(July 16, 2018) Catherine Read sits down with Sam Brinton, head of advocacy at The Trevor Project, an organization that supports LGBTQ youth through a crisis intervention and a suicide prevention lifeline. (Sam identifies as gender fluid and uses the pronouns they/them/theirs.)
The TrevorLifeline is a 24/7-support line accessible via voice or text, manned by thousands of trained volunteers nationwide. The creators of the Academy-Award winning short film TREVOR founded the Trevor Project in 1998 with the proceeds that they made from the film, when they realized that there was often no place for LGBTQ youth to turn to for support.
Brinton joined The Trevor Project as head of advocacy in October of 2017. Their chief job is to ensure that the organization is advancing policies and taking positions that help LGBTQ youth when in crisis. They themselves experienced a great amount of trauma in their youth when they attempted to come out to their family. Consequently, Sam is passionate about creating a safer world for the next generation. Their job covers working at the federal, state and local levels, as well as with the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.
Sam Brinton has an MS in Nuclear Engineering from MIT, work they still do on a consulting basis through Core Solutions Consulting. Their work at The Trevor Project is driven by the pressing need to provide a safer and more inclusive world for LGBTQ young people across the country. Their advocacy includes providing testimony at legislative hearings on both the federal and state level, sitting on panels and speaking at conferences to raise awareness of these issues, and writing for many publications on subjects related to the safety, mental health and the well being of LGBTQ young people.
The TrevorLifeline has provided a safe space for hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ youth in crises over the past 20 years. It is their longest running project and brings in thousands of volunteers who are trained to manage the calls and texts received on their crisis line. LGBTQ youth are 4-5x more likely to attempt suicide, and often have no one who they can talk to about what they are going through. The ability for them to reach out and speak with someone who can relate to them can literally save their life.
One of the newer initiatives that Brinton has taken on is advocating for legislation that outlaws the practice of conversion therapy. Sam himself is a conversion therapy survivor, and they feel passionately about making sure that others do not have to suffer the same fate. In 2014, Brinton was the first person to testify before the United Nations Committee Against Torture as a survivor of conversion therapy.
Born to Baptist Missionaries, their parents had strong feelings about their suspected sexual orientation, and Sam was subjected to some very cruel practices starting at the tender age of 11. Sam didn’t know any other people who were like them, and was very impressionable at such a young age. They were told horrible lies, such as the government had killed all of the gay children in America because they brought the AIDS virus to the country. They also suffered psychological torture such as placing their hands in ice-cold water (or extremely hot water) and showing images of men with other men, so they would have a negative association in his mind. Sam suffered greatly from this abuse, which led to a suicide attempt.
None of these practices are legitimate, nor are they scientifically proven be effective. Up to 300,000 children a year are put through these abuses. Brinton is working tirelessly to make these practices illegal in all 50 states through The Trevor Project’s 50 Bills 50 States Initiative. Over the past 5 years, they have had success limiting licensed therapists from practicing conversion therapy in 13 states. They have submitted legislation in 21 additional states, as they move toward their goal.
Here in Virginia, Sen. Scott Surovell and Del. Patrick Hope submitted HB-363 to outlaw conversion therapy. Unfortunately, the bill was defeated along party lines in committee. Additionally, Del. Betsy Carr and Del. Danica Roem introduced HJ-73, a proposal for a study to be conducted to evaluate causes of bullying and to evaluate work on suicide prevention. Again, this was killed in committee along party lines. If the Democrats are able to flip control of the Senate and House in 2019, a Democratic House Speaker and Senate Majority Leader would be able to assemble committees where these proposed bills would actually make it on to the floor of each chamber for a floor vote.
The other major program that Brinton is working on is promoting the Model School Policy for Suicide Prevention. It is a modular, adaptable document that will help educators and school administrators implement comprehensive suicide prevention policies in communities nationwide. This program is designed to make it easier for the school system to respond to suicidal behavior, as well as assess warning signs and intervene when appropriate to help prevent tragedies from happening. More information can be found online, including a one-page fact sheet, a full policy document, and a webinar to learn more about the program.
As suicide rates amongst teens is on the rise, Brinton encourages everyone to push their school districts to make sure that they have sound policies in place around suicide prevention. They also encourage everyone to contact their own legislators and tell them what bills you would like to see passed in the next legislative session. Additionally, The Trevor Project always welcomes volunteers who would like to be trained answer TrevorText and calls at the TervorLifeline.