I remember what it was like as a teen while I was coming to terms with my homosexuality. I grew up in the Bronx, an area that wasn't (and still isn't) exactly the gay-friendliest of places. I dealt with my fair share of teasing from the neighborhood kids, which caused me to be even more petrified about admitting that I was gay. Basically, it was a terrible time for me. I was saved when my mother moved us out of the Bronx and into a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan's West Village during my senior year of high school. I went from being in a homophobic environment to living in one of the gayest neighborhoods in the five boroughs. Our move helped with my coming-out process, and even though it was an experience that was not without its rough patches, it was liberating.
Coming out is not an easy experience for any teenager to deal with. I was lucky to have had a group of friends whom I could identify with during that period. My mother was also there, and though she did have some initial difficulty accepting that I was gay, she never turned her back on me. There are many LGBT youth who aren't as fortunate. Some experience a lack of support from their loved ones, and others are even faced with homelessness. There are organizations that can provide them with the support systems that they need, and here in New York the Ali Forney Center and the Hetrick-Martin Institute are invaluable resources to these kids. Both of these organizations were affected by Hurricane Sandy and have been scrambling to get operations back to where they were prior to the storm. Ali Forney's drop-in center in Chelsea was badly damaged and became uninhabitable. This location offered services and programs to many newly homeless LGBT youth, and it is a huge loss for the organization. Hetrick-Martin was forced to reschedule the Emery Awards, an event that also serves as an annual fundraiser, and had to shut down for a week due to loss of power in lower Manhattan.
As both of these nonprofits move forward, they are working to find solutions to the adversity that they are now dealing with. Ali-Forney has set up a temporary location at the LGBT Center, located at 208 West 13th Street, while they ready a new 24-hour drop-in center that will open in uptown Manhattan several months down the road. Hetrick-Martin has announced a new date for the 2012 Emery Awards (a scaled-back cocktail party that will take place on Dec. 11, 2012), and is in the process of getting its programs up and running again. Both organizations are in need of donations from the public so that they can continue meeting the demands of serving New York's LGBT youth.
The cold weather that comes along with winter can make it difficult for those who are in need to track down resources. Factor in the upcoming holiday season, a time when most of us are celebrating with loved ones, and it can be a sad time of the year for displaced or disadvantaged kids. I can't imagine what it must be like to experience anything like this. Admittedly, my teenage years were not the best, but I always had the love of my family, as well as a roof over my head. As we get ready to plan Thanksgiving dinners and compile our holiday shopping lists, we should keep in mind those who are in need and do what we can to lend a helping hand. If you spend money on a daily latte at Starbucks or meet up with friends for happy hour, take a moment to calculate your weekly beverage allowance. Then multiply that by three or four weeks. Think about what that money can do for Ali Forney and Hetrick-Martin. I don't think it would kill any of us to drink regular brewed coffee or cut back on the cocktails in an effort to assist these organizations with their mission to provide for LGBT kids.
I've had my fair share of struggles and adversity in life. Always being mindful of those times gives me a level of appreciation for all that I have now. It's that gratitude that makes me want to help out and make a difference. I will be donating to both organizations and doing whatever I can to draw awareness to the great work that they do. Who's with me?
Follow Justin Hernandez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/HernandezJustin