Created by a San Francisco group led by trans software developer Greta Martela, Trans Lifeline is entirely staffed by trans-identified volunteers. Its founders hope that the "by trans people, for trans people" approach will help address the staggering overrepresentation of trans people within suicide rate statistics.
Trans people are nearly 10 times as likely as cisgender (nontrans) people to attempt suicide, with 41 percent of U.S. trans people reporting an attempt to commit suicide, as compared to a 4.6 national average, according to a 2011 report by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National LGBTQ Task Force. Trans Lifeline's founders hope that with more trans-specific suicide prevention tactics, this number could possibly be reduced.
The hotline's concept was influenced, in part, by Martela's own story. When the 44-year-old mother came out last year as a trans woman, she was faced with increasing anxiety and panic attacks that ultimately led to her calling a suicide hotline, she tells Time.
But, she says, the man on the other end of the line "had no idea how to deal with a trans woman." He went silent and simply told her to go to a hospital. Once Martela reached the hospital, she says she had to once again inform the staff about what it means to be trans.
Martela hopes that with Trans Lifeline, other trans people in crisis will no longer have to explain themselves to a hotline worker who simply doesn't understand them. "There are a ton of suicide hotlines. There's no shortage of them," she explains to Time. "But it's really difficult to get a person who isn't trans to understand what it's like to be trans."
Right now, Trans Lifeline is awaiting its application for nonprofit status and operates with a small budget. Calls are forwarded by a computer program to volunteers own phones' wherever they are located. Callers can see which volunteers are available at any given time by logging onto Trans Lifeline's website.
Trans Lifeline can be reached at 877-565-8860. For LGBT youth (ages 24 and younger) contemplating suicide, the Trevor Project Lifeline can be reached at 1-866-488-7386. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 can also be reached 24 hours a day by people of all ages and identities.