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  • Kasturi Goswami

The Trevor Project Encapsulates Riley, An AI Trainer To Aid Distressed LGBTQ Youths

On the day of 1998, when the Oscar-winning film Trevor's TV premiere aired on HBO, the filmmakers Peggy Rajski, Randy Stone, and James Celeste Lecesne launched the world's first national crisis intervention and suicide prevention lifeline for LGBTQ+ youth in the U.S.

Cr: YouTube

Set in 1981, Trevor follows the story of the namesake protagonist, a 13-year-old boy unsure of his sexual orientation. Trevor is a huge Diana Ross fan and has a crush on one of his guy schoolmates. This sends him spinning, questioning his sexuality and identity. As his crush gets discovered, his family and friends shun him. Agitated, he tries to commit suicide. However, he survives and finds an unexpected friend in the nurse who cares for him and eventually helps Trevor accept himself as he is.

The Trevor Project was an attempt to help prevent the rampant suicide attempts amongst U.S. LGBTQ youths under 25. According to their survey, 40% of LGBTQ youth respondents have seriously considered suicide in the past six months. A 48% report indulging in self-harm rituals, and 46% report not getting the mental help they need.

The organization works tirelessly as a 24/7 online digital chat support viz. TrevorChat and TrevorText, with over 700 counselors. The counselor trainees undergo intensive 40 hours of training: learning about gender and sexuality issues, crises such as bullying and self-harm, clinical suicide risk assessments, and communication techniques.

Amit Paley, the current CEO, and Executive Director, has admitted to associations with to develop a crisis contact simulator AI that will aid these counselor training programs. The AI dubbed Riley apes human behavior and provides an authentic life experience counseling troubled youths.

Riley is a fictional queer character from North Carolina who is anxious and depressed. His coming-out plans did not go well with his friends, while despite having a supportive family, he fears being tagged as a freak. He has had suicidal thoughts in the past, but not at present. The chatbot is trained to emulate the vocabulary of teenagers of LGBTQ+ demography; also to accommodate varied controversial inputs from trainees undergoing crisis management technique applications. Human staff members later debrief sessions to study the manuscripts with the trainee responses.

At present, Riley is assisting in developing more characters to increase the range of training. This is the first-ever conversational AI used to train frontline counselors, thus a significant step towards revolutionizing online chat support. Though crisis management isn't addressed to the ultimate degree as expected, Riley is definitely a tremendous change. Incorporating AI to condition human decision-making and aiding in training creates better professionals.


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