Nassau GLBT community builds a home in Garden City

The brand new GLBT Community Center in Garden City opened its doors to the public on Oct. 14 (LIR photo by Jonathan Welch)

A group of teenagers gather in an office building in Garden City. It’s Halloween, and the activity of the night is watching “Hocus Pocus.” Everyone is in costume. In the same space the following morning, clusters of vivacious seniors mingle, share stories and laugh together.

What is the significance?

Both groups are taking advantage of the brand new Long Island Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) Community Center, an 8,800 square foot facility adjacent to the Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City.

The brand new GLBT Community Center in Garden City opened its doors to the public on Oct. 14 (LIR photo by Jonathan Welch)

The brand new GLBT Community Center in Garden City opened its doors to the public on Oct. 14 (LIR photo by Jonathan Welch)

The center opened on Oct. 14 in front of a crowded house of activists, professionals and lawmakers. It is the second of its kind on Long Island and the first in Nassau County.

The Long Island GLBT Services Network oversees the community center. The network’s public affairs director, James Fallarino, spoke about the impact this new meeting place could have on the island’s GLBT community.

“Our focus was accessibility and a space that would make the GLBT community proud to call home,” said Fallarino. “In New York City, you can get on a bus or on the subway and go to a center in Brooklyn, Queens or Manhattan.”

He said he thinks members of the Nassau GLBT community may have felt stuck between the access of the city and the network’s existing Suffolk County community center in Bay Shore.

Although he said he believes that there is a greater degree of understanding by parents of gay children than in days past, Fallarino also stressed that the center still helps “kids who are getting kicked out of their homes.”

The center opened after several months of planning and developing, and it operates with the support of state and federal funding, as well as the support of private and corporate donors. Construction was donated by a local company, and contributions from local businesses allowed for the center to open fully furnished and ready for a slate of programming planned by its nearly 30 employees. For example, one such contribution came from Bethpage Credit Union, who donated the funds to create a community conference room.

Fallarino stressed the general theme of the network and the new building it occupies.

“There is a thread of leadership throughout all our programs,” he said. “We are proud to be here.”

A brief history of the Long Island GLBT Services Network

The network started as a graduate school project for now CEO David Kilmnick in the mid-1990s. Origianlly called Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth (LIGALY), the program grew to service the needs of a budding community on Long Island. Eventually the ‘youth’ passed into adulthood, yet the desire and need for a GLBT community remained.

Other organizations began to branch off to serve the growing GLBT community on Long Island. LIGALY remained as a group of active youth and the cornerstone of the network that would come to serve Long Islanders of all ages.

Those over 50 could meet, connect and gather under Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE). For those interested in political advocacy including anti-bullying legislation and the fight for equal marriage, Equality LI was founded. Eventually, a facility was built in Bay Shore that became known as the GLBT Community Center. The East End Gay Organization was a group for Long Islanders in the far eastern stretches of Suffolk County.

All of these groups are managed by what is now known as the Long Island GLBT Services Network.

Connecting at the community center

With a growing network, the desire of the GLBT community to connect remained the primary focus. That’s where the community center comes into play.

While teenagers gathered in the youth activity room at the new Garden City center, Fallarino touched on the involvement of parents.

“Over time, parents find a way to be supportive,” Fallarino said. Now we are starting to see parents come in and want to know what we are providing.”

Local members of the SAGE group also use the community center as a gathering point. Their tales are slightly different than those of the youth group.

“We [used to meet] in a bisexual bookstore in West Hempstead,” said a woman who chose to remain anonymous. “This building represents for us how far we’ve come.”