Empower Wisconsin | Jan. 18, 2023
By M.D. Kittle
TrevorSpace bills itself as an affirming place for LGBTQ young people. Several Wisconsin school districts encourage their students to check out the site.
But is the social networking site little more than an online dating community putting kids as young as 13 at risk of sexual exploitation?
An Empower Wisconsin review of TrevorSpace finds the site allows children and adults (strangers) to communicate directly, while encouraging discussions of human sexuality, sexual attraction, and sexual fetishes.
Children frequently share personal information with unknown adults, including their physical locations, social-media usernames or handles, and other methods of contact.
TrevorSpace is an arm of The Trevor Project, “a suicide prevention organization that provides support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) youth.” The Trevor Project describes the social networking site as “an affirming, online community for LGBTQ young people between the ages of 13-24 years old.” It boasts more than 400,000 members worldwide. TrevorSpace allows kids to “explore your identity, get advice, find support, and make friends in a moderated community…”
But read the terms and conditions. TrevorSpace does not assume responsibility for monitoring activities on the website, although it can remove content that goes against the code of conduct.
One of the most popular subforums on TrevorSpace appears to be “Finding Friends: Connections (Under 18 only).” As of Empower Wisconsin’s review, the subforum had more than 800,000 posts, millions of views, and it targeted minors. The most popular threads include those titled, “Find People In Your Area,” “Find Someone From Your State,” “Drop a Pic See Who Likes You,” and “Gay Panic?!? Send a picture to see who finds you hot!!”
While the chat room is supposed to be for children under 18, any user, regardless of age, may participate in “Finding Friends.” The review found adults responding directly to children and, in many cases, they discuss physical locations and details on how to engage in further private communications.
Adults also attempt to communicate directly with children using other social media platforms.
“(W)hat socials do you all happen to have?” a child writes. Two adults (ages 18-25) then respond with invitations (“it would be amazing”) and (“I only have snap[chat] rn”). A child responds to the adults with the comment “ME! YES! PLS! I send u a friend request my disc[ord] is ____.”
The adults on TrevorSpace seem to know the age limitations and attempt to evade them. In one case, an adult from Wisconsin repeatedly attempted to connect with minor children through other means, explaining that private messages on TrevorSpace are limited because “u being under 18.”
Conversations on TrevorSpace between adults and children appear to be largely related to sexuality, sexual attraction, and sexual fettishes. In one instance, an adult posts on a thread with children about sexual attraction in response to a post titled, “What’s your preference in men/women/enbies? (non-binary)”
Adults on TrevorSpace also create their own subforums to attract children. In one subforum, — “Does anyone actually want to be friends here?” — multiple children responded to the inquiry and then were approached by adults.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, offers numerous resources and guidelines for Internet safety. None of the safety materials supports the idea that children should interact online with adults and discuss sexuality, locations, and methods of private communications.
Yet, at least seven Wisconsin school districts encourage their students to check out TrevorSpace.
“TrevorSpace is a social networking site for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) youth under 25 and their friends and allies,” the Monona Grove School District promotes on its Student Services page.
Madison and Sun Prairie school districts promote TrevorSpace as a place to “Start meeting LGBTQ friends today! TrevorSpace is an affirming international community for LGBTQ young people ages 13-24. Sign up and start a conversation.”
The small Pepin School District in Northwest Wisconsin includes a link to TrevorSpace on its website, describing it as an “online international peer to peer community for LGBTQ young people and their friends.”
Jefferson, Deforest and the Trevor-Wilmot Consolidated Grade School District also promote TrevorSpace as a resource for kids.
“Schools’ top priority should be to keep our kids safe. It is outrageous that public school officials would encourage students to engage online with adults to discuss human sexuality,” said Cory Brewer, Associate Counsel at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL).
“Parents should demand that this practice stops immediately.”
Empower Wisconsin reached out to district officials at Monona Grove and Sun Prairie schools. They had not returned requests for comment as of publication.
Neither had officials from TrevorSpace.
Tim LeMonds, spokesman for the Madison Metropolitan School District, said MMSD’s listing of TrevorSpace “is purposeful as MMSD views the site as a viable option for LGBTQIA+ students to connect with other young people who may have experienced the same barriers or situations, and get advice from peers on the topics most relevant to them.” LeMonds said the district also views TrevorSpace no differently than any other social media platform such as Facebook, Instagram, snapchat and Twitter.
“Safety is always a top priority, and being a safe digital citizen is something MMSD encourages its students to be,” he said. “The adherent risks that all social media can present is something our schools regularly work to inform our students about, in addition to encouraging family conversations around social media safety. This includes parents being aware of their students’ social media use.”
The Milwaukee-based WILL has been on the front lines of the battle for parental rights in woke schools, including its defense of Kiel eighth-graders under investigation for using “incorrect” pronouns. WILL’s website includes a Parent Resources page, with a TrevorSpace Letter Template. Parents can use the letter to submit their concerns to school districts.
Others have raised questions and concerns about potential sexual exploitation of children on TrevorSpace.
Nicole Neily, president and founder of Parents Defending Education, said polling in September by her organization found parents are concerned about the role that technology plays in their children’s lives. Sites like TrevorSpace confirm their worst fears, Neily said.
“Schools assert that they act in loco parentis — ‘in place of the parents’ — yet when educators promote outlets like this as ‘resources,’ it is a betrayal of that sacred responsibility,” she said.
“The predatory website features various ‘clubs’ that kids can join, where they are able to discuss their sexual identities with hundreds of other kids and adults,” Gays Against Groomers writes. “One of these clubs is called ‘Furries’, designed for people who are attracted to anthropomorphic animals.”
“They also have clubs centered around BDSM and kink. An adult guiding a child and teaching them how to participate in their fetish is grooming and should never be tolerated in any circumstance,” the piece continues. “It is insulting that a website like this is marketed as a resource for “LGBTQIA+ young adults.”
In California, parents and teachers asked law enforcement to investigate the Trevor Project and TrevorSpace.
Celeste Fiehler, head of the Moms For Liberty chapter in Riverside County, told The Epoch Times that she researched the site after learning the Desert Sands Unified School District was promoting it to elementary students on its website.
“I took a deep dive into the site, and my findings, I believe, are consistent with predators in chatrooms with minor children, which opens dangerous doors to child trafficking, children being exploited, grooming and missing children,” she told the publication.
Fiehler’s complaint was assigned a case number, a public information officer for the Sheriff’s Department told The Epoch Times, but “the case, however, has been closed.”
Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco told the publication his anti-human trafficking team investigated the complaint but found no criminal behavior in the chatrooms.
Some of the Wisconsin school districts websites suggest TrevorSpace may be related to suicide prevention. It’s not. TrevorSpace’s own website explicitly states that it is “not designed to provide individualized suicide prevention therapy or crisis intervention.”
It is designed for children to meet “friends.”