By Kathryn G. Menu
The Long Island Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) Center of the Hamptons’ will open this summer at Sag Harbor’s First Presbyterian “Old Whalers’” Church.
The center, which opens in July, will be the first of its kind on the East End, created for the GLBT community, and primarily its youth, by the Long Island GLBT Services Network (LIGALY). The organization announced the center’s opening at its 20th anniversary gala last week.
The center, which will have a two-year lease for two classroom spaces vacated by the Sag Harbor Youth Center, will officially open the space in mid-July after its lease begins July 1.
The announcement comes seven months after the death of 16-year-old David Hernandez, of East Hampton, a gay student whose suicide in October raised the question about the need for support services on the East End for GLBT youth.
For Old Whalers’ Church Reverend Mark Phillips, it was an interview between LIGALY CEO David Kilmnick and Sag Harbor Express associate editor Annette Hinkle that led him to reach out to the organization and offer space in the Union Street church.
“He mentioned they were hoping to open an office on the East End and it really stayed with me,” said Rev. Phillips in an interview on Monday.
“As I hear from the youth here in this church and others, bullying continues to be such a big issue for young people today,” added Rev. Phillips, noting much of the work conducted at the center will aid youth in dealing with that ever growing issue.
“Our officers have felt this is part of our mission and will provide a needed service for the whole community,” said Rev. Phillips.
On Tuesday, Kilmnick said LIGALY views this opportunity as the perfect “springboard” for the creation of a state-of-the-art Long Island GLBT Center of the Hamptons — a goal of the not-for-profit for many years, and a mission that achieved urgency with the passing of Hernandez.
“This enables us to provide services that have never been available on the East End,” said Kilmnick. “It is a great location and the beginning of a new chapter.”
The center will host after-school and youth leadership programming, said Kilmnick, continuing a 20-year tradition of working with East End schools, but without the incredible distance that now exists between other LIGALY centers and the region.
LIGALY has operated a center in Bay Shore and recently opened an outpost in Garden City in Nassau County, but as both Kilmnick and Rev. Phillips noted, the 60-mile drive to Bay Shore has often been unmanageable for most GLBT students on the East End.
The center will also offer testing for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases — a service Kilmnick noted is embraced at other centers by youth nervous about entering a clinical setting to obtain critical health care results.
“Right now on Long Island, 52 percent of all new HIV cases are young, gay or bisexual men,” said Kilmnick. “The response to the centers has been they are more comfortable coming to us for this testing than having it done in a clinical setting.”
The center will also offer drop-in center services for youth, anti-bullying programming, youth get-togethers as well as support services for parents and families. The center will have Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders — Long Island (SAGE-Long Island) programming also available at the Old Whalers’ Church.
Unlike its youth centers, SAGE-Long Island has provided services east of Bay Shore, at the Hampton Bays Senior Center.
Eventually, Kilmnick said the center also aims to provide comprehensive mental health and counseling services.
LIGALY will seek funding aid for the center from both East Hampton and Southampton towns, as well as Suffolk County. Kilmnick said government support is critical, in particular because there is not an organization to provide the GLBT support services LIGALY offers on the East End. The goal is to fund $100,000 for one full-time staff member and a part-time position.
“For 20 years we have been coming to the East End and have been a presence in the schools, but it will make a huge difference to have a full time presence and to be able to provide full-time services,” he said. “It will be a life saver for many and will give the community a resource it has not had before.”
“A GLBT Center on the East End could have saved David Hernandez’s life. He would have had a safe place to turn to for support, advocacy and a center that would have given him a second home,” said Kilmnick. “Opening the GLBT Center of The Hamptons is something we must do for David and every GLBT young person and family on the East End, and it is something we must do now.”
Since Hernadez’s death, the organization has raised $60,000 towards a $1 million goal to open a state-of-the-art facility on the East End.