A crowd of parents and children sat in the East Meadow Public Library, eagerly waiting for the start of Saturday-morning Story Time. The guest reader was Bella Noche, whom many in Manhattan know as a “drag mermaid” for her nautical-themed outfits.
It was Nassau County’s first Drag Queen Story Hour, in January, and the crowd roared and applauded when Bella Noche entered. Guests sang songs with her, listened as she read stories about children playing pretend, and created masks and crowns during an arts-and-crafts session.
When the Herald posted the story online, it was shared hundreds of times by those both for and against Bella Noche’s appearance. Nothing was more concerning, however, than the hateful comments posted in response, with the most alarming one reading, “Back in my day, that queer would have had the [expletive] kicked out of it.”
Fast forward to last week, when David Kilmnick, the president and CEO of Long Island’s LGBT Network, came to the Bellmore Long Island Rail Road station with Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen and Nassau County Police Deputy Commissioner Kevin Smith to address an uptick in hate crimes targeting the local LGBT community. On May 29, a poster on the station’s platform was ripped to obscure what it was promoting — Pridestock, an LGBT Pride Month celebration that the LGBT Network will host in Long Beach June 21-23.
A month earlier, the LGBT Network, as well as several local agencies and business groups, received an anonymous letter addressing the inclusion of an LGBT Pride Month celebration at Patchogue’s annual Alive After Five festival. The writer referred to the event as “disgusting” and “garbage,” and wrote that if it were to take place, “there will be trouble for sure.”
It’s awful not only that the Patchogue business community was threatened for hosting an LGBT-inclusive celebration, but also that there are so few places for LGBT people to meet. Aside from Fire Island, there are just two gay bars on Long Island — NuBar, in Farmingdale, and the Veranda at the Long Island Eagle, in Bay Shore. There are none in Nassau County.
Manhattan is gearing up to host WorldPride, an international LGBT celebration now in its 20th year. This month will also mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, in which members of the LGBT community protested a police raid at Manhattan’s Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969, catalyzing the gay liberation movement.
Now, more than ever, it is important for us to learn from Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, the transgender activists who were key figures in the Stonewall riots and pioneers of LGBT Pride Month. WorldPride and Pride Month are chances for Long Island to increase its LGBT visibility and let young, queer people know that they don’t need to flock to Manhattan to feel accepted and meet others like them.
Last Friday, Long Island saw the opening of the nation’s largest suburban LGBT advocacy center in Hauppauge, which boasts a community space and café, a workforce development program, meeting and conference facilities, and expansive health and human service programs.
The LGBT Network and Pride for Youth, the LGBT community center with locations in Bellmore and Deer Park, both recently celebrated their 25th anniversaries. The success of such services, and the response by local elected officials to the recent acts of hate, show that Long Island is on the right side of the rainbow. But we could do better.
We could use Pride Month as an opportunity to foster a more accepting Long Island. Businesses could fly rainbow flags outside their establishments, straight allies could stick up for their neighbors when they see negative comments on Facebook, bars could get in on the celebration by hosting pride nights, more libraries could host Drag Queen Story Hour events, and local publications could give LGBT people a platform and highlight their achievements.
Let’s make members of the LGBT community proud to call Long Island home.