This queer teen made it through a terrible night — thanks to a text. Their story matters.
Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for The Trevor Project, artwork by Tatiana Cardenas/Upworthy.

A couple years ago, Brendon Scholl was having a terrifying night.

They can't recall many of the details. "Most of it is just a big blur," says the now-17-year-old, who is transgender and non-binary, and uses they/them pronouns.

But they do remember crying hysterically, rattled by an inescapable sense of loneliness and an isolating anxiety that'd often accompany them to bed, when their friends were asleep and unreachable by text.

"I was in a really bad place," Scholl says. "I was kind of freaking out ... I was having a really hard time with [the idea that] people didn't want me around."



Brendon Scholl's aunt happens to be singer Jennifer Lopez, who bragged about Scholl's achievements on Instagram in July 2017. Photo via Jennifer Lopez/Instagram.


Scholl's scary night reflects a much larger issue at hand: a generation of young queer people whose mental health desperately needs to be addressed in serious, systemic ways.

According to a report published in May from the Human Rights Campaign and researchers at the University of Connecticut, an alarming 95% of LGBTQ teens said they, like Scholl, have trouble sleeping at night. 77% reported feeling depressed or "down" during the week. Only about one-fourth reported feeling safe in their schools, and a similarly sobering number claimed they could "definitely" be themselves at home.

Plenty of policy victories and improving media visibility have helped grow Americans' acceptance of LGBTQ people in recent decades.

So why do statistics like these remain staggeringly high among queer kids like Scholl?

"It's complex," answers Amit Paley, CEO of The Trevor Project — a suicide prevention and crisis intervention nonprofit for LGBTQ youth. "There are a lot of reasons that young people need help and are reaching out."

For starters, LGBTQ youth aren't insulated from America's larger, worsening suicide crisis, Paley says. Between 1999 and 2016, overall rates of suicide rose — and often dramatically — in almost every U.S. state, according to new data from the CDC. What's more, in its newly released "Youth Risk Behavior Survey," the CDC found 23% of high school students who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual have attempted suicide.

That's four-times the rate of their straight peers.

Other research suggests the figure is even higher among transgender and non-binary teens, like Scholl.

Chart via the CDC.

Entrenched anti-LGBTQ attitudes in schools, churches, and homes continue compounding issues associated with mental illness among queer teens too.

In Scholl's case, it's easy to see how. "I remember very vividly my grandma calling me and being like, 'I'll give you a $100 if you go back to being a girl,'" they recall. "I didn't even know what to say, really."

Those attitudes have been around for awhile, sure. But now, LGBTQ kids have Trump to worry about too.

Call volume to The Trevor Project more than doubled the day after the 2016 presidential election, according to Paley. LGBTQ kids were terrified by the rhetoric they'd heard from Trump on the campaign trail.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

The flow of calls coming in has remained relatively high ever since too, thanks in part to a divisive 24/7 news cycle with bigotry on full display.

When the fight over LGBTQ rights has gotten heated in the headlines — like the day the president tweeted that transgender people would be banned from serving in the military, or when Texas debated whether to implement a transphobic bathroom bill — The Trevor Project noticed spikes in need from the kids they're aiming to protect.

"We know that words have consequences," Paley says. "We know that hateful policies have consequences."

Across the various crisis lines young people can use to contact the nonprofit —along with its 24/7 phone hotline, The Trevor Project also operates a text service and online chat platform — Paley says the organization estimates it will make contact with young people in crisis about 75,000 times this year alone.

That's an increase from last year, and one reason the group is focused on expanding services and programs for youth across the country.

At a time when we seem to be moving ahead on LGBTQ issues in many ways, the need to take care of young queer kids has never been greater.

"Our ultimate goal is to put ourselves out of business," Paley notes. But that seems unlikely in the short-term. So The Trevor Project aims high.

The nonprofit wanted to raise a record-breaking $2 million to further its mission through Trevor Live — the group's annual, star-studded fundraising gala — on June 11. It exceeded that ambitious target, but it's a bittersweet benchmark to pass, knowing why those funds are so needed.

Trevor Live was hosted by openly gay Olympians Gus Kenworthy and Adam Rippon. Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for The Trevor Project.

There are still too many kids who, in a moment of crisis, desperately need Trevor to be one call, text, or online chat away. Kids just like Scholl — who decided to use the group's text service that awful night a couple years ago for help.

"They got back to me immediately and helped me feel a lot less alone," Scholl explains. "Even if I get that bad again, [I know] I'm not going to be completely alone."

Now, Scholl is out and proud — and refusing to stay silent.

They're out to their family. And their friends have been "super great" about respecting their pronouns and identity as a non-binary person.

At Trevor Live, Scholl bravely shared their story to a room full of celebrities and supporters. The speech was met with cheers and a standing ovation.

A vicious political climate and lack of mental health resources may mean kids like Scholl live in an especially hostile environment. But LGBTQ teens — who are coming out earlier in life and reshaping how we see and respect gender and sexuality — are also totally badass.

Scholl walks the Trevor Live red carpet. Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for The Trevor Project.

Scholl, a high school junior, now has their sights set on another big hurdle drawing nearer: college admissions.

They're determined to find the right school with a welcoming environment for LGBTQ students, equipped with gender-neutral housing. That's not a terribly easy feat, to be sure — "I'm excited, but also stressed," Scholl admits of the process — but it's one worth working for.

It's another mountain they're determined to climb.

"I know it's like the most cliche thing to say ever, but it does get better," Scholl says. "It's like, when you're going up a hill: You're tired, it feels like it's going on forever, and you're never going to get to the top. But once you do, you look back, and you're like ... 'I made it that whole way.'"  

Watch Scholl speak at Trevor Live below:

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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