The summer before my junior year in high school, my parents sent me on a theater trip to Los Angeles with students from around the state. We hit the beach and Disneyland, saw the handprints at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, and strolled along the Walk of Fame. Since we were all drama geeks, we also got to see three plays – including Evita and Camelot, starring none other than Richard Harris himself (whom we got to meet backstage while he kindly signed every single kid’s program).
One of the kids on the trip was from Duchesne County and lived on a dairy farm. Although he never said anything about it, he was pretty obviously gay. At that age, at that time, people didn’t admit it. Over that summer, we exchanged a handful of letters. He wrote a lot about life on the farm. I remember thinking it seemed isolated and lonely, especially for a kid I knew deep down was gay.
Today, young LGBTQ+ people are accepted by family and friends in far greater numbers than back when I was a teenager. But many still feel lonely and isolated. Thankfully, technology not even dreamed of when I was in high school, can help.
Give Us the Floor, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, helps LGBTQ+ teenagers in distress by offering peer-positive human connection through the peer Supportive Group Chats available on its app. This app allows for anonymity in a safe, teen-only space. Kids can get help for a range of issues from domestic violence and body image to relationships and isolation.
And this app seems to be helping. According to the CDC, young people who feel connected to their peers or an adult are significantly less likely to have “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.” A whopping 85 percent of the young LGBTQ+ users of the GUTF app say they felt less lonely after just one month, and 89 percent feel the program has helped them with their struggles.
The peers facilitating these confidential group chats are extensively trained to help lead the discussions appropriately. Training includes a series of video modules that explain the role of a facilitator, the community rules, and how to navigate difficult and crisis situations – that includes when they should escalate to someone on the adult advisor team.
But what happens if a kid is in real trouble? The GUTF app includes an extensive list of resources that the peer facilitators are trained to use. More importantly, GUTF repeatedly reiterates to facilitators and participants alike the importance of reaching out to the adult team if a kid indicates they’re struggling – whether that struggle is the threat of being forced out of their home, suicidal ideation, or self-harm. In those cases, the adults not only provide the teen a list of relevant resources but – and this is really important – follow up with the kid to ensure their safety.
Valerie Grison-Alsop, the founder and executive director of GUTF, says, “Our proprietary app makes it easy for our facilitators and participants to anonymously report any troubling issue, even if it’s a minor rule-breaking incident. Our adult team is highly trained to evaluate incidents that indicate an immediate safety situation and are mandated reporters and poised to get a teen in crisis help if the situation calls for it.”
Once school started again, that kid from the theater trip and I stopped writing, and we faded from each other’s lives. I hope that for a brief time, I made his life a little better. Even if we couldn’t say it, deep down, we knew we were peers.
The GUTF app is available free on all iPhones and Androids.