The Riverhead Interfaith Anti-Bias Task Force and Long Island’s LGBT Network partnered to offer the community an informative free program Tuesday evening in preparation for National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11.
Over 20 people gathered at Riverhead Free Library to learn about the coming out process and how to support those who want to come out to their friends and/or family and community.
“This is part of what we do, to try to reach out to the community and honor and respect and highlight everybody who’s a part of our community because we really do feel like when it comes down to it … It’s us, we’re all in one community,” said task force chair, Cindy Clifford.
National Coming Out Day is observed annually to commemorate the anniversary of the first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1987. The first National Coming Out Day was celebrated the following year to raise awareness about the LGBT community.
Tuesday evening’s event was led by Camille Limongelli, program coordinator at The LGBT Network, which was founded in 1993. The organization provides a home and voice for LGBT people of all ages as well as for their families and support systems. They have centers all over Long Island, from Queens to Sag Harbor. The organization advocates for social change and promotes safe spaces where LBGT people can live, learn, work and pray.
Ms. Limongelli kept the presentation interactive, asking questions of the audience. The presentation covered a wide range of topics, starting with why many LGBT students feel unsafe at school, why there are higher rates of depression and homelessness among LGBT students and more.
Ms. Limongelli wanted audience members, regardless of gender or orientation, to be able to step into the shoes of someone who identifies as LGBT.
“I think, for me, it is the understanding of what it is like to be an LGBT person in today’s society, in school or in the workplace, and to have an understanding of what that experience is like and what the coming out process is and why it’s so important, why we so need allies and support systems for safe and affirming spaces.” Ms. Limongelli said.
Other topics discussed were best practices on how to be an ally in the general public and in the classroom. Tips included using gender-neutral language, speaking up or intervening when hearing hurtful language, respecting the language people use to describe their own identities, having visual cues, safe space stickers, LGBT magazines, books and more.
An additional activity during the presentation was making rainbow ribbons which will be distributed on National Coming Out Day.
“We’re doing this now so that we have the ribbons ready to go to hand out at the schools, hand out wherever, so that everybody has these ribbons to wear to show their support,” said Tina Cimino, co-adviser of the Gay Straight Alliance at Riverhead High School. “Hopefully more people will come out when they see the ribbons, so they know that we are safe people to come out to, if they choose to do so.”
Meagan Bamberger, who attended Tuesday evening, is a member of Queer Long Island Collective, a budding soon-to-be nonprofit that works to create safe spaces for LGBT people to enjoy nightlife on Long Island. Ms. Bamberger said the organization also hopes to create training for businesses.
“I think events like this are incredible in general, because this is not something that existed when I was a teenager that I know of, so it’s really nice to see community members coming out, to learn and to get educated about the queer experience and what it means to be gay, or queer, especially on the island,” Ms. Bamberger said.