Over 12 years ago, when I joined the Trevor Project’s board of directors, I pledged to help save young LGBTQ lives. I truly believe that everyone deserves to be loved and respected, no matter how they identify or who they love. While I was on the board, my determination grew even stronger as I learned so much more about the countless LGBTQ young people in crisis. I take a great deal of pride in all that Trevor has accomplished over 25 years of lifesaving service to LGBTQ young people. We’ve grown from a first-of-its-kind hotline for LGBTQ youth in crisis in 1998 to one of the nation’s leading organizations committed to ending suicide among LGBTQ young people — a group that is more than four times as likely to attempt suicide as their peers.
In the last year alone, we served more than 500,000 contacts via phone, text, and chat through our crisis intervention services. This staggering number includes the lifesaving work we did as the sole provider of LGBTQ-inclusive services during the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline’s pilot launch of our nation’s first federally funded three-digit suicide lifeline. The 988 Lifeline was a result of dedicated efforts by the Trevor Project and a coalition of like-minded mental health organizations that came together to confront the ever-growing national crisis of suicide — the number 2 cause of death for young people in the United States. This year also marked the culmination of another landmark effort for Trevor: the launch of crisis intervention services in Mexico.
Unfortunately, success does not come without adversity. This year, we also found ourselves navigating one of the most difficult periods in our organization’s history, and I felt compelled to do everything I could to help ensure Trevor’s success. When I was asked to step into a staff leadership role at the organization, my answer was an unequivocal yes.
2023 has been a record-breaking year for anti-LGBTQ legislation in the U.S. To date, over 650 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in states across the country. We know these bills and the dangerous rhetoric surrounding them take a devastating toll on the LGBTQ young people we serve. Our very identities as queer people are politicized and attacked regularly, and this anti-LGBTQ extremism not only harms the work we do at Trevor, it also harms our staff.
This hostile socio-political climate has, unsurprisingly, led to more LGBTQ young people reaching out to us with a pressing need for support. The pressure put on our staff to meet this ever-increasing demand, combined with the rapid growth of the organization over the last few years, left many staff members feeling overworked and underresourced. There was an erosion of trust, and it’s important for us to own the challenges we’ve faced in our own house. We recognize trust cannot be fully restored and maintained without demonstrable shifts in the culture and concrete results. After stepping into leadership in October 2022 alongside our founder/interim CEO Peggy Rajski (she/her), we began to face these challenges head-on, and many tangible strides have been made to course-correct.
We refocused inward. We paused plans for additional international expansion and reprioritized improving quality, efficiency, and the organizational infrastructure needed to support our rapidly expanded 500+ person workforce. We began transforming our workforce management tools to help alleviate understaffing and overwhelming workloads across our crisis services team. We increased pay and wellness benefits for clinical operations staff and elevated our human resources support services to improve the overall employee experience. We revisited organization-wide goals to ensure they fully align with our priority programmatic efforts in crisis intervention and suicide prevention (Trevor’s research, advocacy, and peer-to-peer support programs). We engaged and empowered subject matter experts throughout the organization to co-create appropriate, realistic, and achievable outcomes that meet Trevor’s long-term goals and mission. We solidified all this change by adopting an organization-wide set of values that speak to who we are, who we serve, and how we treat each other.
We reached another milestone for the organization when employees organized to form our first-ever union. The Trevor Project voluntarily recognized the union the month after we received the union’s request, and today, our union includes more than 300 staff members, a majority of our employees. We look forward to continuing productive and ongoing collaboration with the union on the journey ahead, building a stronger Trevor together in service to our beloved constituency of LGBTQ young people.
Like many other nonprofits, we were not immune to the challenging financial realities of this past year — and data show that we still face an incredibly difficult fundraising environment today. To ensure the financial stability of our organization, we found it necessary to conduct a reduction in force, painfully letting go of 12 percent of our staff. Brilliant colleagues and friends were let go, and while we continue to feel their absence, we will — and must — move forward. The times demand no less of us.
Today, I want to remind our supporters and critics alike that although we may encounter obstacles or take some missteps, we are committed to learning, adapting, and moving forward as a dynamic organization of incredible staff and volunteers — including many LGBTQ adults who are committed to being the support system we wished we had when we were growing up. That is definitely the case for me. It’s why I have been part of Trevor for so many years. And it’s why I remain unwavering in my commitment to ensuring this vital work continues supporting LGBTQ young people for generations to come.
Gina Muñoz is acting chief operating officer at the Trevor Project.