News Column

Bergen Native Honored for His Work That Led to Youth Hotline

May 27, 2013



They don't give you awards for phoning it in.

In fact, Hasbrouck Heights native James Lecesne is being honored by the North Jersey mental health organization CarePlus New Jersey because of the other people who have phoned in.

Some 35,000 each year, on average.

That's the number of calls the Trevor Project, a 24-hour crisis line for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth, has gotten annually since it began in 1998 as a direct outgrowth of Lecesne's Oscar-winning movie short "Trevor."

"To me, the real heroes are the counselors on the Trevor Project," says Lecesne, who is being honored Wednesday. "They're the ones on the front lines."

It all began 20 years ago, in 1993, when Lecesne, an actor/ writer with a long resume (appearances in Broadway's "The Best Man" and "Cloud Nine," writing credits on "Will & Grace"), created an off- Broadway solo show called "Word of Mouth." Lecesne himself played a variety of characters. One of them was a 13-year-old kid, Trevor, whose sexual identity issues come to a crisis in a suicide attempt.

This was decades before the Tyler Clemente tragedy, and the "It Gets Better" project, made gay teen suicide a front-page issue. But Lecesne, who grew up in Hasbrouck Heights and went to high school at St. Joseph's Regional in Montvale, knew a thing or two from personal experience.

"When I was growing up, there wasn't a single gay person in my world," he says. "There wasn't anybody on TV, there wasn't anybody in school that I knew of. It's a little-known fact, but I was the only gay person in the entire world. It's a very lonely existence."

That show "Word of Mouth" was seen by producers Peggy Rajski and Randy Stone, who viewed the Trevor episode, in particular, as ideal fodder for a short film. "Trevor," directed by Rajski, and with Brett Barsky in the title role (Lecesne, then in his 30s, would have been a little old to play a 13-year-old on screen) went on to win a 1995 Academy Award for Best Live Action Short.

Lecesne wasn't in Los Angeles for the ceremony; "Word of Mouth," picked up and produced by show business legends Mike Nichols and Elaine May, had by then been moved to upper Broadway's Promenade Theatre, where it won both the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle awards.

But Lecesne well remembers the excitement of watching the awards at a friend's house in New York.

"I got more telephone calls than I ever received in my whole life," Lecesne says. "It's incredible how powerful it was."

That was nothing compared to the impact the movie had on Aug. 15, 1998, when it was shown on HBO - introduced by newly out celebrity Ellen Degeneres, and with a phone number for a newly created hotline: the Trevor Project.

"That night, we got over 1,500 calls," Lecesne says.

"We offered a life-to-life connection for young people out there who were struggling with their sexual identity, or anything really, who felt alone and didn't have anyone to talk to."

The service has continued, 24/7, ever since. And Lecesne has been happy to see the climate of the country change in the 15 years since the hotline was launched.

"I think one of the things that is so inspirational is to see the country step up and say they don't want the climate to be so bad for kids any more," Lecesne says.

"No matter what our religious beliefs, we can all agree that life is valuable, and we don't want kids to kill themselves."

To reach the Trevor Project: call 866-488-7386 or visit

To see the film "Trevor," visit: trevor-video_60809064f.html

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