Thomas Krever

Chief Executive Officer, Hetrick-Martin Institute

How old is your organization? The Hetrick-Martin Institute (HMI) is 40 years old, and is the nation’s oldest and largest LGBTQIA
What sector do you work in? I work in the Health and Human Services (HHS) sector, specifically in the area of LGBTQIA Youth
How long have you been working in this sector? I have spent my entire career in the HHS sector beginning in 1990. I have work with LGBTQIA youth since 2003.
How long have you been with your current organization? I started with HMI on May 1, 2003

If you have worked with CRE in some capacity, what impact did it have?
I was a member of the second graduating class for emerging leaders when I was the Deputy Executive Director of HMI. The course was an incredible support system that offered me opportunities to examine my own learning, teaching and leadership styles, as well as develop skills and strengths that I still use today. Over the years I have taken various courses from CRE and participated on CRE panels. Additionally, I utilize CRE by sending emerging leaders to trainings to enhance their capacity. Most recently, I was a guest speaker for a donor/outward-facing reception at the home of a CRE Board Member.

What has been the most significant development in your sector over the last 40 years?
HMI is also celebrating its 40th anniversary (sadly, our own gala will be happening simultaneously to CRE’s). The creation of the first-ever LGBTQIA youth-focused nonprofit has a historic significance for LGBTQIA people and our own civil rights journey. Significant developments include:

  • The founding of Harvey Milk School–later renamed the Harvey Milk High School—as the first public high school in the USA focused on the challenges of young people served at HMI
  • The creation of our Advocacy and Capacity Building Center where HMI provides technical support and training to other non-profit organizations, government policy-makers, teaching institutions and corporations around building LGBTQIA-inclusive environments for young people and staff.
  • HMI became the first-ever LGBTQIA youth organization to be federated by expanding into the state of New Jersey with Hetrick-Martin Institute: New Jersey (HMI: NJ).
  • Freedom to Marry for same-sex couples validated the love shared between two same-sex adults and granted us legal rights afforded to heterosexual couples.
  • The passing of GENDA.
  • Incremental steps towards recognized equality for LGBTQIA people in the USA.

What has been the greatest challenge during this same period?
Most recently the pushback against the LGBTQIA community and their newfound visibility and acceptance demonstrated by an increase in hate crimes against LGBTQIA people—especially transwomen of color—and the ban of transgender people from serving in the military.

Describe a key event that has impacted your sector in the last 40 years?
Same-sex marriage and the Edie Windsor case — two instances where our love was recognized by the highest court in the land.

How has communication—with staff, clients, and/or donors—changed over the course of the last 40 years?
For a while, there was a worrying complacency forming within our community and among straight allies that the “fight for equal rights” was over. The passage of same-sex marriage, the reversals of DOMA and “don’t’ ask, don’t tell” further strengthened that belief and created a false sense of security. Recent history now shows that we are neither safe nor secure. The rates of homelessness and suicide among LGBTQIA youth (especially youth of color) are once again on the rise — as are the reported number of hate crimes and violence against the LGBTQIA community — especially among trans women of color. We must remind people that the fight is not over, and that the struggle for human rights and safety for the LGBTQIA community is real as ever and we cannot “give up” the hard-fought gains by being complacent and silent.

How has the conversation on diversity, equity, and inclusion shaped your organization over the past 40 years?
I see our work as being a civil rights movement – the rights of LGBTQIA people and our most vulnerable cohort, our young people. Society has become more accepting, but it also must become more vigilant since young people continue to be cast out of their homes and communities when they choose to live their lives authentically. Part of the vigilance also demands that we as a community of caring adults not “sit back” and let young people fend for themselves. As a result of the last 40 years of breakneck advances in technology, new opportunities abound as well as new challenges, including cyber-bullying and internet-outing.

In what ways have nonprofits adapted business practices that more similarly reflect for profits over the last four decades, and has that been a necessary shift?
It has been a mixed bag. KPI’s and other forms of accountability have added a new rigor and, in many ways, validation to the work. Being able to measure the profound impact nonprofits have in the lives of their clients is a critical component to their success and helps to gain the respect and understanding of the greater community served. Additionally, being able to show the ripple effects of creating a better society has helped to sway opinions and secure respect and understanding for the need of nonprofits in the public consciousness. However, “over-measuring” and the desire to measure (or come up with a rubric of measurement) for most affects of our sector’s work has also had a debilitating effect as statisticians, evaluators, and researchers seek to create tools and constructs that may simply not be either possible or the best way to measure success. Often the measurement of success can be something that happens incrementally and slowly over time, in a longitudinal way that escapes present day abilities to be measured or is prohibitively expensive to measure.

What leadership qualities are necessary to succeed as a nonprofit executive today?
It is vital that a nonprofit executive today is nimble, flexible, and highly adaptable to a rapidly-shifting landscape that seems more often than not fraught with crisis and instability. It is also important that leaders recognize their own privilege and use that as a vehicle to ensure access for others. Other essential qualities include:

  • A mindfulness that is able to balance compassion while still holding people accountable.
  • Being able to “tell the story” of your mission and who you serve and speak to someone else’s listening so that they too can understand, empathize, be inspired, and be drawn to action in a supportive way.
  • Being creative and having imagination to be able to face a barrier and work around it in a way that is ingenious and out-of-the-box.
  • Being courageous–especially now, when it seems “common mores” around justice, truth and equality do not seem to be as “common” as once expected.

