For Pride Month, Gay-Youth Group Takes to Times Square

Empowerment, awareness and fundraising, all on a giant billboard

New York's Hetrick-Martin Institute, an advocacy group for at-risk gay youth, is marking Gay Pride Month in about as prominent a way possible: with a video billboard in Times Square showcasing the LGBTQ teens it serves.

The four-level "spectacular"—the term of art for giant, lighted Times Square billboards—is atop the American Eagle Outfitters store at Broadway and West 46th Street. American Eagle is donating one minute of time every hour on its 15,000 square feet of LED screens, and HMI decided to build an awareness and fundraising campaign that depicts gay teens holding signs with empowering messages.

"We knew there would be a lot of focus on gay marriage this June, and while marriage is important, there are more pressing issues for LGBTQ youth," Bryan Pacheco, Hetrick-Martin's director of communications, told Adweek, citing concerns like bullying and homelessness. According to the institute, 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ, and 82 percent of LGBTQ students report being verbally harassed at school. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among LGBT youth aged 10 to 24.

The HMI members depicted in this "Empower LGBTQ Youth" initiative hold up signs with supportive slogans, like "You are beautiful" and "You are loved," under headlines like "What do you want society to say?" and "What do you want your family to say?"

It's "what these young people wish they would have heard at home," said Thomas Krever, CEO of the Hetrick-Martin Institute, which created the campaign in-house. The goal of the initiative is "increasing awareness, and also increasing fundraising," he said. "It gives everyone a chance to make a difference."

"The fancy billboards in Times Square don't talk," said Yu-Ting Feng, a designer and video artist who volunteered to help the institute create the ads. Giving the teens those signs—a way to "talk" from their billboard—was a way to "play with the silent nature of that," she said. The videos also play in slow motion, which is Feng's way of slowing down and extending each teen's moment in the spotlight.

There's also a social element, with Hetrick-Martin encouraging youth and supporters to share empowering messages with the hashtag #empowerLGBTQyouth.

This is Hetrick-Martin's first Times Square billboard campaign.

American Eagle, which controls the space, is a longtime supporter of the nonprofit. "We believe that everyone deserves to live in a world that respects and accepts each other," Helga Ying, the clothing retailer's vice president of external engagement and social responsibility, said in a statement. "We are honored to partner with Hetrick-Martin Institute to help youths create an equal and open society where they can live their lives authentically and without discrimination."