David Kilmnick, President and CEO of LGBT Network, is hard at work planning a month’s worth of Long Island LGBT Pride celebrations, including two all-new East End events—Pride in the Vines and Patchogue Pride at Alive After Five. While this June is packed with thrilling festivities at which to celebrate queer love, equality and pride, the LGBT Network’s efforts to protect these ideals and serve the local LGBT community continue year-round.
“Pride—the process of people coming out, the process of people really feeling comfortable in their own skin and being able to excel and be their true, authentic selves, and be successful—is a journey. And that journey doesn’t only happen in the month of June,” Kilmnick says. “That’s part of our goal, in saying that we’re 24/7, 365 days a year LGBT. That’s who we are. That’s our mission of serving the LGBT community and our families and making sure that our communities that we live in—and the entire island—are safe.”
The LGBT Network serves queer Long Islanders in a number of ways, many of which are offered at community centers in Queens, Hauppauge and Sag Harbor. Services include free HIV/STI testing, youth groups, cinema nights, acoustic cafes, senior mingles, family fun nights, after school programs and various discussion/support groups for women, Latino men, transgender people, gender-nonconforming people and other groups.
In addition to providing safe spaces for local LGBT individuals to relax among their peers, the LGBT Network does life-changing work to address health care, affordable housing and youth employment. “If we’re going to keep our LGBT families living here on Long Island, they need to have the highest quality of life,” Kilmnick says. “And the highest quality of life equals, first and foremost, being able to be yourself, and then, equally as important, being able to have affordable and culturally competent health care and to be able to afford to live here.”
After LGBT students graduate high school, the LGBT Network works with them to find jobs where they won’t feel pressured to go back in the closet. Those who practice faith can receive the same assistance to find an accepting place of worship. “Every institution should be LGBT-safe and affirming, but we know it’s not, so we have a long way to go, and that’s all part of our work,” Kilmnick notes. A directory of LGBT-friendly businesses and organizations on Long Island can be found at directory.lgbtnetwork.org, and business owners are encouraged to submit their own listings.
Those looking to follow in the footsteps of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex by supporting an LGBT nonprofit for Pride Month, should consider donating to the LGBT Network, as they are the only organization performing such an incredible range of services on Long Island. Volunteer opportunities are also available at the organization’s Pride events and year-round at their Long Island centers.
“You can also make a difference by talking to your family members, your coworkers, your friends, helping to educate and open minds,” Kilmnick adds. “It’s about changing our mindsets. There’s going to be a lot of parties, and there’s going to be a lot of educational stuff that we’re doing too to talk about our history. We have to learn from our history so we understand where our movement has come from and where we need to go…With Stonewall 50, we’re going to have events that take a look back, but our purpose is also to march forward and love forward.”
However, Kilmnick repeats that efforts to celebrate Pride and educate people on it must continue past June. “If we could make sure that we make the commitment to do something at least once a week or at least once a month that celebrates Pride. I think, then, when we come to the month of June, it’ll be like bringing those other 11 months together, given all we we’ve done, to scream and dance and celebrate.”
“What we do special this time of year is try to get as many Long Islanders and East Enders to join in on that celebration—certainly LGBT people, but also our family, our friends, our coworkers. It’s really a community celebration of pride,” Kilmnick says. “We want to bring that sense of pride to other folks outside of the month of June. June becomes exhausting! We need to spread the pride like we spread the love, 365 days a year.
For more information on the LGBT Network and their massive Long Island Pride celebration, visit lgbtnetwork.org.