How do you see shifting views on race, gender, sexuality, age, immigration status, educational achievement, wealth, poverty, and health affecting your organization in the future?
I see HMI and my sector (LGBTQIA/Gender-identity) as being at the epicenter of many of these issues. Equity and equality across all of the aforementioned areas form the cornerstone of the work we do. We must ensure that the voices and needs of our young people are included in this struggle — that they are nurtured, celebrated, and have a place at the table when discussion occur and strategies are formulated. While I am hopeful as I witness “conventional norms” being challenged and expanded – ignorance being replaced by education, learning, and personal/societal growth — I am cautious and concerned by what feels like a backlash as some people feel threatened and cling to an “older” and “more limited” way of life. In their fearfulness they lash out against newfound freedoms and try to reverse societal and legal gains and impede the progress of others. For my organization, our mission has never been clearer: we must stand as a vigilant sentry — unrelenting in our pursuit towards equality, and determined to empower our young people to claim their rightful and appropriate place at the table as they help to chart a course for their futures and create a world safe and loving of them.

What are some of the trends you’re seeing today that will impact your nonprofit and your sector in the future?
The LGBTQIA community is at a fascinating and profound moment in its history. In many ways, the centuries-old struggles for equality and acceptance have made huge strides forward, and in some cases even been won (same-sex marriage). As a result, our community with its unique (and diverse) culture finds that it faces the adage “be careful what you wish for…” as characteristics that made us a unique and easily identifiable community, e.g. in terms of geographic location, have fallen by the wayside as we have “melded” successfully with the society-at-large. Consequently, some characteristics which contributed to our community identity — the things that made us unique — have become less distinguishing and separating: the identifiers of what made our LGBTQIA identities “unique” have been relegated to the category of history, which for many people is accompanied by a sense of loss. Safe havens such as the West Village or Chelsea in New York City or the Castro in San Francisco are now bastions for a far more diverse LGBTQIA-inclusive (and sometimes vanished) community of people.

Another area is recognizing that bias, bigotry and aggressions do not always “go away” or “dissolve” with the passage of progressive legislation. Rather, the challenges once experienced by a community “go underground,” and the community  must become more savvy in recognizing them when they occur — making sure that they track them and shine the light of day on them. As a result, NGO’s must become skilled detectives in searching out and eradicating the illusive negative challenges.

Another trend I see which will impact the nonprofit — particularly the LGBTQIA sector — is our ability to effectively manage and overcome trauma. As a people, we must realize that those most often drawn to nonprofits for employment or volunteering (or donating, etc.) are often those most impacted by trauma themselves. As both organizations and a larger community, we must learn how to address the trauma, and respond in appropriate, meaningful and mindful ways which still allow the work to be done. More frequently, NGO’s are becoming the places where both client and staff are healed as they work through their respective traumas. NGO’s must be able to support appropriately each constituent in a way that continues to further the mission, the organization, and the individual(s).

Why did you join this sector?
I cannot imagine being anywhere else. Being of service was a core principle and value growing up in the Krever household. It was ingrained in me and my siblings from my earliest memories forward. I cannot imagine not using my energy and my being to do anything other than improving this world during the brief time I have the privilege of being in it. My parents always urged us to “fight for the underdog,” whether it meant be a Mets fan in a sea of Yankees jerseys or ensuring that we shared in what we had as a family with those who had the least among us.

Also ingrained within me early on by my parents was the desire to work with others and to see their potential — even if they did not yet see it within themselves. Whether it was working with young people to try and reclaim them from gangs or to help LGBTQIA young people live their lives safely and authentically, I have always been committed to those most vulnerable. They are the ones most resilient – and from their resiliency I too find my strength and inspiration.

In what ways would others say you are a trailblazer?
I am not afraid to take mindful risks and be a pioneer. Far too many people want to be “number two,” waiting on the sidelines for someone else to try (and maybe fail) rather than be the first to venture forth into a new endeavor or initiative.

In my first week on the job at HMI in 2003 I was faced with the challenge of having to create a Comprehensive Education Plan to ensure the opening of Harvey Milk High School. I also remember stating that I wouldn’t join the HMI team unless it was committed to taking its decades-worth of best and promising practices and offering them to the world beyond our doors. My lifelong mantra has been that leaders make others strong. I have always believed that any Executive Director or CEO of an NGO who tells you about the amazing things their NGO is doing for their clients is only telling you half the story. The true testament of success is found in the examination of what those clients then go on to do for others — how do they “pay it forward” and carry out the teachings/experiences/lessons learned etc. of the NGO that empowered them.

As a result, HMI launched its HMI Advocacy and Capacity Center where we have now had the distinction of training and working with leaders from more than 100 countries around the world. Also, in 2007 HMI began the launching of its newest plans for expansion that resulted in 2011 of HMI launching what is now HMI: New Jersey, making it the first LGBTQIA youth-focused direct service organization to offer wrap-around services through a Federated Model across state lines.

What was your breakthrough moment in becoming a leader? / What did it take for you to break through to become a leader?
I think it was being able to have someone “in my corner” who believed in me unequivocally – more than I perhaps believed in myself.

If you were just starting out in your sector today, what advice would the person you are today give to the “newbie”?
Be insatiable. No task is “beneath you” and no achievement too far above you that you cannot accomplish it. Act like the person you want to be in five, ten, fifteen years from now — but be that today. Make decisions that will get you there — whether it is your choice in your educational advancement or the positions you accept and — especially — the company you keep. Learn to adapt and never forget that everyone else is trying to figure out the “secret sauce” just like you are.

Please name three qualities that are inherent in being a strong leader.
Being flexible, empowering, visionary

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