In the four months since the First Presbyterian (Old Whalers’) Church in Sag Harbor leased space to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) community on the East End, David Kilmnick, CEO of Long Island GLBT Services Network, says that the response to the new Hamptons GLBT Center has been nothing short of phenomenal. In September he inaugurated a two-month series of community roundtable discussions to learn what the East End community would like. Participants, who included GLBT young people, seniors, parents of GLBTs, GLBT families who adopted young children, local businesses, representatives from local health and human services organizations, and just “those who believe in social justice and equality,” said loud and clear that “they wanted everything and wanted it right away.”
Motivated by the September 2012 suicide of 16-year-old David Hernandez, a junior at East Hampton High School whose mother said he had been despondent over bullying because of his sexual orientation, the center knew that it “had to” set up shop immediately, even if it had no budget. Existing GLBT centers on Long Island—in Bay Shore and Garden City—were too far away. And so the “everything” the community said it wanted has quickly transformed into the establishment of local support groups, health and social service affiliations, social gatherings, speaker bureaus and arts and cultural activities, with a focus on young people. The youth groups can comprise between 15 to 24 youngsters, with approximately 50 people already in regular attendance. Funding has just been secured, however, that will allow the center to be open five days a week, as soon a two advertised staff positions are filled, Kilmnick points out.
The center, which operates on Tuesdays and the first and third Thursdays of each month, has also attracted seniors who delight in the East End Mingle, prompting Kilmnick to consider extending elder programming. In addition, thanks to a recent grant, on the first Friday of each month, the center provides free testing for HIV and STD (sexually transmitted diseases). Staff members also interview folks to see if they are eligible to participate in the New York State affordable Care Act.
Kilmnick says he wants to expand the center’s volunteer mentoring program, enlisting adults to work with GLBT teams of young people, somewhat on the model of Big Brother/Big Sister. Mentors would provide guidance, pairing up with youth at the center and discussing various concerns. Kilmnick also looks to increase health and education services. He points to the Aleph Project, “which connects GLBT Long Island Jewish youth ages 13 to 21 with Jewish life and experience…to create positive, inclusive and affirming activities.” Central in 2014 will also be acting on the most requested program—raising a child of GLBT parents. Where can such children meet like children? What services are available to ensure their seamless integration into the larger community?
Kilmnick, who has a PhD in Social Welfare from The City University of New York and an extensive track record with the Long Island GLBT Services Network, is delighted at how the Sag Harbor chapter has taken off, a bit surprised, perhaps, at the extent of the need. One girl travels from Orient. He also notes that the center has attracted those who offer to donate services, such as Stacy Menzer and Denise Fenchel from Hamptons Signs, who put the center on the map, so to speak. Not to mention, of course, the generosity of The Rev. Mark Phillips at Old Whalers’ Church. Financial contributions are always welcome, and those looking to support the center should contact Kilmnick at [email protected].