LGBT Network Launches Virtual Pride & Builds Strong Online Community

Close-up of a rainbow flag on blue sky.
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Pride Month has officially begun and with all that’s happening in the world right now, we could really use an excuse to celebrate. After postponing the 30th annual Long Island Pride parade and closing the doors of their centers on March 16, the LGBT Network quickly switched gears to make sure that all programs, services and Pride events were made available online as soon as possible, with new offerings added as well.

Virtual New York Pride is a month-long celebration that features an online 5K race, a Pride exhibit recognizing LGBTQ heroes, an LGBT Youth Prom and, of course, the annual parade. In place of the 30th annual procession, originally scheduled to take place at Jones Beach this year, the LGBT Network will host a virtual parade on Sunday, June 14 where organizations, community groups and businesses can register to “march” with photos, video and a special announcement of the group. The livestreamed event will include spectacular performances, speakers, special guests and a tribute to today’s LGBTQ heroes—doctors, nurses, food and package delivery workers, grocery store employees and other essential workers. “We’re going to be showing people that LGBTQ people, in large numbers, are on the frontlines helping to fight this virus and helping to save lives,” LGBT Network President/CEO David Kilmnick says, adding that the organization is asking the community to submit the names of heroes to virtualprideny.org/lgbtheroes for inclusion in the parade tribute and spotlights throughout the month.

The Virtual Pride 5K challenges people to run or walk wherever they can from June 12–14 to show our LGBTQ neighbors that they’re not alone, even when isolated in quarantine. Head to the Virtual New York Pride site for updates on the parade, Youth Prom and other events.

One of the goals of Pride Month is to grow and strengthen the LGBTQ community, and that’s something the LGBT Network has made an increased push to do since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. “We didn’t look at this as a deficit, we looked at this as an opportunity to reach more people, and that’s what we’ve been able to do through the virtual programs that we’ve established,” Kilmnick says. The online programming schedule is currently quite massive with screenings, game nights, singles mixers, family workshops, webinars with public officials and health professionals, wellness classes, support groups, youth hangouts and more. “We know we’ll be back at our [LGBT Network] centers someday,” Kilmnick continues. “But what we’re creating now virtually is not going to go away. It’s going to be added to what we already offer, because there may be some kid out in Montauk, Southold or Greenport who feels like they can’t get to [The Hamptons LGBT Center in] Sag Harbor or wherever our programs are happening.”

In order to best serve the local community, the LGBT Network recently surveyed LGBTQ Long Islanders about the issues facing them during the pandemic. Of those surveyed, many reported medical, housing and financial needs, as well as depression and anxiety due to isolation. With their biggest fundraising events put on hold, they created the New York LGBTQ Care Fund so that the community could support them in their efforts to address those needs, establish food banks, ensure essential services and even provide at-home HIV testing kits. “[At the beginning of the pandemic,] there was a lot of fear, and there still is fear, but we had to balance that fear with science and also [with the fact] that life does go on and that it’s not an option NOT to have a sense of community and a sense of pride. Our saying has been, which is how we operate in this virtual world, that, ‘We can still be out while we’re in,'” Kilmnick explains. “Our community has been strong, resilient and tough. This isn’t the first pandemic that we’ve faced… We managed to get through [HIV/AIDS], persevere and accomplish a hell of a lot over the last 40+ years because we stuck together as a community that’s stronger together.”

For registration and more information on Virtual New York Pride, visit virtualnypride.org, and to donate to the New York LGBTQ Care Fund, go to lgbtnetwork.org/carefund.

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