Youth First Texas leader Sam Wilkes speaks from experience about the struggles of gay teens

Sam Wilkes speaks during the safe schools rally in Lake Cliff Park on Friday.

Sam Wilkes is development director and the only paid staff member at Youth First Texas.

On Sunday he appeared on Lambda Weekly to talk about bullying and how groups like YFT can help.

Wilkes said an estimated one-third to on- half of teen suicide attempts are by LGBTQ youth.

The Centers for Disease Control lists suicide as the third leading cause of death of people ages 15 to 24, just behind accidents and homicide. More than 4,000 young people commit suicide every year — that’s one every two hours.

According to estimates, 100 to 200 attempts are made for every actual suicide.

On Friday, at a rally in Lake Cliff Park in Oak Cliff to support safe schools, Wilkes spoke about the youth who attend YFT.

“These are youth who are marginalized and have no other place to turn,” he said. “In fact many of them are homeless because they feel they are safer on the streets than they are in their own homes.”

On Lambda Weekly, Wilkes told his own story and talked about why he’s so passionate about helping other young people.

When he was 18, Wilkes’ mother asked him whether he was gay. Although Wilkes knew he was different from the time he was 12, he wasn’t ready to come out. So he gave his mother an answer that was ambiguous and non-committal.

The next day, his mother handed him a letter that said he was no longer welcome in the house.

Wilkes was fortunate because he already had a job working at a restaurant. He had friends who let him crash on their sofa for several months until he could save enough for an apartment. On his own, he managed to finish school. To this day, he said, his relationship with his parents is nonexistent.

But not all youth are even as fortunate as he was, he said. He called his job at Youth First Texas the best opportunity anyone could have.

Wilkes said more than half of youth at YFT have contemplated or attempted suicide before coming to the center. But after they become involved at YFT and meet other LGBTQ youth, depression and risky behavior decreases tremendously.

—  David Taffet