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Introducing Project THRIVE: Improving the Health and Safety of LGBTQ Youth


Many young people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer can endure increased suffering from physical violence, harassment, and emotional distress, including depression and thoughts of suicide. Improving the health of LGBTQ youth means creating a safe space for those who identify as such at home, in school, and throughout the community.

Earlier this year, the Human Rights Campaign launched what’s known as Project THRIVE, a new program that’s designed to improve the lives of these youth. If you work with these teens as a nurse, educator, or counselor, learn more about this historic program and how it can make a difference in the lives of your patients.

 LGBTQ Youth in America

All children need a safe place to learn and grow up. However, children who identify as LGBTQ may not have the same experiences as those who identify as heterosexual or cisgender (meaning they identify as the gender they were assigned at birth). LGBTQ youth need to feel safe, or their education, physical health, and mental health may suffer as a result.

According to data from the CDC’s 2015 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) of students who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual:

  • 10% were threatened or injured with a weapon on school property
  • 34% were bullied on school property
  • 28% were bullied electronically
  • 23% of LGB students who had dated or gone out with someone during the 12 months before the survey had experienced sexual dating violence in the prior year
  • 18% of these students had experienced physical dating violence
  • 18% of the students had been forced to have sexual intercourse at some point in their lives.

However, the CDC does not currently provide data on the experiences of transgender students. Previous YRBS surveys and other studies have gathered data on students who identify as lesbian, gay, and bisexual, but did not include questions about transgender and questioning/queer youth. Experts believe these problems may be more acute for the transgender community. More research needs to be done in order to better understand the needs of transgender youth.

The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning young people, has also weighed in on the experiences of LGBTQ youth. According to the group’s recent study using data from the U.S. Census, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, and other healthcare and suicide prevention organizations, these youth are four times more likely to consider, plan for, and commit suicide than their peers. Suicide is already the second leading cause of death among our nation’s youth. The report also found that:

  • Overall, more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth between the ages of 13 and 24 in the U.S. seriously consider suicide each year.
  • At least 1.2 million of these youth aged 13–18 in the U.S. seriously consider suicide each year.
  • At least 693,000 of them aged 19–24 in the U.S. seriously consider suicide each year.

The Trevor Project is urging schools, the federal government, and healthcare providers to do more to support the physical and emotional needs of LGBTQ youth. Students suffering from depression or anxiety need access to mental health professionals and school counselors that can help address these issues. School administrators, teachers, parents, and other leaders in the community need to create safe spaces for these students, so they can learn and grow without fearing violence or persecution.

According to the 2015 YRBS survey, LGB students were 140% (12% v. 5%) more likely to not go to school at least one day during the 30 days prior to the survey because of safety concerns, compared with heterosexual students. Not showing up for class can determine whether these students graduate and may impact their overall ability to earn a living down the line.

How Project THRIVE Can Help

To combat these issues, the Human Rights Campaign recently created Project THRIVE, “a groundbreaking multi-year campaign that will focus efforts coast-to-coast on improving the lives of LGBTQ youth at home, in school and in their communities.” The project will address a range of issues, including child welfare, healthcare, education, and juvenile justice.

Project THRIVE is a collaboration between the HRC and numerous other national organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Counseling Association, American Bar Association, and American Federation of Teachers. The project will focus on educating teachers, healthcare providers, and other community leaders on the needs of LGBTQ youth, while making sure facilities are proactively working to address these issues in real time by ensuring the safety of these students.

As a healthcare provider or leader in your community, you can do your part to learn more about the needs of LGBTQ students and patients. Educate your co-workers on these issues and advocate for more inclusive health and safety policies within your organization. Some facilities and organizations may still be unfamiliar with these issues, but all children deserve access to healthcare and a decent education.


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