One of the truly remarkable and legendary figures in the battle for LGBT rights and against HIV/AIDS is today’s guest writer. Herb Hamsher is simply a great leader. He is a person from whom I seek advice, go to for healing and respect as a very special teacher. Herb sees like with unique clarity - he can go to the heart of a matter and bring the truth out of it.
Today, he writes about the importance of the Point Foundation where he serves on the Board of Directors. The foundation is one of his great passions. He believes it is our moral obligation to not only mentor our LGBT youth for tomorrow but to make sure that they understand their history.
For the last twenty years, Herb has also worked with Judith Light, a celebrated actress and activist for human rights and HIV/AIDS issues. With his partner, Jonathan Stoller, Herb has managed the careers Judith and her husband, actor Robert Desiderio. The four of them have a production company, Tetrahedron Productions, which is the home of Herb’s current activities as a producer. His producing credits include the CBS television movies, Too Close to Home, A Husband, A Wife, and A Lover, and Murder At My Door. He also created and was a producer on Judith Light’s short-lived CBS series, The Simple Life. With Jonathan, he served as executive producer of Jimmy Bolton’s film, The Graffiti Artist.
Herb was also one of the producers on the recently completed feature length film Save Me starring Judith Light, Robert Gant and Chad Allen.
The Point Foundation and Our Future
by Herb Hamsher
For the sixth year, Point Foundation has completed its exhaustive process of winnowing through hundreds of applications from a nationwide pool of LGBT young people. Shortly, Point will announce a new group of 38 scholarship recipients, all of whom display impressive potential to become leaders not only of our community but beyond and who have direct experience of the way LGBT people in this country are marginalized. Looking at this group can allow everyone to have a degree more faith in our future.
For everyone involved in the process of selecting our Scholars, two reactions have become predictable. First, it is impossible to avoid being nearly overwhelmed with how impressive and inspiring these young people are. The feats of leadership they have already accomplished are amazing, while at the same time dealing with extraordinary challenges that would destroy lesser humans, plus maintaining nothing short of a superior academic record. Second, it is equally impossible to avoid being awestruck once again at the level of insensitivity, rejection, marginalization, and violence LGBT people are exposed to in the “normal” process of growing up an American. Most painfully, we are witness to how often the source of that abuse is the families of young people who in reality are some of this country’s treasures. Parents make an active choice to functionally discard their children rather than even considering the possibility of attempting to change their own beliefs!
At Point, we often talk of an observation made many years ago by my partner, Jonathan Stoller, that the LGBT community is a distinctive minority. We are perhaps the only example of a minority born into a family that does not share our identity. If one is a member of an ethnic minority, one looks around the family and sees everyone else just like you. As you mature, your family understands what you experience in the world and teaches you how to navigate not only the challenges but the opportunities. Many of us in the LGBT community, however, grow up thinking we are the only one like us who exists in the world. And it is often the family and our religions, the “normal” sources of support and nurturing, who teach us that we are sick and/or sinful.
Point Scholars are not only given financial support; they are also given hope, leadership training to support them realizing their potential, as well as individualized mentoring. Each is assigned at least one “older person” who can serve as a source of support, guidance, and encouragement.
Each summer Point has a Leadership Conference which is attended by all Scholars and members of the national Board. As Point has evolved, we have become accustomed to our Scholars expressing their astonishment at finding themselves for the very first time in their lives in the company of people older than them who have grown up gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or transgender just as they have. They are fascinated to hear the stories of an older generation, with all their uniqueness as well as their universalities. In the process, they discover that they are, in fact, a part of a community, one that collectively as well as individually has a rich and admirable history.
Point Foundation is proud to be building a cross-generational community where LGBT young people can relate to their elders as naturally and as comfortably as young people from other minorities have always been able to do.
The final stage of our selection process involves a face to face interview. After our recent interviews, our Executive Director, Jorge Valencia, chatted with a young man who had completed his interview. When Jorge said, “So that wasn’t all that bad, was it?” the young man replied, “No, not really. It is just that it was almost overwhelming to me to look around that table and realize there was a whole group of adults who were totally accepting of me and were there for no reason but to give me support. I have never experienced anything like that before.”
The discovery that comes from being a part of Point is that putting one’s resources and energy into developing the potential of our youth leads to the realization that we have at least as much emotional connection to the community of our identity as we have for our biological families, for some – even more. In fact, being a part of actively building a community that spans generations and has not only a past but a future, inspires the kind of passion and pride that some of us have not experienced since we linked arms with our brothers and sisters and stood up to a hostile and condemning government, and country, that turned their backs on us when we were struck by the tragedy of the AIDS pandemic.