“It’s a little bit like waking up from a dream – or a nightmare – and realizing… you never really shut your eyes.” That is how one teenager here at HMI describes what the last year has felt like under what she describes as the “New Regime.”
That is why, now—more than ever—we need places like HMI. That is why now—more than ever—we must embrace the notion of PRIDE in ourselves while helping our LGBTQ youth to feel the same.
This past Monday, November 6th, HMI had an opportunity to celebrate its annual “Emery Awards Gala.” This event is meant to be a night of celebration and joy. This year, however, it was filled with messages of “resistance” and “resilience.” For some people it served as an opportunity to regroup; for others to commiserate; and for yet others, it was a chance to recommit to the work at hand. For all attendees though, there was a shared recognition that our community, our country – and our next generation of youth – are depending upon us.
The Emery’s this year focused on “Pride is…” and all that the word embodies and means to us.
Pride. A short, simple word—that when felt can sustain a life… and when absent… can make us feel helpless and alone.
Now, more than ever, we MUST as a community feel Pride: Pride for who we are as a person—as a people—as a community—as a movement.
After all… isn’t that what our young people expect from us? And isn’t that what our young people deserve?
As we enter a time of year filled with self-reflection and introspection, it seems that this year was filled with far more low points than high ones. We experienced the loss of great LGBTQ leaders who had personal and powerful relationships with our HMI team and the thousands of young people we serve. First, Gilbert Baker, who created the iconic rainbow flag which proudly and sometimes defiantly represents us as a people. Gilbert visited our youth many times and with each visit our youth were enraptured and renewed in their resolve to be “loud and proud.”
And then there is the indomitable Edie Windsor. All who were blessed to meet Edie saw not only what it means to feel pride—but to embody it. Edie lived her life unabashedly and in doing so, showed each of us that we MUST do the same. Edie was beloved by all our young people.
In acknowledging these two heroes, we must also remember others in the HMI Family whom we have lost. Unfortunately, PRIDE is neither accessible to—nor shared by—everyone. This past year, six young lives within the HMI Community ended far too soon—whether to suicide or violence. With vitriol emanating from the highest levels of our government this past year, enabling young people to experience the right to feel Proud of who they are has become a call to action that we as adults must safeguard vigilantly.
At the Emery’s this year there were three honorees. The first was the late Kevyn Aucoin whose legacy, like Gilbert’s and Edie’s, lives on. Kevyn’s light brought joy to many, and he empowered LGBTQ youth through his dedicated support of HMI, and he continues to inspire our young people.
HMI also recognized Oath, a media company that unites us as a community and carries the voices of our youth across the globe. Now, as our civil liberties are under attack, we are even more keenly aware and grateful for Oath’s work in helping connecting young people who have historically sought out our country as a bastion of liberty and freedom. Having Oath as a partner inspires feelings of loyalty, and even resistance, on a far greater scale then in the past.
HMI is grateful for their invitations to join them on “Huff Post Live” and share our stories (now feeling like our plights) so that the world could reflect upon the impact hatred has had on our nation’s most vulnerable; their employees participation in our volunteer days; and their highly personalized youth videos which—with their artistry woven throughout each youth story—take on a new gravitas that feels life-saving in this moment.
And while messages from Washington have focused on diminishing the promise of equality and threatening the existence of spaces to live our lives authentically, here in New York City, the resistance found a bastion of hope in local government leaders like our Mayor, our City’s First Lady and HMI’s third honoree— Melissa Mark-Viverito, Speaker of the New York City Council. Through her unwavering support of our city council initiative, “HMI GOES CITYWIDE FOR LGBTQ YOUTH”—created in partnership with the City Council LGBT Caucus and championed by Council Member Carlos Menchaca—the work of HMI has been able to expand to all corners of our city and has enabled government to help shift the way LGBTQ youth are served.
Our Speaker placed her trust in HMI and as our ally, provided unwavering and unyielding support for our work because she FULLY UNDERSTANDS how critical it is that all New Yorkers—and all people—feel proud to be who they are and to know they have full access to all the incredible opportunities afforded them here in New York City, the greatest city on earth.
As I conclude, I must also say that Pride Is You. If a society is judged by how it cares for its most vulnerable and at-risk—or as I like to say, its most “at-promise”—citizens, then the notion and action of PRIDE cannot happen without you, the reader, being actively engaged in making it so. The fact that you are reading this piece demonstrates that you not only “get it,” but are willing to do something about it—even when the world beyond us is telling us otherwise.
Showing up—and standing up—for the next generation is what PRIDE is really all about. This is the PRIDE we must embrace. This is the PRIDE we must continue to celebrate and—most importantly—share with our nation’s young people.
See more photos below.