The East End’s first center for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community will officially open on Saturday, August 10, at the Old Whalers’ Church on Union Street in Sag Harbor.
The festivities will run from 4 to 6 p.m., with tours, wine and light refreshments, as well as a ribbon-cutting ceremony that will be attended by Edie Windsor of Southampton, the surviving spouse in a legally sanctioned same-sex marriage who won a major U.S. Supreme Court ruling this June declaring a section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional.
“Basically, we were the leaders in fighting for marriage equality,” said David Kilmnick, CEO of the Long Island Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) Services Network, which made national headlines by staging the nation’s first suburban gay prom in 2001 and this year celebrates its 20th anniversary.
The network has centers in Bay Shore and Garden City, and long hoped to open one on the East End to spare members of the GLBT community, especially young people, a trip of some 60-plus miles to get to a “safe space where you can be yourself,” as Mr. Kilmnick put it.
“It’s going to make everything so much more accessible,” said Joel Johnson, president of East Hampton High School’s Gay Straight Alliance and a member of the GLBT Center’s Youth Committee.
Joel, who’s entering his senior year, said a friend from Montauk used to drive him to the Bay Shore center once a week. Between after-school activities and the traveling distance, they’d arrive late to the center’s parties, had to leave early, and still would not make it home until 1 a.m., causing his family to worry about his safety.
This July, the organization took over a second-story space at the Sag Harbor church to use over the next two years while it continues to raise money for a stand-alone center. It will make a monthly donation to the church in return for the space, which was previously used for the Sag Harbor Youth Center, which moved out.
Support, health and social programs for people of all ages, including the families and friends of GLBT community members, are in the works for the fall. What is mostly happening now in Sag Harbor is planning, with an advisory committee and about 16 young people from both forks of Long Island—“the people it’s being made for,” Joel explained—meeting regularly to decide what they’d like to see.
Mr. Kilmnick said it’s been great to have meetings at the center itself, “because it’s real, and the genuine excitement that’s being expressed by everyone, from our youth to the seniors, is really infectious.”
The youth lounge already has new carpeting and paint, and a few couches, and the younger members came up with a wish list: more couches, bean bag chairs, a flat-screen TV, a DVD player and video game system, board games, art supplies, a dry-erase board, a microwave and a karaoke system.
They would also like to be able to watch movies and put up community art shows, Mr. Kilmnick said, and have expressed a surprisingly strong desire for “real health education,” as opposed to that included in the state curriculum.
“Also, we want to have some stuff for our parents, too—support programs for parents of GLBT kids and families,” he said.
A group of GLBT senior citizens is scheduled to meet shortly after the center’s grand opening.
Last week, framed posters reflecting the network’s history were hung along a stairway and hall. They included copies of articles about the organization’s dreams for its first center and first prom, about which the group still hears from those who attended and since have grown into adults.
“That’s what we hope to offer, that teenagers, adults, seniors and families will be able to have these experiences in their hometown that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives,” Mr. Kilmnick said.
The grand opening on August 10 will provide opportunities to volunteer or make donations, and also allow visitors to scope out the center itself.
“It’s really just going to be a very, very nice time,” the chief officer said.
Reservations can be made online at www.liglbtnetwork.org.