Queerli Founder Michelle Demetillo on the Importance of Safe Spaces
For Long Islanders identifying as members of the LGBTQ+ community, finding fun, welcoming events and spaces (outside of Fire Island) to socialize at is often a challenge. Michelle Demetillo (they/them), founder and president of Queerli, says they created the organization two years ago in hopes of filling that void.
“I was noticing that after Pride Month ends, queer people don’t have a space to be seen or connect with like-minded individuals,” says Demetillo. They add that Queerli aims to help queer Long Islanders to “find queer circles where you can connect with friends and have people that understand you.”
Demetillo is uniquely equipped in bringing this all to fruition. The 36-year-old, who grew up in Ronkonkoma but has lived on the North Fork since 2019, has worked in nonprofit organizations since age 22. Currently, Demetillo is the director of marketing at CM Performing Arts Center in Oakdale. Prior to that, they worked in the craft beer industry for six years and even founded another successful organization, the Lady Brewsters of Long Island.
With Lady Brewsters, Demetillo similarly focused on underrepresented groups. Aimed to uplift and celebrate women and nonbinary people in the craft beer industry, Lady Brewsters simultaneously supports charitable efforts that benefit all women, such as the Family Service League, The Retreat (a domestic violence initative), Empowerment Collaborative and Girls Inc.
While remaining active with the Brewsters, Demetillo has been working hard to grow Queerli.
Since its founding in July 2021, Queerli has been recognized as an official nonprofit organization and expanded its reach and impact, but there’s much more on the way, for Queerli, and for Demetillo.
Demetillo identifies as lesbian, and while they are out and proud today, they say, “I had an interesting journey, like many people do on Long Island. I knew I was gay early on … I grew up doing theater, so I was exposed to queer people.” They recall a story: “I came home when I was 12 and told my mom I liked a girl.”
However, that young sense of self, they say, “regressed” in their 20s. Demetillo worked at a church, had an eight-year relationship with a man, and was even engaged. Soon enough, though, their truth came to light.
“The end of my 20s, into my 30s, is when I kind of thought to myself that relationships with men aren’t working,” Demetillo says. “I knew I was gay in my teens, time to revisit that.’”
As it turns out, that was certainly the right choice. Last fall, Demetillo became engaged to their girlfriend, Anjelica, in an adorable, Up film-themed proposal. They also rekindled their love for theater, nabbing a starring role as Joanne in the Smithtown Performing Arts Center’s upcoming production of Rent. Of course, Queerli is continuing to grow as it approaches its two-year anniversary.
Aside from hosting social events in different spaces, Queerli has also gotten involved in helping to educate business owners and their employees.
“Businesses asked us what they can do for people to feel more safe, more comfortable and more welcomed,” they say. In response, Queerli has offered trainings to educate staff in restaurants, bars and other workplaces to support that goal. Demetillo hopes this initiative will expand into some sort of Queerli certification training for businesses, so that the business can educate its staff and let clients know that the business is a safe place. For Demetillo, it is not only about queer individuals, it’s about helping people from all backgrounds feel that they belong.
Demetillo adds that the usual target audience for gay bars or events is gay men, mostly white. Demetillo wants to ensure that Queerli does the work to support all genders, identities and backgrounds. “There are so many gay male spaces already,” they note.
“It’s important for people to be seen, and come and see themselves in other people,” says Demetillo. “I am a queer person of color, and growing up, I didn’t see a lot of us. It is really essential for people to see that representation there … people who may relate to their experiences and journey.”
The mission continues with Queerli sponsoring the annual LezVolley event on Cherry Grove, Fire Island on Saturday, August 12. The following Saturday, August 19, is Queerli’s official two-year anniversary celebration, named the “Y2GAY, Y2THEY” party, at Queer-owned gastrobar Locale in Patchogue.