everyone that I know now that is in my network of people I either met through one·n·ten or I have convinced to go to one·n·ten after we met,” It said. “I cannot express enough how instrumental they’ve been in me entirely changing my life around. It’s genuinely crazy, I would not be anywhere near where I am right now if it weren’t for one·n·ten.”
It said the programs offered at the center build a sense of community and the atmosphere provides a feeling of safety that most other places don’t.
“Everyone here wants to be here and we’re doing stuff together. The people that I meet at one·n·ten are amazing. Everyone is so supportive and they do not turn away from adversity or criticism,” It said. “If you don’t understand something, people call you in – not out – is how we say it. We tell people, ‘Assume positive intent but own your impact.’ So understand that intent is not everything, but also people are not doing anything intentionally to hurt you.”
It gave a piece of advice for its fellow LGBTQ+ youth:
“Find community. Finding a group of people who’s accepting of you and understanding and cares about you is the first step in a lot of this. The first step in finding resources, the first time finding help and the first time in even just finding friendship is finding a community of people who understands and accepts you.”