By Kathryn G. Menu
For East Hampton High School junior Joel Johnson, an affirmed transgender student and president of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance (GSA), discovering the GLBT (Gay, Lesbian Bisexual and Transgender) Center in Bay Shore — run by the Long Island GLBT Services Network — connected him with 200 new friends and also a new kind of support system.
He discovered the center as a sophomore, and a senior friend drove Johnson 60 miles from East Hampton to Bay Shore for events like the Night of Noise, a celebration Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth (LIGALY) sponsors at the center annually, as well as OUTlet, a Friday night youth social program.
At a recent roundtable discussion about the possibility of an East End GLBT Center, Johnson said other students at East Hampton are thrilled at the prospect this could become a reality. In fact, Johnson said as soon as the GSA finishes its fundraising effort for victims of Hurricane Sandy, the group intends to spearhead fundraising to support the new center.
Fundraising, according to Dr. David Kilmnick, CEO of the Long Island GLBT Network, will be key to the creation of an East End GLBT Center.
On Friday, November 30 Kilmnick gathered with close to 20 community members for the inaugural meeting of the East End GLBT Center Advisory Committee meeting at the Bridgehampton National Bank (BNB) to discuss the future of that center.
While conversations about the need for this kind of center are not new to the region, Kilmnick said the suicide of an East Hampton High School sophomore in September added a sense of urgency that it was critical the GLBT community on the East End has a safe place to go.
“Travelling 60 miles to Bay Shore is not an option or alternative for a lot of people,” said Kilmnick. “What we have heard over the 20 years we have been in place is that people just want a space to go to, a safe place where they can be themselves. And the community centers become places that build community.”
Community members have rallied around the proposal since Kilmnick first pitched the East End Center in October. Sag Harbor residents Bea Alda and Jennifer Brooke offered the center a $20,000 matching grant and according to Kilmnick, LIGLBT Network has already raised about $15,000 towards that goal.
However, on Tuesday, he said it will take a lot more funding to get the East End GLBT Center off the ground.
According to Kilmnick, the cost of the first year for an East End center would be roughly $370,000. That amount would cover the cost of renovations, office supplies, furniture and staff, which would include two full-time and two part-time employees.
A three year budget for the center is estimated at close to $1 million.
“And we work on a very tight budget,” he said, adding once a center is up and running, the federal, state and county support offered to the network could also help subsidize it.
The funding Kilmnick’s organization is raising would also support the purchase of a van, used at other centers to help transport those unable to find transportation to a center.
Kilmnick said the organization’s goal was to work towards raising the initial $1 million investment while simultaneously looking for a space to call home. While Kilmnick said his group owns its Bay Shore center, it rents its Garden City facility and in the near term plans to lease space for an East End center.
Kilmnick said his organization is working with Stony Brook Southampton to possibly identify a space on that campus for a center.
Suffolk County officials, said Kilmnick, are also looking at vacant parcels it could consider leasing to the organization.
However, Kilmnick said the location of the Stony Brook Southampton campus, just west of Southampton Village, provides an ideal geographic location for East End residents in need of support.
“What we are looking for is no matter where you live on Long Island you are less than one-hour away from a community center where you have health and human services, but where you also have arts and culture,” said Kilmnick.
Residents attending the meeting, including Johnson, were excited at the prospect of a center, but also concerned about getting something in place — in particular for the youth of the East End — before another tragedy arises.
“We may not have a center, but we are here,” said Kilmnick. “For someone who needs help now, please refer them to us and we will make sure one way or the other that they are assisted.”