By Annette Hinkle
David Kilmnick, Chief Executive Officer at Long Island Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) Services Network, who is spearheading an effort to build a GLBT Community Center on the East End.
Who would an East End GLBT Community Center serve?
The primary focus initially would be teens and their families — parents, siblings and other members of their support system. There would also be a wider network including one serving seniors as well, which we currently do in the Hampton Bays senior center.
What sort of support and activities do you envision a GLBT facility offering?
A couple things – including some youth leadership. We would bring some of our programs in Garden City and Bay Shore to the East End. It doesn’t matter what sexual orientation a youth is, we want to get them involved in anti-bullying efforts and be part of our safe school team and get actively involved in change in our own community and schools. In the past couple years, there have been a dozen East End youth who wanted to take part but couldn’t travel to Bay Shore.
Now that they see this as a real possibility, it’s a movement, if you will. There are also lots of volunteer opportunities for members of the East End community, and arts and cultural programing as well, such as poets and lectures.
What can teens get from a GLBT center that they aren’t getting already from the community right now?
They’ll be able to get a safe space to just be themselves and hopefully just be a teen and not a life of choosing where to be out and where not to be out. It takes a lot of energy to hide. That energy could be better spent in developing leadership, focus on their health and the decisions they make — as well as community engagement which they’re not able to get now on this level.
We also find the parents on the East End are itching to have a place to get involved on different levels. These are parents who want to be active. We have the only chapter of the gay Parent Teacher Student Association currently in Garden City and Bay Shore which we will extend out east. Parents can get involved on the support level or in individual and group counseling. Also important is HIV prevention and testing services.
Do you have any sense of numbers of potential clients who might use the center?
When you go across the age spectrum probably our client base would be a couple thousand in the first year — and I think there would be some focus on the migrant and immigrant communities that have been reaching out in a desperate voice.
What would be the ideal location for such a center?
I would say the Southampton/Bridgehampton area — it’s easily accessible by all of the East End and the North Fork as well.
So have you started checking out potential real estate yet?
We’re not at the point of looking at buildings. We want to make sure we have enough resources for three operating years — employing people, the building and economic development initiatives as well. We’d be hiring at least three people to keep the center open and manage volunteers – with that we’re looking to raise $1 million from the get go which would then give us the opportunity to apply for grants. It’s a relatively modest amount.
How have you see the need for a GLBT evolve over the last couple decades?
LIGALY [Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth] just celebrated 20 years. It’s a group I founded and from the get go I’ve been traveling to the East End to talk in schools. I see greater need than ever before for a center. Some people may not understand it. We ended ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and have marriage equality in New York. These are important equality measures, but that doesn’t get rid of homophobia and transphobia. Kids are still be thrown out of their homes and there are still some religious institutions that demonize GLBT folks.
The adults fighting for these rights forget what the kids are going through in schools and in their community. Some of the same challenges there 20 years ago are still there. The need to come out, to make healthy decisions and all aspects of their lives. For example, HIV is on rise again among young gay men on Long Island. It’s been 20 years and we’re kind of mirroring a little of the health crisis again. While we’ve seen things improve and more people are out, there are a lot more people reaching out who say ‘I want a place.’ Twenty years ago we said ‘It would be nice to have a center.’ Now it’s ‘We need a center.’
This Friday, April 12 at 6 p.m., the East End GLBT Center Advisory Committee meets at Southampton Town Hall (116 Hampton Road) in the lower level meeting room. All are invited to attend. Reserve by contacting Chris Scarpati at (516) 323-0011 or firstname.lastname@example.org.