Crucial Conversations: A Panel discussion on LGBTQ+ suicide awareness and prevention

By Leah Bomar

Crucial Conversations: A Panel Discussion and Forum on LGBTQ+ Suicide Awareness and Prevention brought community leaders and mental healthcare experts together on March 23, 2023, at Story Louisville to assess the problem and the risks within the Louisville Community. 

Problems highlighted in Kentucky include high suicide rates, too many people without health insurance, no health literacy, lack of access to programs and providers who can help them, as well as gaps in follow-up mental health care.

 “I wish people knew they are making it harder than it has to be. I wish people could see it as a healthcare issue that could save lives,” pleaded Dr. Christopher Peters, medical director of Norton Children’s Behavioral and Mental Health Clinic.

“We are still unraveling how the pandemic is playing out in youth. What happens when we put a pause on a crucial developmental time? They have anxiety, and depression, so access to more treatment is absolutely needed.”

The community is struggling to meet the needs of citizens and Kentucky’s youth are being impacted most.”

“They believe in Frankfurt that acceptance is killing kids, that we are the problem. They want to shove us back into the closet,” said panelist Chris Hartman, Director of the Fairness Campaign. “The bills are geared towards eradicating the LGBTQ presence… The worst bills are concentrated in the Deep Red South. It’s no surprise because they see more queer youth than ever before that they think we are recruiting.”

Panelist Carmellia Jackson Hurley, Executive Director of Louisville Girls Leadership, ensured, “These kids know themselves better than anyone else. I wish people knew the students know themselves better than we ever could. And I wish we could just help and guide them.”

“There’s a belief that the LGBTQ community is indoctrinating our youth,” said Hartman. “No, queer people have always been there… The actions in Frankfurt are teaching children to demonize another community.” 

Essentially the laws being passed serve to legalize bullying. Many of the bills are often dubbed “Parents Rights Bills” and are touted as ways to protect children, but whose children are they protecting?

At a student-led rally in Frankfort, a Kentucky student who tried to take their own life publicly pleaded with the crowd and lawmakers to not pass a law that would subject others to more suffering. A 2022 survey conducted by The Trevor Project’s 2022 revealed 50% of LGBTQ teens seriously considered attempting suicide and 18% (twice the rate of non-LGBTQ teens) did attempt suicide. 

“People in Frankfurt don’t know any queer people. They are making these laws so they can put a bullet point on their postcard to send out in the fall. They know it will score them cheap, easy points. Is a 3% bump worth a kid’s life? It’s not worth one single life,” said Hartman.

“Queers Gathering joyfully is going to prevent suicides… They want to eliminate the places where we gather joyfully. Events are getting get canceled because of threats of violence… If they’re racist, they are going to be transphobic and homophobic. It goes back to the intersectionality of racism, sexism, homophobia.”

Over the past year, protesters in Kentucky were often met by supporters of the anti-trans bill, like Conservative Family Foundation, who show up and hold their own rallies alongside protests. The Family Foundation and other supporters of the bill say it protects children from “irreparable harm” and safeguards parents’ rights.

“SB 150 will protect the lives of Kentucky children by setting policy in alignment with the truth that every child is created as a male or female and deserves to be loved, treated with dignity, and accepted for who they really are,” Family Foundation leader David Walls said in a statement, calling the override “a win for children and their parents in Kentucky.”

The panel also expressed the need for more spiritual and religious leaders to speak out. These hateful worldviews often have an underpinning of religious views. 

“We must make people own up when they are not supportive,” encouraged Hartman. “If that’s how you feel, own it. Say it. Call them out. Don’t allow others to be compliant.”

Other potential solutions to the current disconnect in our city include pooling of resources.

“Louisville is a resource-dense area, but nobody knows. Here in Louisville, people are stuck in their own silos; everyone is doing the same thing. We need to step up and build community, maintain community and put egos aside,” said Jackson-Hurley.

Another step in the right direction is the 911 diversion program where people can call 911 and get someone other than the police with firearms to show up and help.

“We’ve got to make ourselves available and be a lifeline to others when they need it so that they can be there for us when we need it,” Hartman said.

“How can we help folks feel less isolated, rejected? How can we help people who have a mental diagnosis receive help and treatment? How can we keep weapons locked up and put away so those at risk have less access to the things that can kill them?” Peters asked.

Some of the reasons why people commit suicide are because ‘they feel rejected and isolated. Mental illness impacts how they see themselves and the world around them.” 

Commuter cities and sprawl cities like Louisville suffer from the dynamic where nobody knows where the resources are.

When asked what can we do to combat this, the panel encouraged the public to share Fairness Campaign posts, articles and other information on social media to amplify what’s going on. Use your point of privilege and create a space of grace.

The panel was hosted by Queer Kentucky, in partnership with the Louisville Metro Public Health and Wellness Division of Suicide Prevention, The Big Stomp, The Fairness Campaign, and Louisville Girls Leadership.

The results of this session will be shared with the Suicide Prevention Department of Louisville Metro Public Health and Wellness. They will guide Queer Kentucky on implementing two public events addressing this topic. 

Follow @QueerKentucky on social media for more upcoming events.