I grew up in Baltimore and fled to New York City — to the city of Stonewall, the promise of Greenwich Village — because my community wasn’t safe for me. Sadly, every year an estimated 600,000 young people are driven out of homes and communities. Many run to urban centers with large LGBTQ communities, arriving like refugees. They need the basics: housing, jobs, food. But mostly they need asylum.
I drove up I-95 in a large moving truck with upholstered furniture, a degree from Goucher College and a comfortable check book. But a fellow escapee in 1979 — a 15-year-old homeless boy — was not so lucky. He was beaten and kicked out of an emergency shelter for being gay. When a friend of mine, psychologist Damien Martin, and his partner, psychiatrist Emery Hetrick, heard about that, they were furious.
So they founded the Institute for the Protection of Lesbian and Gay Youth, now called the Hetrick-Martin Institute. Forty-three years later the homeless LGTBQ kids still come. Last year Hetrick-Martin served youth from 38 states, providing education, mental health services, job readiness coaching, and that most precious asset of all — human understanding.
We seem to have a real dearth of human understanding right now. Here in Maryland, Heather Fletcher, a candidate for Frederick County Board of Education, went to her local library and saw a display of books for Gay Pride. Concerned that seeing the titles of these books could harm children she removed all of the books by checking them out. What’s next, removing Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, Langston Hughes, Virginia Wolfe, James Baldwin? A local organization called Save Our Schools Maryland is pushing against state health education standards. Explains Save Our Schools Maryland candidate Steve Whisler, seeking a seat on the Carroll County Board of Education, we need to keep “sexual issues and sexual controversies out of classrooms.”
But making students aware that not everyone is heterosexual isn’t a controversy. It’s a fact. Some of the children taking health education classes are LGBTQ, or like my children, have LGBTQ parents or family members. In Idaho, recently, 31 white nationalists from Patriot Front attempted to disrupt a Pride celebration. Fox News supercharges this sex panic hogwash and every right-winger brandishes the word du jour — “groomer.”
History is repeating itself. This is exactly what was done in the 1970s and 1980s when the gay rights movement was gaining momentum and our opponents were desperate to defeat us with lies. Explains historian Marie-Amelie George from Wake Forest University in a recent report by FiveThirtyEight, “The religious right really modernized and repackaged that claim in the late 70s and early 80s to be that gays and lesbians cannot reproduce, so they have to recruit.”
I have been a lifelong gay activist but I have failed miserably to recruit. My 23-year-old son, a former captain of the Towson High School football team, The Generals, has remained persistently, annoyingly heterosexual. This despite all the time he and his many football-playing, girl-chasing friends have spent with me, including church dinners, birthday parties and football brunches. In fact, the only grooming I’ve succeeded in, is impressing upon my oldest son the importance of telling his dry cleaner to medium starch his business shirts.
I can’t help but suspect that all those people campaigning to “Stop the Groomers!” and “Save Our Schools” are the very people sending the next generation of LGBTQ young refugees fleeing for their lives. Not to worry though. Hetrick-Martin will be there for them. We take care of our own and that is not going to change.
Nancy A.F. Langer has worked on four continents for humanitarian causes, including Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the National Coalition Against Censorship She is a former president of the Hetrick-Martin Board. She can be reached at: email@example.com.