Edie Windsor, who challenged the constitutionality of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), helps cut the ribbon at the grand opening of the new Long Island LBGT center located at the Old Whalers Church in Sag Harbor on Saturday. Michael Heller photography.
By Ellen Frankman
In a grand opening uplifted by progress, but also punctuated by grief, the East End welcomed into the community its first center for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth.
The Long Island Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) Center of the Hamptons opened at Sag Harbor’s First Presbyterian “Old Whalers” Church on Saturday, August 10 to a crowd of more than 250 supporters, including Edie Windsor, the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case that recently brought on the demise of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The center is the product of thousands of hours of work by the Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth network (LIGALY), which recognized an immediate need for GLBT support on the East End after the suicide of an East Hampton High School student last fall.
“We knew then that we really couldn’t wait any longer,” said LIGALY CEO David Kilmnick.
In October of 2012, 16-year-old David Hernandez killed himself. According to his mother, Carmita Barros, Hernandez was bullied for being gay. She attended Saturday’s ribbon cutting.
“It has been almost a year and it hasn’t gotten any easier,” said Barros. “I miss my son every day.”
Barros explained that though David had a peaceful home life with a family who accepted and loved him for being gay, he was not out at school and faced emotional abuse by his peers. Barros said that David often dreaded going to school in the morning, and administrators did little to help the situation.
“I think things could have been different if the center had been here, because there would have been other kids like him,” said Barros.
But now the center has officially opened, with the hope that no child will again feel a sense of such desperation and loneliness.
“What it is going to mean for the folks out on the East End is that there is an accessible place to have year round support, year round advocacy and year round programs,” said Kilmnick. “This day is long overdue and it’s really going to make a huge difference in the lives of the GLBT community.”
Old Whaler’s Church Reverend Mark Phillips first learned of LIGALY through an interview with Kilmnick in The Sag Harbor Express. He said the article prompted him to reach out to Kilmnick to consider the church as a temporary home for the center.
“I was very impressed too with the leadership here at the church,” said Rev. Phillips. “They instantly said, ‘Yes, by all means we want them to come here.’ We see providing a space for them as part of our mission. Hopefully this will be a safe place, a supportive place for youth all over the East End.”
The organization took on a two-year lease in July with the intent of fundraising over the next couple of years in order to one day have a space of its own. Kilmnick hopes to raise $1 million to fund a permanent home for the center.
But he says already the youth have embraced the space at the Old Whalers Church.
“They can’t wait to get down here and really make the space their home,” said Kilmnick.
“I think it is a really great step forward,” said 17-year-old Julia Johnson, who explained that her and her friends often had to find rides to Bay Shore, over an hour west, to receive any sort of GLBT support.
“I think this community was definitely underserved,” said 17-year-old Joel Johnson. Johnson is a member of the center’s youth committee and the president of the East Hampton High School Gay Straight Alliance (GSA).
“I came out both as gay and transgender last year to my school, and while everyone was really supportive, it was really, really clear that high school could not offer enough support,” said Johnson. “It is incredible to have this actually behind me.”
Johnson is particularly hopeful about the services the center will offer including sex-education and free HIV and STI testing.
“Also, parent services are huge because a lot of kids are going to feel a lot safer if their parents have someone to go talk to,” said Johnson.
In a reminder of how far gay rights and awareness have come in recent years, Windsor came forward to speak to the crowd of supporters. On July 18, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional in a victory for both Windsor — the plaintiff — and gay couples everywhere. Windsor filed the suit after the death of her partner of 40 years, Thea Spyer, landed her more than $300,000 in estate taxes.
“When I thought about winning [the case], I thought about teenagers falling in love for the first time, I thought about couples no longer having to defend their dignity to their families, I thought about the beginning of the end of stigma, ultimately the end of abuse, bashing and the internalizing of homophobia, lying about who we are and suicides,” said Windsor. “And that’s what community centers do.”