Until There Is Acceptance

Article excerpt

Recreation and social activities empower gay and lesbian youth to overcome the shame and self-hatred society places on them.

An estimated 7.2 million gay and lesbian youth in the United States are rejected, ostracized, abused, condemned, and victimized. (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1992). The resulting stigmatization and isolation put many of these youth at risk for dropping out (or being run out) of school, becoming pregnant, losing their homes, abusing alcohol and drugs, getting AIDS, or attempting suicide (Anderson, 1990; Martin, 1982; Grossman, 1994; Remafedi, 1994). Cultural, ethnic, and familial support disappear in the face of homosexuality, leaving gay and lesbian youth to experience prejudice, name-calling, discrimination, and violence (Martin, 1982; Savin-Williams & Rodriguez, 1993). Until there is acceptance of such youth by mainstream institutions, there is the need for special services. In New York City, these at-risk youth rely on the Hetrick-Martin Institute, Inc. (HMI).

About HMI: Yesterday and Today

HMI was founded in 1979 as an advocacy organization. A 1982 needs survey among New York service providers found that gay and lesbian youth were poorly served, if at all, by mainstream institutions. Therefore, in 1983, with a small grant, HMI developed direct services for these youth. Over the next decade, HMI experienced tremendous growth, and its current annual operating budget is more than $2 million, with funds coming from city and state agencies, foundations, corporations, and private contributions. It has also launched a $2.5 million capital campaign.

HMI has more than 40 staff members serving more than 1,500 lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth between the ages of 12 and 21 each year. An additional 6,000 young people request information or receive telephone counseling nation-wide, and more than 4,000 youth, parents, and professionals participate in its training programs. Forty-five percent of HMI's members are African American, 35 percent are Hispanic, 15 percent are Caucasian, and 5 percent are Native American, Asian, and other ethnicities, which reflect the percentages of diverse youth in the New York City Public High Schools.

HMI focuses on creating an environment in which lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth can experience adolescence without the fear and pain that arise from society's homophobia. Its goals are to provide services to help youth understand their feelings, enhance self-esteem, diminish isolation, develop social and leisure skills, build peer friendships, prevent HIV infection, and prepare for jobs and careers (Hetrick & Martin, 1987; Martin & Hetrick, 1987; Hetrick-Martin Institute, 1991).

Program planning and development at HMI revolve around the processes of assessment, planning, implementation, and evaluation. Individual assessment begins with a life history questionnaire focusing on family, health, school, social/sexual activities, interpersonal relationships, and leisure behaviors. The next step focuses on achieving readiness for direct services, where the processes of assessment and planning continue for individuals and groups through observation, interviews, discussion, and discussion meetings. Service delivery is implemented through selected leadership styles and skills, and evaluation of individual and program outcomes is obtained through supervisory sessions, interdisciplinary team meetings, and evaluation conferences.

HMI's direct services include an after-school drop-in/recreation center; the Harvey Milk School, an alternative high school; Project First Step, an outreach program; individual, group, family, and leisure counseling; peer education; training programs for youth and professionals; a job skills internship program; and a national advocacy coalition. …