In addition to providing life-saving services for LGBTQ people, the Trevor Project recently celebrated trailblazers in the community. The TrevorLIVE gala in Los Angeles raised more than $1.5 million for the organization and their suicide prevention services. Amandla Stenberg and Ryan Murphy were among those honored, with Billy Porter, Emma Roberts, Dan Levy, Jussie Smollett, and more in attendance.
Eugene Lee Yang of the YouTube sensation, The Try Guys, hosted for the star-studded evening. He applauded the Trevor Project's tireless efforts, not just through the event, but with a tribute to the organization through the Try Guys' massively-followed channel.
In the video, Yang paid a visit to the Trevor Project's call center where he underwent training for their call center. With the help of Joie A. DeRitis, LMSW, Trevor's senior trainer, he found out what it takes to provide such life-saving services, including crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth, through TrevorLifeline, TrevorText, and TrevorChat.
It's an emotional look at what the heroes at the Trevor Project go through every day. We recently caught up with Yang to discuss his passion for the Trevor Project and the support they provide.
OUT: What was your experience like hosting TrevorLIVE and benefitting the Trevor Project?
Eugene Lee Yang:Hosting TrevorLIVE was an absolute honor. To be completely honest, I wouldn't consider myself a professional host by any means, but the love and energy of those in attendance who came together in support of such an important, worthy cause for LGBTQ youth really invigorated me to perform as my most impassioned, authentic self. It meant so much more than merely being a job for me. To be in the presence of such powerful storytellers, industry leaders, and speakers who shared their own emotional -- at times devastating -- experiences that benefitted from services and initiatives like the ones the Trevor Project supports was an incredible, enlightening experience. I simply tried to match that power and poignance with my energy and enthusiasm as the night's host.
How does it feel being able to give their work such a platform through the Try Guys?
To be able to exercise the immense reach of my digital platform by producing a video for the Trevor Project was one of the most important projects I've created to date. As someone with a large amount of online influence with the capabilities of filming, editing, and releasing a video in less than a week (which is what I did for this particular piece), I am constantly itching to put that swift turnaround and massive viewership toward worthwhile causes that demand more attention. Wrapping my mind around an appropriate way to raise awareness about a very real, serious topic while infusing viral comedic touches was an immense challenge, but I ultimately opted to approach my experience with unflinching honesty, both about the organization and my own past experiences. The fact that it reached so many people who were completely unaware of the Trevor Project's mission, both here and abroad, and trended #1 on YouTube, which is already a difficult achievement, is a testament to the digital platform's unique capabilities of speaking to an extremely wide, diverse audience. Providing more exposure to meaningful subjects that sorely need it is a privilege I aim to continue in the future.
You recently trained in their call center. What did you learn about addressing the struggles LGBTQ people face?
I learned, first and foremost, that to become a counselor or volunteer can be conceptually and emotionally difficult at times, and not only requires an empathic ear, but an openness to learning new and challenging things, and an emotional fortitude to work through the intensive training process. If it's already hard for most people to be an active listener for their loved ones, can you imagine how much strength and wisdom it takes for a counselor to handle multiple calls a shift for struggling LGBTQ youth? I learned quickly that the goal wasn't to immediately fix the problem, since there's no such thing as a simple solution for these situations, but to be there for someone who doesn't have the safety, relationships, or confidence to be able to speak their truth.
The struggle for young LGBTQ people to finally be heard is real, cutting, and overwhelming, and I praise the staff of the Trevor Project for creating such an inviting, effective program to help guide those in need.
Were you surprised at the emotional toll it took?
Surprised isn't quite the right word...I was more or less upset by the entire experience, and let me clarify what I mean by that expression. I wasn't taken aback by my emotions -- I was more or less expecting them, but not in the wholly encapsulating way they enveloped me and my own history as an LGBTQ youth.
I was, in fact, too empathetic, and I instinctively put myself in the caller's position, feeling every awkward, out-of-place, hurt, and confused. And in that moment, I was upset, angry, lost, hopeless. I was talking to my past self, in ways, and it dawned on me that if I had known about an organization like the Trevor Project at that age, I could have found an avenue toward solace, or at the very least another person to talk to. It was a knee-jerk reaction, and I felt incredibly selfish in that moment, having expected to feel distress over the caller and instead feeling overpowered by my own past trauma. But with the expert leadership of Joie A. DeRitis leading me through the exercise, I was able to overcome my own self-reflection and focus that strong, empathetic energy toward helping the prospective caller.
How would you explain the importance of their organization for LGBTQ youth?
The Trevor Project is here for you whenever you need to talk, and I think that was one of the most poignant messages that came from the video's exploration of their work. Many young people didn't realize that you could call, text, or chat when you were in need of someone who can communicate with you in a safe, understanding environment. Even though they are more than well-equipped for emergency situations, they also exist because so many LGBTQ youth grow up in homes, schools, and social circles that might not understand how they identify or what they're going through, and no problem or topic is too large or too small. If you feel like you need someone to talk to, the Trevor Project is always there.