By Bill Parry
The Queens LGBT community gathered last week with elected officials to celebrate a new safe space in Long Island City that will offer health and educational services. The LGBT Network, a nonprofit organization now in its 25th year, cut the ribbon on its first full-service LGBT community center in the borough. The Q-Center, as it is called, is located at 37-18 Northern Blvd.
“We’re going to have everything from education to support to advocacy to organizing,” LGBT Network President and CEO David Kilmnick said. “We’re going to be able to provide HIV testing on site and we’re going to have fun arts and cultural stuff for people to celebrate. We need to celebrate our community. We need to work across all different groups, and this center is going to provide that home and safe space.”
The Q-Center will serve all ages and offer programming such as the Safe Schools Initiative with more than 60 schools to establish gay-straight alliance clubs and offer educational workshops for students and faculty. The Q-Center will work to protect the LGBT community against hate crimes, which are up 30 percent in the city since 2016, in a program with the Queens District Attorney’s Office and the NYPD.
“Today the LGBT community is facing challenges we didn’t think we would have to after eight years of progress under the Obama administration,” Kilmnick said. “Our new center is respondent to these challenges in front of us.”
Hate crimes against LGBT individuals now account for one-fifth of all hate crimes committed, Kilmnick added which U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) blamed on the era of Trump.
“In these trying times when so many communities, including the LGBT, have come under attack from this administration people feel helpless,” Crowley said. “The support group is here now where they can feel safe and feel accepted and appreciated for who they are. No one should be picked on or brutalized. This center will go a long way towards helping people come to terms with who they are.”
City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) attested to that notion offering a personal story having grown up just a few blocks away on 31st Avenue in Astoria where he went to Bryant High School.
When I was in high school I was extremely depressed, I was suicidal,” Van Bramer said. “I stopped going to school for months at a time. I was afraid that if I spoke in class people would here my voice and automatically know I was gay. That’s how terrified I was of being who I am today.”
An LGBT youth center on 13th Street helped Van Bramer come to terms with his identity and helped him come out and now he is the only openly gay and married member of the City Council.
“At Bryant High School today, while the world has changed so much, I’m sure that there is a student or someone at that school who is discovering his sexual orientation or gender identity,” he said. “And he’s struggling to talk about it.”
That student would be enabled by friends and allies at the Q-Center, Van Bramer concluded. City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), who is also openly gay, agreed.
“It’s great to finally have a full-service LGBTQ community center in Queens,” Dromm said. “I look forward to working with the LGBT Network on the many desperately-needed programs that they will bring to the borough and to fill the gap in the LGBTQ community.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr