Forty-eight percent to 56% of transgender, nonbinary, and genderqueer youth and 41% of LGBTQ youth considered suicide in the past year, according to a 2023 survey from The Trevor Project. Twenty-three years ago – in the sixth grade – I was one of those statistics. Now, at 35, I'm working to create systemic changes in schools and communities so other queer youths don't have to experience the loneliness, anxiety, and depression I did. 

School Isn't a Safe Space for Queer Students

According to a 2021 National School Climate Survey, almost 70% of LGBTQ+ students feel unsafe at school. Forty percent avoid using bathrooms and locker rooms, and 80% avoid school functions and extracurricular activities because they don’t feel safe. They miss a disproportionate number of days of school compared to their peers for that same reason. More than 32% of queer youth missed at least one day of school and more than 10% missed four or more days in the past month. In high school, I was a part of that 10%. Due to severe anxiety, I often came home early and missed two weeks of school once after suffering a panic attack.

School is a hostile environment for many LGBTQ+ youth. Nearly all LGBTQ+ students hear harmful anti-LGBTQ+ language from their peers in school. The majority of LGBTQ+ students hear homophobic (58%) and transphobic (72%) remarks from teachers and school staff, too.

LGBTQ+ students also experience physical and sexual harassment and assault at higher rates than their non-LGBTQ+ peers. In the 2020-2021 school year, almost a third of LGBTQ+ students were physically harassed and more than half were sexually assaulted. Most of those incidents weren't reported because students believed nothing would be done, and of the students who did report an incident, over 60% said that school staff did nothing or told them to ignore it.

LGBTQ+ students also face policy discrimination. For example, 15.6% of LGBTQ+ students weren't allowed to do school projects about LGBTQ+ issues; 12.3% of LGBTQ+ students couldn't create or promote a Genders & Sexualities Alliances (GSA) club; and more than a quarter of students weren't allowed to use their chosen names and pronouns in schools and were prevented from using bathrooms aligned with their gender. Despite these barriers, there’s hope that things will get better.

School-based Supports that Work

The 2021 National School Climate Survey revealed specific school-based supports that help LGBTQ+ youth feel safe: Supportive educators, LGBTQ+-inclusive curriculum, inclusive and supportive policies, and supportive student clubs, like GSAs. For example, students who have an active GSA club at their school reported experiencing less bullying (12% to 18% less), having more accepting peers (23% more), and being less likely to miss school in the past month (12% less likely). 

The Actions We're Taking

I'm on the advisory board of Amor Para Todos (APT), an organization that joins schools and communities to cultivate more gender and LGBTQIA+-affirming environments for our youth. My sister, Renee Ho, founded APT to save lives. When she read the devastating suicide statistics of LGBTQIA+ youth, she knew she had to take action.

APT works with school districts and communities in Petaluma, Cotati, Rohnert Park, and Santa Rosa, Calif. We've supported schools in other states and even helped influence California state legislation, Bill SB 760. If passed, all California public schools will need at least one all-gender restroom as an option for students by 2025.

We support schools and districts to be more LGBTQIA+ inclusive by helping them to:

  • Adopt inclusive curricula,
  • Create inclusive school policies,
  • Implement anti-bias, LGBTQIA+, and gender-inclusive professional development training,
  • Start APT student clubs or support existing GSA clubs,
  • Have all-gender bathrooms and all-gender signage on single-stall restrooms, and
  • Get Pride flags for their school buildings.

We also know the positive impact that visibility and positive representation have on LGBTQIA+ youth, and this is why we painted a rainbow crosswalk in downtown Petaluma. It’s also why we participate in community events across Sonoma County, host events — like I Am Jazz Community Readings at the Petaluma Public Library and LGBTQIA+-inclusive hikes in partnership with Camelbak.

Some Ways to Get Involved