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FCC Chairman Pai Proposes 988 Code for National Suicide Prevention

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

For LGBTQ+ people living in the United States, suicide is nothing less than a pandemic. For the general population, suicide is one of the top ten leading causes of death in the country, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). As high as that is, for LGBTQ+ people, the risk for suicide runs even higher. LGB youth in particular seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of their heterosexual counterparts, and are almost five times as likely to have attempted it, according to the Trevor Project. LGB youth with unsupportive families face an even higher risk, being 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth (Trevor Project). Forty percent of transgender adults, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality, have made a suicide attempt, with ninety-two percent of those surveyed having attempted suicide before the age of 25. Harassment and abuse contribute significantly to increased risks for suicide risk among LGBTQ+ populations, with instances of LGBTQ+ victimization increasing that likelihood 2.5 times on average, according to the Trevor Project. With such high risk for suicide among our populations, LGBTQ+ individuals desperately need access to suicide prevention resources.

That’s why LGBT Tech, along with the Trevor Project, has been working closely with the Federal Communications Commission to make those resources more accessible, particularly for LGBTQ+ people. Today, that hard work has begun to pay off. This afternoon, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced his proposal to make 988 the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, stating that “Under my proposal, anyone calling 988 would be routed to the established National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is already saving lives. I shared this proposal with my FCC colleagues this morning, and we’ll vote on it at our December 12 meeting.”

Chairman Pai explained the reasoning behind the 3-digit number, citing its accessibility to those seeking help: “Based on our staff’s careful analysis, I believe that we can get 988 up and running more quickly than other 3-digit numbers. And quicker access will mean more lives saved. In addition, 988 has an echo of the 911 number we all know as an emergency number. Awareness of this resource—including how memorable the number is—should make a real difference when those in dire straits want to reach for a lifeline.”

Having 988 as the national number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline would be indispensable for LGBTQ+ people seeking help. Statistics show all too clearly how much our community needs access to these life-saving resources. Making them more accessible, as Chairman Pai has proposed, would give our community more support to thrive in the face of such difficult odds.

There are steps that need to be taken to truly fulfill the potential of this 3-digit number. According to Sam Brinton, Head of Advocacy and Government Affairs for The Trevor Project, the 988 number must be activated quickly, NSPL counselors need to receive training in LGBT cultural competency, and a voice response must be established to route calls to organizations with specialized LGBT youth crisis services, like The Trevor Project.

LGBT Tech will continue to work closely with the FCC and other groups, such as Trevor Project and other stakeholders, to ensure that LGBTQ+ populations continue to be considered and included in the Commission’s work on establishing a 3-digit number for suicide prevention.

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