Twenty-five years ago, David Kilmnick was a student at Stony Brook University writing his master’s thesis on teaching educators how to provide workshops to create safe spaces for gay or lesbian students.
There was no such term as “LGBTQ.” The legality of gay marriage wasn’t even fathomed. The “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for the military went into effect that year. Nobody was talking about inclusion in schools and tens of thousands lived in secret — afraid to be themselves — for fear of judgment and ridicule, often even violence.
Today, more than 100 schools on Long Island have Gay Parent-Teacher-Student Associations and dozens of those schools have Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) student clubs. LGBT is a household phrase. Gay marriage is legal in every state.
“In 1993, people said you can’t have an LGBT youth organization on Long Island,” says Kilmnick, who founded the nonprofit Long Island LGBT Network in 2008. “Today, we’re one of the biggest in the country.”
Kilmnick’s organization now operates five community centers for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community in Woodbury, Patchogue, Bay Shore, the Hamptons, and Long Island City, Queens. Groundbreaking has started on a first-ever affordable housing development for LGBT seniors in Bay Shore.
The nonprofit LGBT Network has made strides in marriage equality and helped with initiatives that have slowed the spread of HIV, worked to combat bullying, develop job and volunteer opportunities, and create safer communities for everyone. It’s helped bring awareness, change, and acceptance in schools and communities not only here, but around the globe, opening doors for thousands of people.
The LGBT Network’s mission statement is that it be a “home and voice for LGBT people, their families, and support systems of Long Island and Queens” and to “help LGBT people to be themselves, stay healthy, and change the world.”
At its annual gala on October 23, the Network awarded 17 grants to local GSA clubs to support youth-led anti-bullying efforts in schools.
With its advocacy arm, Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth (LIGALY), the LGBT Network “changed the face of Long Island so that LGBT individuals can call Long Island a home no matter where they live, learn, work, play, or pray,” Kilmnick says.
“We’re out there speaking to people all the time,” Kilmnick adds. “We’re opening minds and planting seeds, not just speaking to people who agree.”
In October, the LGBT Network joined with the New York Islanders and the National Hockey League to announce a 2019 Pride Night, as part of the National Coming Out Day Campaign (NCOD). Proceeds from Pride Night ticket sales will support the expansion of the LGBT network’s anti-bullying programs in more than 200 Long Island and New York City schools.
“We have much more work to do,” Kilmnick says. “Many people thought that when marriage equality passed, our work was done. But bias, violence, and safety remain pressing issues for the LGBT community.
“Eighty five percent of LGBT students report daily verbal harassment in schools with one-in-three LGBT students skipping school out of fear of bullying,” he continues. “In the workplace, up to 43 percent of LGBT workers have experienced being discriminated against, denied promotions, or harassed simply for being themselves. Behind each of these statistics is a real person who is someone’s daughter, son, sister, brother, mother, father, family member, friend or coworker.”
LGBT Network Accomplishments
2010: HIV, STI, Pregnancy Prevention initiatives launched
2011: Rallied for Marriage Equality Act
2012: First Long Island Gay Parent-Teacher-Student Association was formed
2012: Launched Living Out, a publication covering LI Life and LGBT culture
2015: First NY MLB Pride Night with the Mets
2017: First LI Pride boat parade
2018: First Queens LGBT youth summit