Karine Jean-Pierre spotlights new LGBTQ+ crisis hotline in the wake of anti-trans legislation

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre Photo: Screenshot/C-Span

Following a week in which three anti-LGBTQ+ bills became law in Kansas, Indiana, and Idaho, Out White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre spotlighted the national 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline’s recently launched LGBTQ+-specific service.

“I know that these political attacks can really take a toll on people’s mental health. So I want to say directly to LGBTQI+ kids – you are loved just as you are, just the way you are,” Jean-Pierre said during last Thursday’s White House press briefing. “And if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you call 988, The National Crisis Hotline and dial the number ‘3’ to talk to a counselor who has been specifically trained to support LGBTQI+ kids.”

Formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 988’s LGBTQ+-specific pilot program launched in September 2022 with an initial $7.2 million investment from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Last month, the program initiated 24/7 text and chat services, a move that Dr. Tia Dole, the chief lifeline officer at Vibrant Emotional Health, which administers the service, called “a major step forward.”

“This has been one of the worst weeks of 2023 so far in terms of anti-LGBTQ bills becoming law in states across America,” Jean-Pierre said on Thursday, noting new laws in Indiana and Idaho that ban gender-affirming care for trans youth.

“Just yesterday, the North Dakota Senate passed 10 anti-LGBT bills in just one day, a single-day record. In Kansas, the state legislature overrode Gov. Kelly’s veto to make Kansas the 20th state that has banned transgender kids from participating in school sports,” Jean-Pierre said.

“With the enactment of a new law in Indiana, 14 states have now banned gender-affirming health care, while some of these laws are currently blocked by courts. This is a dangerous, dangerous attack on the rights of parents to make the best health care decisions for their own kids.”

In March, a SAMHSA spokesperson told ABC News that between the LGBTQ+ pilot program’s launch in September and February 26, about 11% of chats and texts to 988 were for the LGBTQ+ line, while 6% calls were for the LGBTQ+-specific line.

“So far, the demand for the services provided by this pilot program have exceeded even our own expectations,” Dr. Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, head of SAMHSA, said at the time. “This response has shown us the value in providing a specialized service for LGBTQI+ young people, who we know are at higher risk for suicide.”

“Increasing access to LGBTQ-inclusive crisis care services is critical for addressing the public health crisis of youth suicide, as we know LGBTQ youth continue to face unique challenges, victimization, and barriers to care across all 50 states,” Kasey Suffredini, vice president of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project, said last month. “When an LGBTQ young person reaches out for help in a moment of crisis — where every second counts — it’s vital that they are met with compassion and care from a trained counselor who understands them.”

During Thursday’s press conference, Jean-Pierre cited Human Rights Campaign statistics that more than 50% of transgender youth in the U.S. now live states where they have lost or are at risk of losing access to gender-affirming care.

“This is awful news, we need to be very clear about that,” the out press secretary said. “LGBTQI+ kids are resilient, they are fierce, they flight back, they’re not going anywhere, and we have their back. This administration has their back.”

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