In 1992, I was houseless and 18 years old. Prior, I struggled in high school, being outed by bullies and a lack of support from anyone. I didn’t see other students get that treatment, but I’m sure it existed. The rules in school were dances had to be attended as a “couple”, and the couple had to be opposite genders. The school district had a policy that “homosexual sexuality” was not to be spoken about in health classes.
I grew up in a home, the majority of my life, with an undiagnosed, severely mentally ill parent. While houseless, I worked small jobs with a hope to find a place to live. I became malnourished, weak and jaundice. A friend snuck me into her dorm while I recovered. Eventually, I found a small apartment in Chelsea. I lied about my age to get a better job and started learning about urban environmentalism. I hauled soil on the subway some days and some days I drove huge trucks with trees for planting on rooftops.
I struggled with trauma, major anxiety, sexual orientation and gender identity. I sought out help because I knew that’s what I needed. I found HMI and a counselor that I met with weekly. She was kind and I liked speaking to someone older who was queer. It was safe in Astor Place. There was a locked elevator into the building. I would walk by other youngsters playing pool, doing art or watching TV.
I used to get a subway token when I left. That made me feel so cared for. To me, HMI was the place where the expression was not without judgement and I became more comforted by who I was, rather than feeling like I was less than. It wasn’t easy work to do.
In those days the outlets for queer folks were bars, drugs and folks preying on you. I was lucky to have a place to go weekly where that was not the way to be myself. I cherished the bookstore visit beforehand and being relaxed in a space with folks that cared. I was staying alive.
Eventually I left NYC and moved to New England on a whim. The woman at HMI had phone therapy sessions with me for a couple of months even when I left. She kindly let me find time to transition to a new counselor.
I’ve explained to some friends along the way how lucky I was to have HMI as a resource. I still work with trees, soil and my heart is committed to environmentalism. I wound up going to college to study soil science and plant pathology. I don’t know where that counselor is or if she’s still living but she was the first adult to show respect. Without intent I have given that gift back to youngsters by supporting them.
Last year I spoke at a Pride for the first time in my life. I brought my Stonewall 25 baseball hat and spoke of NYC. Truly. Cliche. I wouldn’t be here today without any of you. This year Suffield, Connecticut asked if I would organize their Pride festivities. We were the only non-corporate funded pride in Connecticut and Massachusetts. We had about $800 and 3.5 weeks to plan a Pride for towns that need a pride.
All those things we “couldn’t” talk about back then. Just the words. Mental illness. Gay. Queer. LGBTQIA. So much history has come back around to exploit trans/queer folks in the name of politics. I want folks to know HMI.
You are part of my story. Part of my life.
– Jill Adams
Photo above is of Jill (on the left in green shirt), organizer of Suffield Pride with keynote speaker, Kamora Le’Ella Herrington, who is also a friend of Jill. She’s says Kamora is phenomenal.