LGBTQ+ young people find support in peer groups

PRINCETON, N.J. (WPVI) -- When the Stonewall Riots erupted onto the streets of Greenwich Village, the fight for LGBTQ rights began. Those that took part were among the most marginalized of the community, the so-called "drag queens", transgender people, and gay and lesbian homeless youth.

Fifty years later, we live in a time where young people are freer to express their sexuality and identity. But being young and queer can still be a struggle.

Many schools and communities have groups that allow LGBTQ young people to find a sense of community.

HiTops - based in Princeton New Jersey - is one such program. Last month, they marched in the New Hope Pride Parad and we tagged along to get to know them.

Mason Jordine took part in the parade for the second time this year. He says "It's nice to be surrounded by a community of people who are just like you."

The 16-year-old came out in 7th grade. As for his parents? He says "They were not really surprised, but were so loving and accepting, and even today, continue to support me in every way possible."

Mason was among the hundreds of people at the New Hope Pride Parade, wearing pride flags as capes, on a day filled with sunny skies and hope. Groups like HiTops can mean more than a sense of belonging. For some, they can be life-saving.

The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people reported that 39 percent of LGBTQ youth surveyed have seriously considered suicide in the past twelve months. Nearly 1 in 5 LGBTQ youth attempted suicide in the past twelve months, with nearly 1 in 3 transgender and non-binary youth having tried to take their own life.

Ari Wish identifies as "bi and gender fluid". Some days Ari is more comfortable being seen as a man, other days as a woman. It's not always been easy.

They say "I think my mother is very sad about it, She feels like she's losing me. But I try to let them know I'm still the same person and I'm alright and they're working on it. They do love me a lot."

Twelve-year-old Maddie Dennis was among the young people taking part in the parade. She says "I always knew I wasn't exactly like the other girls. Over time I started getting crushes on people and realized that not all of them were boys. This confused me a lot so I thought there was something wrong with me."

Maddie found HiTops, and, even at her young age, she senses how important these groups are for kids like her.

She says "There's a lot of hatred in the world. Some parents aren't OK with what their kids identify as. So its really nice to know that there are other kids like them and that people will support them."

Ari has this advice for other young people who are struggling with coming out. They said, "There's a word for what you are and it's great."

Mason shares that sentiment, saying "Everybody's born the way they are for a reason. So be proud of it."

And Maddie offered this wisdom. She said "You are loved and there are going to be people out there like you. There is always going to be someone supporting you. No matter what, people are going to love you. It doesn't matter."

For more information about Hi-Tops, go to their website: https://www.hitops.org/. For more information about the Trevor Project and resources for LGBTQ+ youth: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/
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