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Queens Chronicle

LGBT Network opens new center in LI City

Social, health and networking services under one roof on Northern Boulevard

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Posted: Thursday, February 8, 2018 10:30 am

Numerous elected officials and Queens dignitaries were on hand on Feb. 1 as the LGBT Network opened its new Center in Long Island City.

The Northern Boulevard office is designed to offer support, social, legal and medical assistance for members of the LGBT community. And for Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), the ribbon cutting was very personal.

“I remember missing a lot of school days,” he said. “I didn’t want to go to Bryant High School. I’d go and stay on the roof of my apartment building ... I was afraid if I spoke, people would hear my voice and know I was gay.”

He and others said the center will provide necessary services that often are scarce in the community.

Far Rockaway native David Kilmnick founded the LGBT Network 25 years ago in connection with his master’s thesis and now is the group’s CEO.

The organization started with a center in the Hamptons and has over time expanded west across Long Island, adding centers in Bay Shore and Woodbury.

“Our motto is ‘Be yourself. Stay healthy. Change the world.’ And, boy, does this world need changing,” Kilmnick said.

He said the Queens LGBT Center, located at 37-18 Northern Blvd., helps with all three goals. It offers services and counseling for youth and teens who are struggling with their sexual identity, and in some cases with their parents. The center also has a jobs board for those seeking employment or a change of jobs. And it has programs in schools and ones that engage churches.

The group also sponsors health and social programs for seniors; the latter, Kilmnick said, is essential to helping combat loneliness that is a problem with many seniors.

He said when their first grants for the LIC site clear in March, it also will offer screening for HIV/AIDS and STDs.

When fully funded the center will have six full- and three part-time staffers, and will be open from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“All of these services are vital to the LGBT community in Queens,” said Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), who is openly gay.

Other Queens attendees included Congressman Joe Crowley (D-Queens, Bronx); city Public Advocate Letitia James; Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato (D-Far Rockaway); Borough President Melinda Katz; Assemblyman Brian Barnwell (D-Maspeth); and state Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria).

Also there were Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell (D-Manhattan), who wrote the first bill for marriage equality New York State — it eventually passed in 2011 — and former City Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr. of Astoria, who O’Donnell said was an early ally in the LGBT rights struggle at a time when they could be very few and very difficult to find.

“The first person I went to for support in the Assembly was Mike Gianaris,” O’Donnell said. He then found that the Queens delegation was the first to give the bill full support.

Kilmnick said even today, not everyone is so supportive.

“Last year, hate crimes against LGBT people were up 20 percent [nationally], and 30 percent in New York City,” he told the crowd of more than 100. Speaking afterward, Kilmnick said he does not believe that a significant portion of the increase is due to more people feeling comfortable about reporting such crimes than in he past. He blames a great deal of it on the political climate under the ascendency of President Trump, going all the way back to his days in the campaign.

“I think he has emboldened people to act on his rhetoric and his tweets,” Kilmnick said. He added that his group counsels crime victims to try and follow through, right from filing police reports to sticking with their cases through prosecution when necessary.

Kilmnick said in this day and age, police and prosecutors generally are professionals interested in doing their jobs and helping people simply because they are crime victims. But he did say domestic abuse is as much if not more of a problem in the LGBT community, because of some remaining impressions of what domestic violence typically looks like.

“If police see two men, they may just think it’s two guys fighting; two women, they may think it’s just a catfight. Officers may not realize that there’s an actual relationship.”

“This center is needed in Queens,” said Pheffer Amato, who has been friends with Kilmnick since they attended high school together in the Rockaways.

Van Bramer also has ties to the assemblywoman, whose mother, Audrey Pheffer, is the Queens county clerk — she performed the ceremony when Van Bramer and his husband were married.

He reflected again on those days of his youth when he went to the roof because he did not have an LGBT center that he could turn to.

“It was a time when I was afraid to be myself; when I could not hope to get married; could not run for the City Council and win,” he said. “I know there is someone at Bryant High School today struggling with their sexuality or sexual identity. ... And today, I don’t give a s--- who knows I’m gay.”

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