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Random Wisdom

“People prefer society to do their thinking for them – It is easier. It takes away the need to make moral judgements.” — Albert Schweitzer



Help Calls Mounting, so are bills.

By J. D. Moss
The Texas Triangle -1993

   “…Please call back when you want to talk, OK? ” Margaret listens one last time before hanging up the phone. She has been volunteering at Out Youth Austin’s Helpline for more than 18 months, and this call could place her over the one thousand mark. “I’ve answered anywhere from 850 to 1000 calls.  She sits back, thinking. “It’s…” The phone rings again and she answers it. “Out Youth…this is Margaret.”

 Out Youth Austin’s Helpline has been in operation for two years but its continued duration is up for grabs. Precisely because it has been a phenomenal success with young people calling its toll free number from all over the country, unpaid bills have mounted to more than $3,800 and, upon the receipt of the November bill, may exceed $5,000.

  “Unless we come up with a plan for stable funding by mid-December we’ll have to hang it up.” says Lisa Rodgers, Out Youth’s program coordinator.

The Helpline was started to help dispel myths and stereotypes, provide AIDS education, and offer a place where isolated young people could anonymously begin to explore their sexuality in a positive, nurturing environment.

The 800 number allows youth to call from anywhere in the country. And call they do. From just July to September, the number of calls more than tripled from 50 to 1600, at an average cost of $1 for each call. The October bill alone topped $1,200, showing calls from small towns and rural areas in 40 different states.

Parker estimates that 80% of the calls are about coming out. “They are isolated, depressed, confused, and have no support system.”

One such caller is John. He lives in a small town in Florida with the nearest large city two hours away. He says he calls about once a week to talk about the problems he has because of his being gay. His community is very religious, very conservative. He says his church is threatening to excommunicate him; his family has or will cut him off if he doesn’t “Go straight,” For John, this is his only support.

Between callers, Parker tells the story of Tracy, 14. Tracy had accepted the fact that she is lesbian. Her problem was no one else has accepted her for being that.” The stories all have the same familiar ring.”  says Parker. “Her church condemns her, her parents are always telling queer jokes, and she felt she had no other way to deal with it. When I first talked to her she called with a loaded gun, ready and willing to use it on herself.”

National statistics show an unusually high rate of suicide among gay youth, with one of the latest occurring this summer in Austin.

Parker shakes her head recalling the night that Tracy called. “The things she wants out of life are not unreasonable demands on society: she wants to go to A&M, wants to be a fire fighter, wants to have someone to love for the rest of her life. Normal desires of a 14-year old.”

  Tracy did not use the gun, thanks to the Helpline. Parker was able to let her know she was not alone, that there were those who did understand. She also let her know that the way she is being treated is not ok.

Parker was able to get Tracy to agree to put the gun away and to call back the following night. When Tracy called back, she agreed to not use the gun for the next week.  She has called back a number of times since then and no longer wants to die. “She is doing ok,” says Parker with a smile. “Oh, she still has problems being young and lesbian, but she is alive and now has a foundation where people support and care about her.”

“Obviously we are providing a much needed service or we wouldn’t be getting the incredible amount of calls that we are getting.” Says Parker. “We have more than 100 volunteers, yet what we don’t have is money to pay the phone bill. We need money in a big way.”

Can the Helpline continue without the funding?  “No.” says Parker “but I’m not giving up. I just can’t believe that all those people who say ‘I wish there had been a place like that when I was young’, are going to let it die.  There are too many kids out there.”

“I don’t have help here. No one understands, and the few who try are afraid to help.” Says John who calls soon after. He says that last week he was beaten up.  He wouldn’t tell anyone that the reason for the fight was that he is gay, or the fact that the perpetrators called him “faggot” as they kicked him while he was on the ground.

“We need people to support the line.” He said, “You have to understand that, little by little, this is killing me. I need the Helpline.” 

The Helpline is more than that to him, he said, it is a lifeline.

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