Trevor Project

James Lecesne and The Trevor Project Crisis Hotline:

How Little Ripples Create Big Change

By Erin Rose, Education Enrollment & Marketing Coordinator 

Trevor ProjectThe Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey is not the first time creator James Lecesne has explored the world of an alienated young man. His first exploration of the theme grew into something so powerful it became a national organization called The Trevor Project, the nation’s only 24/7 lifeline for LGBTQ youth.   But before the name was a source of hope for millions of young people, Trevor was just a character in a one-man play.

In 1994, James Lecesne played a young boy named Trevor in his award-winning play Word of Mouth. Film producers Peggy Rajski and Randy Stone saw the production and were incredibly moved by the young character Lecesne had created. “Convinced Trevor’s story would make a wonderful short film, Stone and Rajski invited Lecesne to adapt it into a screenplay” (The Trevor Project 2017). The film, directed by Rajski, tells the story of a gay teenager who loves musical theatre and whose inability to express his inner self leads him to makes a clumsy attempt at suicide. It was critically acclaimed and went on to win the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicidal thoughts and feelings can subside if the person is able to talk with a compassionate family member or friend (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2014). However, some young people don’t live in an area or have a support system of people they feel they can talk to (Duran 2016). So when HBO planned to air the film in 1998, the creators wanted to include the number of an LGBTQ Youth Support hotline for young people like Trevor who feel they have no one to whom they can turn. To their surprise, there were none in existence at that time. Rajski, Stone, and Lecesne quickly recruited mental health experts, secured funding, and figured out to build the infrastructure necessary for a nationwide 24-hour crisis line (The Trevor Project 2017). Thus, when Ellen DeGeneres hosted the premiere of the film on HBO, The Trevor Project went live. On the first day, almost 1,500 people called (McElroy 2015).

Since then, The Trevor Project has expanded from the original phone hotline to becoming the premier organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ teens and young adults. Among their newer services are TrevorChat, a free and confidential instant messaging service, and TrevorText, in which young people can safely and securely text with a Trevor counselor any time of the day or night. They also offer training and workshops for young people, adults, and even school districts in suicide prevention techniques, how to be an LGBTQ ally, standing up to bullying, and how to ask for help (The Trevor Project 2017).

James Lecesne
James Lecesne

The hotline, however, is still the heart of The Trevor Project. 2016, a year fraught with fear and uncertainty for the LGBTQ community, saw a surge in calls to the hotline from frightened young people. “A day after the Orlando massacre [a mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub, a gay bar in Orlando, Florida, where a gunman killed 49 people], we had the highest single day call volume we’ve had in over a year,” says The Trevor Project’s David Bond. “The day after the election, we had twice as many incoming contacts as we did the day after the Orlando massacre” (Duran 2016). The number of calls received in the week following Donald Trump’s election ended up setting a record in the organization’s 18 year history (Duran 2016).

It is the job of the people working at The Trevor Project, however, to help ease the fears of those who call. They undergo three months of training in how to be a good listener. “When you go to a friend with a problem, you don’t want your friend to come back to you and say, ‘What you need to go do is this and this and this,” said Trevor Project trainer, Chris Bright, in a radio interview in December 2016. “You want your friend to be like, ‘Wow, that sounds really hard and I want you to know that I’m here in whatever ways you need me to be here for you.” (Duran 2016)

Sam Brinton was a scared, confused 19-year-old college student in Kansas when he initially reached out to The Trevor Project 8 years ago. He described his experience to Southern California Public Radio:

“I had just basically failed a test. As I was walking home, someone screamed out the F-word as he’s driving past in his pickup. And no one said anything. There were people walking right by me on the street, and no one said anything. I looked around in this shock of, “No one cares that I’m here.’ [He called The Trevor Project to speak with a counselor.] She told me that it may feel that we’re alone, but we’re never really alone. We always have someone to talk to, just like you’re talking to me right now. That community cared enough for me to be on the phone when I needed them.” (Duran 2016)

When James Lecesne originally created the character of Trevor back in 1994, he couldn’t have anticipated the scale of the impact he would have. “I saw what a story could do and how it could travel out into the world like a little satellite that you send out that can do the work,” said Lecesne to the New York Times in 2015. “That, to me, is miraculous.”