RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- 75 percent of LGBTQ+ youth face discrimination against their sexual orientation or gender identity at least once in their lifetime, according to a study by the Trevor Project.
Xavier Amaro, 18, went through a range of emotions during his freshman year at Millbrook High School.
That's when he decided to tell his friends, and later his classmates, teachers and family, his truth.
"Something along the lines of, and yes, Mom, I am gay and I am proud," Amaro said. "I think the hardest part about coming out was balancing my emotions. There's rejection and then there's anger. And then there's disappointment. But there's also acceptance, joy."
Amaro thanks his chosen family for getting him through those dark periods, something many gay youths battle emotionally -- sometimes all alone.
Last year, 42 percent of LGBTQ youths considered ending their lives, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth, those who say they do not identify with any gender.
That's according to the nonprofit LGBTQ-plus suicide prevention group the Trevor Project.
Minorities make up the highest number of those young people contemplating death, including Black, indigenous, multi-racial and Hispanic youths.
The study said 12% of White youths attempted suicide compared to 31% of indigenous native youths, 21% of Black youths, 21% who are multiracial, 18% of Latino youths, and 12% of Asian/Pacific Islander youths.
"It scares me. It really scares me," said Megan Fonke-Fritz, an English teacher at Millbrook who made the decision a few years ago to come out to her students as a lesbian.
The gesture helped provide a safe space and supportive representation for gay students.
And then the pandemic hit, forcing schools into remote learning.
"So many kids were telling me in their Google Forms; I would do a check-in with them, they would write me paragraph's about what was going on at home. And there was nothing that I could do about it. I could not walk in and protect them like I can in my classroom," Fritz said.
More than 80% of LGBTQ youths said COVID-19 made their living situation more stressful -- and only 1 in 3 LGBTQ youths found their home to be LGBTQ-affirming, according to a survey by the Trevor Project.
"It is shocking. It is disturbing. It even heightens more our commitment to addressing that intersectionality of our climate, our culture of being a welcome and accepting environment," Fritz said
Dr. LaVerne Mattocks-Perry, a senior executive director for Student Support Services at Durham Public Schools, said the school district has designated safe spaces for students for support and counseling.
Most schools have student-led affinity groups where LGBTQ students can organize and create community.
"Parents need to be attuned to their child and listening to them and notice any mood changes or anything that would indicate that there might be something going on. And withdrawal is a very huge indicator," Mattocks-Perry said.
Wake County Public Schools also provides counseling services and safe spaces.
This school year, Amaro led Millbrook High School's Gender Sexuality Alliance club until he graduated earlier this month.
Amaro is the oldest son of Mexican immigrants is headed to Columbia University this fall.
"Finally, just say I did it. I am proud of my achievements," Amaro said. "I really want to be an immigration lawyer."
He encourages LGBTQ youths to take their mental health seriously by finding community and emotional support.
"If you hold on to the things that make you happy and you're able to go to college or join the workforce, you're able to just live life," Amaro said. "I think when you hold on to that happiness, you'll be one step closer to just achieving your full potential.
WCPSS gave ABC11 this information on its policy regarding discrimination:
Earlier this year, the Board of Education updated our policy prohibiting discrimination, harassment, and bullying (Policy 1710/4021/7230) to include transgender and gender identity among the protected groups and characteristics, in addition to sexual orientation. We acknowledge the dignity and worth of all students and employees and strive to create a safe, orderly, caring, and inviting school environment to facilitate student learning and achievement.
Principals, school counselors, and other student services staff are available to talk with students and families about any concerns or challenges, including those related to an LGBTQ+ status or association. We provide all school staff resources focused on LGBTQ+ inclusivity and support to help ensure all of our students are respected, treated fairly, and given the opportunity to succeed as their authentic selves.
National Alliance on Mental Illness LGBTQ page
LGBT Center of Raleigh
LGBTQ Center of Durham
75 percent of LGBTQ+ youth have experienced discrimination, study says