LGBTQ+ suicide helpline inundated with harassment from conservatives, staff say
Staff at The Trevor Project, one of the largest LGBTQ+ youth advocacy groups in the US, have said that they aren’t being adequately supported with regard to the homophobic and transphobic harassment they face.
Frontline staff, dealing with emotionally draining cases coming through its crisis support hotline, are said to be those suffering the most.
Last year, the hotline was swamped with fake calls, resulting in increased waiting times for those actually in need of help, Vice News has reported.
This comes amid a wave of anti-LGBTQ+ moves taken by conservatives in the US, including Don’t Say Gay legislation and various attempts to restrict access to trans healthcare.
A lead crises services digital supervisor at the organisation, Sarah Hallock, told Vice that leadership had “struggled to hear the voices of the people [who] are working on the frontlines and make meaningful changes” amid “a focus on large-scale, rapid growth that has often felt unsustainable”.
Hallock said those providing direct crisis care were regularly forced to deal with prank callers and worse – including people using slurs and threatening violence against the organisation.
This was echoed by Victoria “VT” Tonikian, a goal-setting manager who also co-chairs a transgender affinity group for employees. They said better support for frontline staff was imperative.
Another staff member, Emma Turzillo, wants to see “trauma-informed” policies for those who deal with harassment. She also commented on issues with people in marginalised groups – whether it be race or gender identity – feeling excluded from opportunities within the organisation.
All the comments come as staff at The Trevor Project look to unionise.
Hallock said they hoped to achieve improved support as a result of unionising, highlighting that “people get pretty worn out” helping youth in crisis. “It’s a hard job to do,” she added.
In a statement to Vice News, a spokesperson for The Trevor Project said the organisation respected employees’ rights to form a union and was “open to bargaining”.
Staff manning hotlines for LGBTQ+ youth elsewhere are also facing abuse.
In October, UK trans youth charity Mermaids was forced to close, then reduce the hours during which it offers support because of “intolerable abuse”.
In a tweet, the charity said: “We do not make this decision lightly, but our duty of care towards staff and volunteers necessitates a harm-reduction approach to protect our dedicated staff and volunteer team.”