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Racial Justice and Social Equity

LGBTQ+ students are considering suicide. In some districts, seeking help at school doesn't feel like an option

A warning to our listeners: This next story includes a discussion of suicide. A rising number of high school students have seriously considered suicide, according to CDC data. This week, KPBS is looking at mental health in schools. Reporter Katie Hyson says students facing higher risk — LGBTQ+ youth — also face higher barriers to help.

This is part two of a three-part series. Read part one and part three

More than one in five high school students have seriously considered suicide, CDC data show.

For LGBTQ+ students, that number rises to almost half.

“Some of the statistics are really staggering, and frankly, we have a crisis,” said Walter Philips, CEO of San Diego Youth Services.


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The nonprofit’s contract providing student mental health services was terminated by the Grossmont Union school board after community members objected that they also provide services for the county’s LGBTQ+ youth.

It was part of a string of actions affecting LGBTQ+ students, like banning safe space posters and pride flags, that several school districts surrounding San Diego took this school year.

Philips said those actions have big consequences.

“The more we put up barriers for these students to feel like they're in a safe place, then that increases their mental health issues,” he said.

Moxxie Childs, now a high school junior in Temecula, said he’s experienced that firsthand.

CEO of San Diego Youth Services Walter Philips speaks with KPBS on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024 in the room that houses one of their programs for LGBTQ+ youth.
Katie Hyson / KPBS
CEO of San Diego Youth Services Walter Philips speaks with KPBS on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024 in the room that houses one of their programs for LGBTQ+ youth.

“During 2021, which was height of the pandemic, I was in and out of mental hospitals quite a bit,” he said. “About three times for trying to kill myself — I was not happy at all.”

“I was isolated from my friend group when I went to Catholic school because I came out as gay and trans,” he said. “And there's a lot of isolation that goes on for a lot of queer kids in Temecula and the surrounding areas because it's kind of like a little conservative pocket right here, which a lot of people don't think happens in California, but it really does.”

A Temecula Valley Unified School District spokesperson said they had no comment on the details of this story.

Their school board voted in August to require school staff to notify parents if their child shows signs of being transgender — like asking to use a different name, pronouns or bathroom at school.

“A lot of us trans people had all heard about the policy that was going to be debated that night,” Moxxie recounted. “We were all waiting the next morning in school — it was somber. There were a few people crying, having panic attacks because their parents couldn't find out. “

Moxxie said it’s less of an issue for him.

“Most people in the admin don't even know my legal name because it's not in any of the documents at all, which I really appreciate,” he said. “Some students got a hold of it at one point, and that wasn't fun.”

But it was a big problem for a lot of his friends, he said, who were outed to unsupportive parents.

“There are several students who've been put in danger with that,” he said. “We have a few students who are being kicked out of their house because of that.”

He said it pushed this part of their identity underground.

“Nobody really comes out to the school anymore,” he said. “There are specific teachers who will know and just not say anything. Say it's a nickname, that sort of thing.”

A month later, the district banned all flags except the state and U.S. flags, unless they have superintendent approval.

“However, the only teachers that received warnings for that were teachers who had pride flags up or had the ‘You are Safe Here’ or ‘Hate Has No Place Here,’” Moxxie said.

In response, Moxxie handed out pride flags on sticks.

Moxxie Childs, 16, (right) hands out rainbow flags on the campus of Great Oak High School,
Moxxie Childs
Moxxie Childs, 16, (right) hands out rainbow flags on the campus of Great Oak High School, Temecula, Calif., Sept. 14, 2023.

“People were taking them to try to rip them up,” he said. “Which, that part was a little bit funny because they were actually kind of plasticky instead of fabric, and they couldn't rip them, which was funny because they would just struggle for a bit and break the stick that they were on.”

LGBTQ+ students are harassed for their identity at higher rates than straight students, CDC data show. And that number is rising in recent years.

But the school districts’ actions, Moxxie said, make LGBTQ+ students afraid to use the school’s mental health services.

“It's hard to be open, and it took a while for me to accept myself,” he said. “It takes a while for anyone to accept themselves. But especially in a setting like how Temecula is right now, where that sort of thing is being shunned and ostracized and punished, it gets a lot harder.”

So instead, he said, they create their own support system: “We just kind of rely on each other instead, and that works a lot better.”

All of the kids he knows who were kicked out are now in homes. Some are back with their parents, others with new guardians.

In the next story on mental health in schools, KPBS will look at a school trying something different to address mental health: baking it into the daily curriculum.