UTAH (ABC4) – In Utah, more than 100,000 people over the age of 13 identify as LGBTQIA+, according to the Movement Advancement Project. For children ages 10 to 17 and young adults ages 18 to 24, suicide is the leading cause of death in the state.
Children who identify as LGBTQIA+ are considered at higher risk. For that reason, an organization called Friends, Allies and Mentors (more commonly known as F.A.M.) is working to increase visibility, voice concerns and create a network of support for students and teachers.
“For some students, this could be life or death,” Bianca Mittendorf (she/her) told ABC4. Mittendorf formerly worked as a teacher and currently works at the Utah Education Association. She also has a leadership role at F.A.M.
Members of F.A.M., like Mittendorf, are working to create a safe space in Utah schools for LGBTQIA+ people.
“We are not a political group,” Alli Martin (she/her) stated. “We do exist to support teachers, parents and students. We will do our very best to ensure that our schools are protected and that they’re safe.” Martin, like Mittendorf, has a leadership role at F.A.M. She is also an educator with more than 20 years of experience in the classroom. Working closely with children (and their parents) who have struggled with their identity and fitting in with their classmates is the reason she became involved with the nonprofit.
According to the Utah Department of Health, suicide is the number one cause of death for people ages 10 to 17 as well as people ages 18 to 24 in the state of Utah. Advocates for the LGBTQIA+ people in Utah say youth within the community are at even higher risk than their peers.
“We’re not just talking about our high school students and our middle school students, but we’re talking about from kinder to sixth grade,” Bree Taylor-Lof (they/them) told ABC4. “Children who know intrinsically who they are and are struggling to find that acceptance and safe space to just exist.”
Taylor-Lof is an educator in Utah. Taylor-Lof told ABC4 that they have experienced the difficulties that come with being out in Utah public schools. They originally got involved with F.A.M. to meet other teachers living through similar experiences. However, they soon realized that being an active member of F.A.M. would also mean being able to enhance representation for students as well.
Leaders with F.AM. explained to ABC4 that the organization supports other LGBTQIA+ nonprofits in the state, provides resources for students, teachers and parents who may be struggling to fit in at Utah public schools and hosts socials every month for teachers and allies to meet one another and establish strong support groups and networks.
“I just learned throughout my career that our students really need to feel support and welcome in their schools, and that’s not happening organically,” Martin stated.
“We support our youth in schools and give voice to the struggles that they’re facing and the representation that they are so hungry for,” Taylor-Lof added.
The organization has been around for some time. However, as anti-LGBTQ legislation is passed or considered across the nation, F.A.M. believes speaking up is more important than ever.
“Just say, ‘This is not okay. I don’t agree to this. This is not how we’re going to treat one another; not on my watch,’” Mittendorf stated.