The East End’s first LGBT center opened at Sag Harbor’s Old Whaler’s Church on Saturday to fan fare, food and speeches.
The new center, the third Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth (LIGALY) center will serve as a springboard space while The Network continues to fundraise for a stand-alone, state-of-the-art community center. The Hamptons Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender (GLBT) Center, which aims to offer a safe space for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender residents, will also offer programs and activities year round for seniors, adults and families. It is anticipated that within the first year over 1,000 East End residents will participate in these programs.
Until this point, Hamptons LGBT youth in search of a place to talk openly and safely have been faced with a 120 mile round trip to make it to LIGALY’s center in Bay Shore.
“I know pride is a word that get’s thrown around a lot in our community,” said LIGALY founder and CEO Dr. David Kilmnick, “but from what I’ve heard from people I’ve been talking to, they didn’t feel it in a real way until now. Now, people can feel the pride of belonging to an East End LGBT community.”
Kilmnick explained that the center aims to become the first full time, year round center for the gay community in the East End. At present, LIGALY is continuing to seek funds, aiming to raise about $1 million to build it’s own space to maintain a presence after the two year lease with the Old Whaler’s Church ends.
The first meeting of the center’s youth group will be held on Aug. 20, which will continue every week after Labor Day. In the third week of August, a series of community round tables running through September, will reach out to Same-Sex couple headed families, and older members of the LGBT community to help determine upcoming programming.
Also notable, beginning Sept. 6, the center will offer free STI and HIV testing. According to Kilmnick, “50% of new HIV infections on Long Island are young gay men,” who often don’t feel safe going to a normal clinic.
Joel Johnson, a rising senior at East Hampton High and president of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance, called the center a “dream come true.” Johnson, himself both gay and transgender, commented that, “I’m very excited because I wanted to see this during my high school career. This isn’t just the first gay center, when you think about it it’s really the first teen center.”
In the speech Johnson gave to the gathered crowd, he said, “This will be a safe place, not just for LGBT kids, but also for their friends. This is a place where we can dance or kiss a boyfriend without fear. This means a new life for kids out here.”
Edie Windsor, honorary head of LIGALY’s East End efforts and known for her stand against DOMA in the recent supreme court decision, spoke in her speech about the place the center holds in the struggle filled history of the LGBT community, representing new era of unity and strength. “We stand behind our brothers and sister in the fight for equality,” she said, ending, “David Hernandez, you live forever in our center and in our hearts.”
The death of David Hernandez Barros, the 16-year-old East Hampton High student who committed suicide in September, has been seen as the impetus behind the accelerated effort to open the LIGALY center.
“He had no sense of support, and nowhere to turn to,” Kilmnick said, “we couldn’t wait any longer to give the young people in our community somewhere to go.”
Hernandez Barros’ mother Carmita and sister Gabby, both spoke at the end of the ceremony. “I’m so thankful,” Gabby said, “my brother’s dream was for gay people to be helped like other kids.”
The David Hernandez Barros community room further memorializes Hernandez Barros. His mother, sister, Edie Windsor and Dr. Kilmnick all cut the ribbon, officially opening the center and initiating tours at around 5:20 p.m.