'My Family Kicked Me Out for Being Gay'

"My family kicked me out for being gay."

It's one of the most common statements we hear when a young adult first contacts the Hetrick-Martin Institute, the nation's oldest and largest nonprofit organization that provides life-saving services to at-risk LGBTQ youth ages 13 to 24. In fact, about 80 percent of HMI youth are homeless or lack secure housing, most often because of family rejection for identifying as LGBTQ. At HMI, we have been caring for these young people for the past 35 years; it is at the core of what we do.

At HMI, we serve more than 2,000 LGBTQ youth and their straight allies annually, providing services such as hot meals, clothing, showers and laundry, and homelessness outreach in New York City as well as in Newark, New Jersey. In addition, HMI services include on-site HIV/STI testing, high-school equivalency and SAT preparation, college scholarships, job readiness, arts and cultural programming and a supportive community that fosters positive emotional development.

And yet we know that providing such comprehensive services to LGBTQ young people on-site is simply not enough; we recognize that there are so many young people in need who are beyond our geographic reach. Consequently, HMI has made it a priority to share our best practices with others, both nationally and around the world. Our newest initiative, the Center for LGBTQ Youth Advocacy and Capacity Building, offers training and best practices to other organizations and government agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The goals of the Center are twofold: 1) to empower groups and individuals with the skills necessary to care for their own LGBTQ youth, and 2) to educate leaders and decision makers so that they can make wiser, more informed and inclusive policies that improve the lives of all constituents and all people. In the last year alone, through our partnership with the U.S. State Department and USAID, HMI trained governmental employees, advocates and NGO leaders from Bulgaria, Slovenia, Macedonia, Cyprus, Argentina, Brazil and beyond as well as over half a thousand service providers throughout the State of New York.

Today, Nov. 12, at our 2014 Emery Awards, we will be celebrating not only our 35-year history but HMI's new Center and its outreach to the world. We will be honoring some of our own home-grown "Legends" who have demonstrated outstanding leadership within the LGBTQ community: Dr. Joyce Hunter, a founding member of HMI and co-founder of the Harvey Milk School; David Mensah, HMI Executive Director from 2002 to 2007, having ensured the expansion of the Harvey Milk School into a fully Department of Education-accredited, diploma-granting transfer high school; and Orville Bell, an inaugural teacher at Harvey Milk High School and Director of After School Programs and Education Services at HMI. These individuals, alongside other honorees including eight-time Grammy award winner Fergie, New York Times bestselling author Andrew Tobias and Wells Fargo, have truly made the world a better place for LGBTQ youth.

We will also recognize the members of the LGBT Caucus of the New York City Council who offer continuing and unwavering support for HMI's mental-health services, strong advocacy for anti-bullying measures in schools, vital programs and services that address the scourge of homelessness among LGBTQ youth, and so much more.

In sum, acknowledging the incredible progress the LGBTQ community has made in recent years and the extraordinary impact that HMI has had in the lives of LGBTQ youth, there is still more work to be done, and the future success of HMI's mission rests in the hands of the next generation. Whether you're a young person in need of our services or an LGBTQ advocate interested in supporting our cause, you can visit to learn more, or follow the Hetrick-Martin Institute on Facebook and @HetrickMartin on Twitter and Instagram. For the past 35 days leading up to the 2014 Emery Awards, we've been sharing inspiring stories and photos from our 35-year history using the hashtag #HMI35, and we welcome and encourage you to join the conversation.

Together, we can help ensure that no young person ever has to say, "My family kicked me out for being gay."