It’s 2019, and LGBT visibility is at an all-time high. Thanks to marriage equality and great strides in mainstream acceptance, kids are more comfortable coming out of the closet at a younger age, and being “different” has stopped being associated with being “deviant.” But with this newfound freedom, there’s a new challenge: after you’ve come out, what’s next? Finding a sense of community, companionship and love is no easy feat for anyone, let alone a minority group that, until recently, were all but invisible. And on the East End, which is largely a rural summer community, there’s unsurprisingly a dearth of social resources for LGBT folk.
David Kilmnick, the president and CEO of the LGBT Network, which has locations all over Long Island, including Sag Harbor, admits that there’s a gap out here. The Network is an invaluable organization that provides advocacy, support and all sorts of health services for the LGBT community, but so far offers only limited social programming. “We have youth programs, senior programs, at the facility itself and through some arts and cultural programs too,” Kilmnick says. There’s a weekly event for teens at the network’s Bay Shore and Sag Harbor locations, which is no doubt an awesome opportunity for youth to get to know other LGBT kids.
The LGBT Network works hard to make sure as many people have access to them as possible. “Our philosophy is, no matter where we have the centers, we don’t expect people to come to us; we have to go to them,” Kilmnick says. “On the East End, you can feel even more isolated than other parts of the island. There’s a lack of transportation, for example. We now have a van on the East End, thanks to Legislator Bridget Fleming. We’re able to pick people up, so [LGBT people] can feel a sense of community. We talk about gay life on the East End; how one feels part of the LGBT community and movement. Our job is to have things at the center but have it be accessible to all.”
One of Kilmnick’s long-term goals is to expand the Network’s social offerings, and he’s started by extending the annual Long Island Pride events to include more of the island. “We’re the operators at Long Island Pride, and this year we’re expanding it to two weeks,” Kilmnick explains. One of the events Kilmnick is most excited about is Pride in the Vines on the North Fork. “Pride in the Vines is going to be a really cool event! It’s going to be in wine country. That includes bringing other folks to see the beauty of the East End. That’s going to be on June 25. We’re going to do something in the Hamptons. It’s also for our allies, friends and family members.” Kilmnick is looking into opening a satellite center on the North Fork to complement the work of other centers.
Upcoming centers include a large location in Hauppauge, as well as a new spot in Patchogue. Kilmnick understands the importance of expanding the social programs across the board. “I’m 51 years old, and I grew up in a time where you developed community by meeting other people out in clubs—not necessarily through drinking, but through being social. Those social type of places need to exist. We’re looking at that as our next model,” he says. “People are meeting through social media now. It’s so different from when I grew up. There’s been a lot more requests for us to do social things at our center. It brings people together in a way to have fun, to celebrate and feel like a part of the community. That’s how we’re approaching the changing world for LGBT people and the community.”
The local Hamptons LGBT Center is located inside the Old Whalers’ Church at 44 Union Street, Sag Harbor. For more about the LGBT Network and its services, visit lgbtnetwork.org.