My first introduction to the Ali Forney Center happened a few years ago when the company I was working for, The Katz Company, invited me to its Gala fundraiser at the downtown Cipriani. At the time, I knew very little about this organization and the work they were doing. My late son Harry was struggling with mental health and addiction, having spent a lifetime feeling unheard and different because of his nonbinary identification.
I was so struck by the joy and grass-roots feel of the event. There was so much heart and passion in the desire to help LGBTQ youth find their identity and place in life.
My son recorded a demo with the celebrity Producer Nadir Khayat – aka. Redone – before his death. The album dealt with his complications with mental health and was called Insanity. After my son’s passing in Jan 2020, it was eventually completed by the great Fernando Garibay, who has worked with many extraordinary artists like Lady Gaga, Sia, Whitney Houston and Britney Spears. The song speaks of the difficulty of asking for help and my son’s torment. It has an upbeat dance setting and ends with a gospel choir.
I often look back on my son’s short life and think about his years at private school. It makes me so sad and angry that there were no mentors for him, no one who looked after such a unique child. It was a time when words like nonbinary, genderfluid, genderqueer, and pansexual were not part of our language.
He was alone. He had no one and nowhere to go to to understand the conflicting emotions he had about being so different than those around him. I often wonder if there had been just one teacher or older student who had taken him under his wing and made him feel special, not discriminated against, if he would have not felt the need to self- medicate.
My son Harry used creativity to express all of his conflicted feelings. Poetry, music, writing and acting all helped him find a voice that spoke to him and hopefully could help others.
There is nothing more powerful than using the arts to teach, inspire and help the broader community. The arts can help one’s community understand the issues that surround many young people who are questioning their sexuality and trying to find their true identity.
It is very important that schools are aware of those who are struggling with their sexual identity, and they should be encouraged to put systems in place to help these young people feel good about themselves. It is so important that the help and support happens early and through normal channels like schools, sports clubs, and the arts. Sexual identity should be taught in all schools as part of the curriculum, and should be normalized rather than looked at as freaky or weird.
My son had a vision for the world. He called himself “ANTIBOY”. He was against all labels and yearned for freedom to be whoever he wanted to be, and imagined a world where people were judged on their hearts and minds, not on their gender. There is nothing more important to me than carrying on this work, the legacy of my late son: the ANTIBOY legacy.
Jane Badler, a film and television actress, writer and singer, has become a fierce ally and advocate for LGBTQ+ youth and the community at large, as well as mental health, in honor of her late son, visionary artist and actor Harry Hains. Through her personal experience, compassionate voice and creative projects, Jane shares her powerful perspective as a mom of a non-binary son who struggled with these complex issues and ultimately lost his life to drug addiction. Jane has channeled her grief into a greater purpose and is building a community that is joining her on her relentless mission – to help those who are struggling and to promote understanding and acceptance.