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The YES Institute was born of a desire to prevent teen suicides. On the YES Institute's website, founders Martha Fugate and Connie Barden remember when the organization was founded more than a decade ago:
We began meeting with local community leaders and educators to find out what could be done to keep youth from wanting to kill or harm themselves. In these meetings we discovered two missing pieces to the puzzle of why well-intentioned professionals were not taking effective actions: they lacked education and they were not comfortable talking about gay youth.
This led to the clear focus that was to become YES Institute - providing education and powerful communication that enables adults to serve all youth even when they are uncomfortable or hold conflicted opinions on the subject.
We have taken a stand for a world where no one would be harmed or harm themselves because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. This call to action propels the work of the staff, board, volunteers, and supporters of this organization.
The rewards of this work are many. Lives have been saved; families have been reunited; young people have returned to churches and schools; and joyful futures have been forged from ruinous crisis situations.
You may not be aware what a massive role homophobia plays in teen violence. According to the YES Institute website, every recent school shooting included reports of anti-gay slurs, or anti-gay bullying.
So, the idea here is that people who say loaded, angry things about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people ... they're feeding a fire that can get seriously ugly.
Who says stuff like that? Most famously, people like Tim Hardaway, who said "I hate gay people," on the radio this past February. He also said he would not want to have a gay teammate.
Chris Perkins of the Palm Beach Post writes that Hardaway has quietly (until now) become a regular at the YES Institute:
"The whole episode is very overwhelming," he said as NBA teams prepare to open training camps next week. "At first I didn't think I did anything to anybody. But after the backlash and talking to people, it hurt a lot of folks."
Hardaway, the Heat's all-time leader in three-point field goals and assists, has had sensitivity training at the Miami-based YES Institute, a non-profit organization that describes its mission, in part, as ensuring "the healthy development of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and all youth."
Hardaway said one thing he learned is that his stance might have made others think it's OK to be hateful.
"I've come to find out I made it possible to bash gay people," he said.
Hardaway said he didn't participate to resurrect his image.
"I did it on my own just to educate myself," he said. "It's because I wanted to learn and get an understanding."
YES Institute Director Martha Fugate said she found Hardaway "a very authentic person" and suggested his spontaneity is "what got him in trouble. My experience with Tim is there's nothing hateful about the guy."
Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press reports that Hardaway has had some pretty serious personal development:
"I was scared out of my ... mind," Hardaway said of his first visit. "I didn't know how they were going to act toward me. But you know what? They welcomed me with open arms. That eased a lot of my nervousness."
So he went back a second time, then a third, then a fourth.
And that early apprehension is now gone. His photo appears on the group's Web site, smiling alongside some members of the institute's staff.
"We were surprised how real our relationship with Tim got," Fugate said.
He's now considered a friend there, and his presence is so valued that Fugate released a letter earlier this month touting the work Hardaway has done.
"Thanks to his honest albeit misguided reaction, Tim did find his way to YES Institute and the education he got was not just about others, but about himself," Fugate wrote. "Because he is a role model, perhaps other people will also learn -- hopefully before bad consequences happen to them."
I can only imagine the range of reactions to this story. I'm sure one bunch of reactions will be that this is all just for PR, a cynical Hardaway effort to get back into the good graces of the NBA, and this is not nearly enough to make up for the damage he has done. Another reaction might be that he's caving to the PC police, who demand that he do something like this or be forever branded a maniac and banished from public life.
My take: it is what it is, and it is not bad.
I'm a big believer that if you have a problem with a whole big group of people, don't huddle in your basement thinking nasty thoughts about these theoretical people. Get out there and talk to real people. Put a face on it. Learn about each other. Be honest as appropriate and be a good listener.
You might be surprised how unscary the vast majority of people are. I'm sure Tim Hardaway can tell you now that hanging around with gay people just isn't the worst thing ever. And that's something.