At Hetrick-Martin Institute, the nation’s oldest and largest non-profit service provider focused on serving LGBTQ youth, we know resilience when we see it. In the financial and risk industries, building resilience is about helping companies or governments achieve success in an ever-changing world of challenges. When it comes to building resilience among young people, the strategies might look different, but the results — clients that thrive — are very much the same.

40% of homeless youth identify at lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT), yet LGBT youth represent only an estimated 7% of all youth in the US. Why are the numbers so high for LGBT young people and what can we do to help?  While there are many, often compounding, reasons that youth experience homelessness, family rejection is the leading cause among LGBTQ youth. Over 30% of LGBTQ youth reported being kicked out of their homes when they came out and many face negative reactions from their families and communities.

Looking to the the broader world outside of home: discrimination, rejection, and violence against LGBTQ youth persists. When asked, the majority of young people reported witnessing acts of violent discrimination towards LGBTQ people at school. When it comes to safe working environments, over 90% of transgender people asked reported experiencing discrimination in the work place. The data gives us examples of the challenges and shows that these challenges exist for LGBTQ youth across many different environments. What is needed is a two-pronged approach to meet the immediate needs of young people and meet the need for systemic change to make environments safer and more inclusive for LGBTQ youth.

Emery Hetrick and Damien Martin, founders of Hetrick-Martin Institute, set out to tackle both when they heard the personal story of a young man who was assaulted and kicked out of his group home for being gay. They immediately recognized that self-realization starts with safety. A young person needs to feel safe before they’ll sit and have a bite to eat, before they can pause to talk about their day, before they can look around and evaluate their life goals. So we start with safety. We create safe spaces for youth to be themselves, to explore themselves, to questions themselves, to access safe housing, to have a hot meal, to seek legal and medical support, to learn to read, to learn to add, to learn what life has to offer. But beyond the walls of a safe space, how does one bring change into the world? Advocacy.

Being able to present, share and discuss discordant points of view is the heart of social progress. HMI teaches its young people to self-advocate on the interpersonal level and also on the systemic level. There are government officials and state institutions ready to learn, ready to talk, and ready to expand the ways they serve us, we the people… we the people need to build up the tools we are giving to the next generation to build safer and more supportive communities, that won’t reject or forget those who are different or “other.”

Including all-too-often marginalized young people in the conversation, we can begin to shift the paradigm, recognizing the historically described voices of the oppressed as the powerful leaders of tomorrow, the voices of the resilient. That is why honoring our leaders and visionaries at galas and luncheons, like the WOMEN WHO LEAD event on April 28th, where we will be honoring Erika Karp and Fern Mallis, are so important. The bravery and intention that moves us forward as a society needs to be celebrated to give our young people something to work towards and something to aspire to… proof that being tenacious and resilient and taking steps towards change can lead to so much more than the next step, and it can lead to more than career success, it can lead to a stronger community and better society for all of us.

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Ross Schwartz is a recognized New York public relations professional, LGBTQ activist and advocate for social justice. He serves as the Communications Director at Hetrick-Martin Institute.