“An open door since 1844,” the Old Whalers’ (Presbyterian) Church in Sag Harbor is about to get a new tenant.
The Long Island Gay and Lesbian Services Network, a nonprofit organization that has centers to service the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people in both Nassau and Suffolk Counties, has focused their latest initiative on the East End. The Hamptons GLBT Center, which will have its grand opening at its Sag Harbor location on August 10, is the Center’s first expansion in the Hamptons and was created to provide GLBT citizens, both young and old, with a safe space for support and community.
David Kilmnick, Chief Executive Officer of the Long Island Gay and Lesbian Services Network, is thrilled that the project has come to fruition. “It’s a long time in the making and long overdue that the East End had their own LGBT center,” says Kilmnick. “We’re focusing on providing a safe space for the community, arts and cultural programs and a way for folks to feel connected.” Kilmnick notes that prior to the Hamptons Center’s opening, the Bay Shore location was the closest location for East Enders. “This is going to give people better access to the programs and services that we’ve provided for over 20 years,” Kilmnick explained.
While the Network had been considering opening a Hamptons location for several years, it was the suicide of 16-year-old David Hernandez of East Hampton High School in September, 2012 that prompted the Network to take action. “We knew with the recent suicide of David Hernandez that we needed to do something,” Kilmnick said with a sigh. The Network has always been an advocate for GLBT youth, with the Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth (LIGALY) initiative providing a safe space for teens across the island. “If the Hamptons Center was around, maybe the [David Hernandez] tragedy could have been avoided.” One of the first steps the Network took in the development of the center was to create a Youth Advisory Committee, which has been met with an enthusiastic response. Hernandez’s family has been involved, as well. “We didn’t know this until about four weeks ago—when David’s family heard we were opening an East End Center, they put cans at local delis to help raise money for it. His mom and his family are going to be at our opening,” Kilmnick said, noting that he hopes that getting involved with the Center will be part of the family’s healing process.
While the Center is going to provide local services and programs, it has received support from a national figure in the gay rights movement in Hamptons resident Edie Windsor, whose lawsuit against the federal government resulted in the Supreme Court’s declaring the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to be unconstitutional. Windsor filed a lawsuit after being denied estate tax exemption following the death of her wife, Thea Spyer, because DOMA stated that estate tax exemption was only valid for heterosexual couples. “Folks don’t know this, but Edie Windsor has been honorary chair [of the Network board] for two years, before the DOMA decision,” says Kilmnick.
Kilmnick notes that the Hamptons Center’s current space is what he considers a “starter space” and that they’re looking to acquire a more permanent space with a full-time staff and a full slate of services in the near future. Still, he believes that the Hamptons Center is sure to be a boon to the GLBT community on the East End, and hopes to provide a safe space for anyone who is in need of support and guidance.
The Center will have its grand opening on Saturday, August 10, from 4–6 p.m. at its location at the Old Whalers’ Church in Sag Harbor. For more information on the Long Island Gay and Lesbian Services Network, go to liglbtnetwork.org.