LOS ANGELES — Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra came to Renaissance High School for the Arts to speak with LGBTQ+ students about the mental health struggles they face.
“I wish more of America would listen to what they have to say,” he said.
His department announced it was awarding almost $6 million to states, tribes and college campuses for youth suicide prevention programs.
“What a mistake we make every day in this country when we exclude people simply because of who they are,” Becerra said.
Renaissance High School attracts many creative students looking to pursue a career in everything from film to the performing arts to fashion and costume design. The school also offers a wellness center that can help students seeking support.
“It provides a safe space for the students. It’s available all the time during lunch, during class, if you just need to take a step out, you need to talk to somebody, you have industry professionals there ready to help you,” said Paloma Encarnación, a 12th grade student.
“When I was at my lowest points, it was there for me, and I can’t imagine how other people feel in different states who don’t have access to this type of health care,” said Lotus Laguardia, a former student who now works at the school’s wellness center.
According to the CDC, in 2021, suicide was the second-leading cause of death for people aged 10 to14 and 25 to 34.
“I have definitely been at a point in my life where I have contemplated suicide, and I don’t think I would be here if I had not gotten the gender affirming care that I did when I did,” said Milo Smalley, a trans student who uses they/them pronouns.
Smalley is concerned about recent attacks on the trans community across the country. They have had family support, but knows that’s not the case for many others.
“I do have family in states that have passed some not great trans bills and every time I go to one of those states, I’m scared about what could happen to me,” Smalley said.
The Department of Health and Human Services says millions of dollar will go toward implementing programs similar to those wellness centers and others to identify and treat at-risk students.
“The real issue here is education. They’re in a school to get educated. There are a whole bunch of Americans who need to be educated and one of the things they pointed out is it’s my generation that needs to be educated,” Becerra said.
He says some kids essentially told him they feel safer in school than they do going back home.
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