20 years ago, when David Kilmnick was a graduate student here at Stony Brook University, his decision to do his master’s project in social work was,regardless of the incentive, an impacting choice.
“I decided to choose to do a master’s project, and not a thesis, because I thought I was being really slick and I didn’t want to write a paper,” Kilmnick said to the crowd at the 18th Annual Long Island GLBT Conference.
20 years later, Kilmnick’s project is now the largest LGBT youth organization in the country.
The project started off as a curriculum for Long Island schools to talk about growing up LGBT. The inspiration behind the project, called LIGALY (Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth) was a means of creating a safe space for young people, particularly teenagers, to simply have a place to be themselves.
The GLBT Conference’s theme this year was “Advancing Equality: We’ve come far, but we’re not done yet.” The conference began with a series of speakers including Charles L. Robbins, the vice provost for undergraduate education and dean of the undergraduate colleges here at Stony Brook, as well as by Kilmnick and the keynote speaker of the event, Carmen Vázquez. Each speaker emphasized the importance of history, and even more importantly, how much further the movement still needed to go.
“We have come very very far over the last four decades,” said Vázquez in her opening speech. “But our equality is not complete until all LGBT people in the nation are free from discrimination in the workplace, until DOMA is history,” she continued. “And even if we could accomplish all of that next year, we would still be very far from the shores of justice.”
Vázquez, currently the coordinator of the LGBT Health & Human Services Unit for the NYS AIDS Institute, was referencing the upcoming Supreme Court review and ruling of the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Vazquez was also referring to the fact that Congress has repetitively failed to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that would make it illegal to discriminate in the workplace based on sexual orientation. 37 senators are currently pressuring President Obama to sign an executive order that would ban discrimination against federal contractors.
Following the keynote speaker was a series of workshops on the 3rd floor, lunch and then a closing session at 2 p.m. The workshops that were selected followed the theme of the history of the LGBT, emphasizing the major achievements and pioneers of the movements within the last few decades.
The workshops also sought to pave way for the future of the LGBT movement and how much further it still needs to go.
The conference drew a variety of people from different experiences and backgrounds, ranging from high school students to health professionals. Many were 2nd time attendees of the conference, having been to the one held last year as well.
“These conferences are great, they have a lot of great information,” Rosario Minier, a health educator with Planned Parenthood of Nassau County, said.
Minier also said that “a lot of the new students that we are working with identify as LGBT students, and it is always great to find out new information on how to really reach them, so that we are not misinforming them.”
Many high school students who are part of the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) of their schools were in attendance as well. Tiffanie Godart, President of the Lindenhurst High School GSA, came with her club to the conference in the hopes of not only bringing them together, but to help the freshman in the club learn new things. “These conferences give us the inside scoop on the things they don’t teach us in school, and also help people become less insecure about being gay,” Godart said.
Stony Brook hosted the conference for the 3rd year in a row, taking pride on being a campus that is a welcoming environment for all students, faculty and staff.
Event sponsors of the conference were mainly departments within the University, a few of the many being the Office of the Vice President of Student Affairs, the SBU School of Nursing, the Office of the President and the Department of Technology and Society.
Robbins took the time to thank these departments at the conference, citing their dedication and effort. “The departments that were mentioned that contributed to today, the people that supported today’s activities, that is all above and beyond what their job is,” Robbins said. “They take this on because they think its important, or they recognize how significant and important it is. And that is the kind of place this is.”