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Trevor Project announces new CEO, Jaymes Black, to helm the LGBTQ suicide prevention nonprofit

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When Jaymes Black was 17,they accidentally dropped a note intended fortheir girlfriend at their high school in Robstown, Texas, a suburb of Corpus Christi. 

Another classmate picked it up, and soon the news of their relationship spread. From then on, they were known as “the gay girls at school.”

“This was in 1990s south Texas, so it was, frankly, brutal the way that the kids treated us after they found out,” said Black, 49. “The teachers would not talk with me about it. What that led to is me dropping out of high school. It was too isolating, and I just didn’t feel like I could go on.”

Black, who uses all pronouns, said that lived experience — and the way it allows them to relate to what some LGBTQ youths face across the country — is top of mind as they take on their new role as CEO at The Trevor Project, national suicide prevention and crisis intervention nonprofit organization for LGBTQ youths.  They are the organization’s first Black and first nonbinary CEO.

Previously the president and CEO of Family Equality, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing equality for LGBTQ families, Black is stepping into the position at The Trevor Project during a perilous time for LGBTQ youths, and trans youths in particular.

Jaymes Black was formerly the CEO of Family Equality, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing equality for LGBTQ families.Courtesy Jaymes Black

As of this month, state lawmakers have introduced 527 bills targeting LGBTQ people, particularly trans youths, up from a total of 510 all of last year, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Such legislation includes proposals to restrict trans students’ participation in school sports and access to transition-related medical care, as well as bills to limit classroom discussion or instruction of LGBTQ topics, among others.

The national climate, Black noted, is negatively affecting LGBTQ youths, according to data from The Trevor Project. A poll conducted by Morning Consult in the fall of 2022 found that 86% of trans and nonbinary youths said recent debates around bills targeting trans people have negatively affected their mental health, and 45% of trans youths said they experienced cyberbullying as a result of such policies and debates in the last year. The organization’s 2023 national survey found that 41% of LGBTQ young people seriously considered suicide in the previous year, including half of trans and nonbinary respondents. 

Black said that as she begins her new role, she hopes her story can help demonstrate what some LGBTQ youths today are going through. 

“As bad as my story sounds, I can’t imagine what our youth are going through today,” Black said. “I didn’t have the internet. I didn’t have text messaging. Many of the things that they have to deal with, on top of already being isolated, rejected, bullied, that is what’s at the top of my mind. How do we ensure that people understand that we must protect our youth? How do people understand that protecting our youth transcends politics?”

Black said that after she dropped out of high school, she received her GED diploma and that at 21 she scraped up about $70 with her then-girlfriend and moved to Dallas. She found what she called the “gayborhood” and a lesbian bar called Sue Ellen’s, which is the oldest lesbian bar in Texas. 

“I found community, and that was a breath of fresh air,” Black said. 

About a decade later, on a Wednesday night at Sue Ellen’s in 2006, Black met Cheralyn, now her wife. In 2007, they married in Victoria, British Columbia. It would be eight more years before the U.S. Supreme Court granted same-sex couples nationwide the right to marry. 

In 1997, Black got a job working in an information technology call center for Stream International.They worked their way into leadership and worked for Charles Schwab, Sabre Corp., Northrop Grumman and other corporations. 

Then, during the pandemic, they decided they wanted to leave corporate America.

“I’m thinking to myself: ‘You are a high school dropout. Yes, you finished your bachelor’s degree. Yes, you have a master’s degree, but you’re here in corporate America. You were never supposed to be here. How could you possibly be thinking about leaving corporate America?’” Black said of their decision. “But during the pandemic, I had a bit of clarity, and I wanted to do something different that was more aligned with my values, that was more heartfelt. And I found that in Family Equality.”

Black said they wanted to work for the organization in part because of the discrimination they and their wife experienced trying to start a family. For example, they said, their wife was calling adoption agencies while they lived in Texas to ask whether the agencies would work with a lesbian couple. 

“One agency said to my wife that a woman who would be placing their child for adoption would never choose two women to place their child with. They would never choose lesbians,” Black recalled. “That was gut-wrenching. It’s already such an important decision in your life to say, ‘I want to be a parent,’ and then to have someone tell you that you are not good enough because you are lesbian and gay, that you cannot or should not have children. It was really hard for us. And there were many times that we wanted to give up on having children, because it was just too hard.” 

The couple went on to adopt twin boys, who will be 10 next month, in 2014. Then, in 2021, the family moved to the Washington, D.C., area after Black accepted the job at Family Equality and to escape a wave of legislation targeting LGBTQ people in Texas.

Black said an experience they had at Family Equality that drives their work was going to the gay-friendly beach town of Provincetown, Massachusetts, over the summer for the organization’s Family Week, the largest LGBTQ family gathering in the country.

“You see how much our families need each other and how we need safety when you are in a space with 600 other families in a place like Provincetown, where you don’t have to explain why you have two moms, you don’t have to explain why your dad is gay, you don’t have to explain why you may be an African American child with a Caucasian parent,” Black said. “Not only did my family feel safe, but it also demonstrated that our families want to feel like that all the time.” 

LGBTQ people and families want to feel safe in their neighborhoods and at work, Black said. 

“What I’m taking away from that is that I want to be a part of creating a safe America,” Black said. “Provincetown is great, but wouldn’t it be beautiful if we could feel like that everywhere we go?”

Black said they are bringing that goal and their experience growing up in Texas and rebuilding their relationship with their parents, who weren’t initially accepting of their sexuality, into their work at The Trevor Project, where they know so many youths share similar stories.

“I do want the youth to know that we will do everything that we can to continue to protect them,” they said.

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