Amid the divisiveness and post-election uncertainty permeating the country, next week’s Emery Awards benefiting the Hetrick-Martin Institute takes on magnified significance.
“What began as a one-room drop-in center more than three decades ago has today become the nation’s oldest and largest LGBTQ youth service provider with model health, education and social service programs. HMI’s best practices are replicated across the country,” said Rob Smith, chief product officer at Haddad Brands, which produces children’s apparel and accessories under the Levi’s, Nike, Jordan, Converse and Hurley labels.
Smith, along with activist and actor George Takei of “Star Trek” fame, will be honored at the Emery Awards on Wednesday at Cipriani Wall Street, in recognition of their contributions to the LGBTQ community and Hetrick-Martin Institute which serves LGBTQ youth. The event this year is themed “Help Me Imagine” to recognize brave and often abused youth who come to HMI seeking a better future, and to also recognize the movement for LGBTQ rights.
“Rob Smith has been an integral part of HMI’s remarkable growth for the last 10 years,” said Thomas Krever, chief executive officer of Hetrick-Martin Institute. “As well as growing the Emery Awards to its current scale as cochair, it was Smith’s vision and fortitude to expand HMI beyond the confines of New York into New Jersey and beyond, with the inception of our Center for Advocacy and Capacity Building. Pairing him with an icon like George Takei feels so right.”
Smith has been instrumental in raising more than $10 million to support HMI’s life-saving on-site services and programs. Before Haddad, Smith was executive vice president of merchandising for Victoria’s Secret and Macy’s. “All children should have the right to health care, education, supportive adults and a community that understands and embraces them,” said Takei, citing “the important and timely work” of Hetrick-Martin Institute. Takei made news recently when he responded to President-elect Donald Trump’s suggestion that flag burners be jailed by stating that he wouldn’t torch the flag though he supports the right of others who do. “I pledged allegiance to the flag every morning inside an internment camp. I would never burn one, but I’d die to protect the right to do so,” Takei wrote in a tweet. As a child he was in a Japanese internment camp with his family.
Last year, HMI provided more than 33,500 services to more than 2,400 at-risk youth, ages 13 to 24, and their families. According to HMI:
• Thirty percent of LGBTQ youth suffer physical violence at the hands of a family member after coming out.
• Twenty percent of HMI youth report being homeless, while 80 percent have transient housing situations.
• More than 80 percent are verbally harassed at school and 40 percent are physically harassed.
• LGBTQ youth are more than three times as likely to commit suicide; 36 percent of the young people at HMI made at least one suicide attempt before coming to the institute.