It is no secret that those of us in the “LGB” part of the “LGBT” acronym have left our transgender brothers and sisters behind in some pretty serious ways in our march toward equality. Even now, as the Supreme Court hears the arguments to settle the marriage equality issue nationwide once and for all, transgender people are still fighting bigoted laws that criminalize something as basic as using public restrooms. The largest gay rights organization in America, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) at one point had to apologize for throwing transgender people under the bus in legal fights in pursuit of what gays and lesbians wanted and needed. Well, despite all of this, or, perhaps because of it, something awesome has happened for transgender people: A suicide hotline by transgender people, for transgender people.
The Advocate reports that Trans Lifeline is the first of its kind, and was started by a transgender software developer by the name of Greta Martela. It will cater exclusively to transgender people, and this is important for many reasons. While there are LGBT suicide hotlines, I know from experience that chances are that the person on the other end of the phone will be gay, not trans. This is a problem for a few reasons, not the least of which is the fact that, sadly, there is still a lot of ignorance, misinformation, and even bigotry toward and about trans people in the gay community. Because gays and lesbians are overrepresented in the public dialogue and in advocacy spaces, it is likely that a trans person calling a suicide hotline will not get someone who will understand them.
This phenomenon is actually part of what inspired Martela to found Trans Lifeline. She came out at the age of 44 as a transgender woman. After experiencing alarming levels of anxiety, depression, and even panic attacks, she called a suicide hotline in desperation, only to be met with an ignorant counselor to whom she had to explain what it meant to be transgender. When she was finally directed to go to a hospital, the same thing happened.
This experience is all too common for transgender people, and, even worse, the fact that they are 10 times more likely than the cisgender population to commit suicide makes a service like Trans Lifeline even more vital and important. Thankfully, thanks to Trans Lifeline, the first step has been taken to rectify this problem and save lives.
Greta Martela explains the problem better than I ever could:
There are a ton of suicide hotlines. There’s no shortage of them. But it’s really difficult to get a person who isn’t trans to understand what it’s like to be trans.
She’s right, of course. I’ve volunteered at many LGBT hotlines in my years in the activism circuit. I can safely and definitely say that I always felt I was doing my transgender brothers and sisters in crisis a disservice, because I have never walked a mile in their shoes.
In short, thanks, Greta, for creating what we’ve needed for so long. I am sure you have saved lives already, and will continue to do so.
TransLifeline is still waiting for nonprofit status, and operates on donations and a very small budget, so, if you can, head on over to translifeline.org to donate.
If you are in crisis, the following numbers can help.
- Trans Lifeline: 877-565-8860.
- For LGBT youth (ages 24 and younger) contemplating suicide: Trevor Project Lifeline can be reached at 1-866-7386.
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 is open 24 hours a day, and available for people of all ages and identities.
Featured Image: Greta Martela, courtesy of The Advocate