Plans for a first-ever center for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community on the East End continue to gain steam, and the Stony Brook Southampton campus in Shinnecock Hills has emerged as a leading potential location.
Though the need for a local safe space for gay men and women and their allies has been on the radar of the GLBT community for a few years, the September 29 suicide of a teenager in East Hampton who was reportedly bullied over his sexuality has lent new urgency to the cause.
“I’ve been doing this all of 20 years, and this is the first time I have real hope that this is going to happen,” said David Kilmnick, the CEO of the Long Island Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Services Network, on Friday at a first meeting of a brand-new group aiming to get a center up and running.
Mr. Kilmnick announced at the inaugural meeting of the East End GLBT Center Advisory Committee, held at the Bridgehampton National Bank in Bridgehampton, that talks between the network and Stony Brook University are progressing well. He added that the campus’s central location on the East End would be ideal, as the network’s current centers are in Bay Shore and Garden City, leaving a void on the East End, which has a significant GLBT population.
In a phone interview on Tuesday, Mr. Kilmnick said talks had progressed even a little more since the meeting. A specific building has not yet been identified, he said, but the network is looking to rent part of an existing campus building to be used as a full-time community center that would feature two full-time staff members and offer support and services to the GLBT community and its allies, with emphasis on the Latino and immigrant communities as well.
While the group seeks a space to call its own, the new advisory committee is looking to raise approximately $1 million in private funds. That figure is an estimate of what it would cost to cover operating expenses, including rent, for three years, Mr. Kilmnick explained. Once the center is up and running—he said he had no time frame yet—public support from government contracts is a likely source of future funding, he said.
Fundraising by holding private house parties was named at Friday’s meeting as a simple, low-cost way to raise money.
The meeting drew approximately 20 attendees, from high school-age on up, and Mr. Kilmnick remarked that turnout was larger than expected. It followed a community forum on the same topic held at East Hampton High School in October.
A date for a second meeting of the advisory committee had not been set yet as of Tuesday afternoon. Nevertheless, attendees said they were delighted by the progress made at the first meeting.
“We have a big amount of support,” said Rhonnie Winokur, who attended. Ms. Winokur pointed out that when she first came out as a lesbian, at age 21, in Las Vegas, Nevada, homosexuality was against the law. “The only place you could talk about being gay was in a bar,” she said.
Now 56, a resident of Hampton Bays and a 30-year veteran bus driver for the East Hampton School District, she noted, “We’ve come so far since Stonewall,” referring to a pivotal confrontation in the early days of the gay rights movement. A community center and the resources it would offer, she said, are paramount.
“You can feel validated as a human being,” she said, “instead of being someone who has to hide in a dark alley somewhere.”