An Open Letter from CEO David Kilmnick
As the LGBT Network continues to prepare for Pride Month in June, I wanted to issue this letter to promote this year’s activities, as well as to address the vast misinformation and outright lies that are unfortunately being spread across social media.
The LGBT Network is proud to announce the return of the 26th Annual LI Pride celebration for Saturday, June 11, 2016 in Huntington’s Heckscher Park from 12n-5p. LI Pride is the largest LGBT event on Long Island, attracting more than 15,000 spectators for a day of entertainment, community and business exhibitors, and other attractions. You can read more about this year’s event at http://www.lipride.org/.
As the producer of LI Pride for the past 4 years, the LGBT Network is excited to deliver another great event; it is an honor to produce this event, especially as one of the original four co-founders of LI Pride – I, myself with the three other courageous co-founders, fought in court to win the right to march on Long Island in 1991 so that we can all have the right to celebrate each year.
Transforming LI Pride
In 2011, the tireless volunteers of the former LI Pride Committee approached the LGBT Network to assume responsibility for the event. The transition was intended to bolster support, grow attendance, enhance event production, and ultimately to reinvigorate the event. The LGBT Network took on the responsibility, and with just months to produce LI Pride in 2012, we achieved the goal of re-energizing the event, more than doubling attendance from the prior year. Each year since, the LGBT Network has continued to grow the event, increasing attendance to an average of more than 15,000 people. This represents participation and attendance that is more than five times greater the amount of people at LI Pride in 2011.
Dwindling Parade Spectatorship
While the popularity of LI Pride grew rapidly, the success did not translate into more spectators for the Pride Parade. In fact, parade spectatorship had begun to decline a decade before, and each year there were fewer and fewer people watching the increasing number of marchers regardless of the route or whether the parade was held on Saturday or Sunday. Last year, more than 14,000 of the 15,000 total attendees went directly to the park and bypassed the parade entirely. As spectatorship for the parade decreased, participation for the festival climbed requiring more staff and volunteers to run the festival.
With the majority of people going directly to the park for the festival, the staffing structure needs to accommodate where people are gathering to ensure safety and proper functioning of the event. This isn’t just good practice for the experience of our guests, it is required by numerous laws and ordinances governing public events and the use of public spaces. My highest duty as the leader of this organization and tantamount concern for this event is that everyone who attends pride has a safe space to celebrate, free from physical danger or threat.
Bomb and Death Threats to LI Pride
In 2013, just two days prior to Pride, the LGBT Network received letters threatening the safety of LI Pride stating that ‘if you thought the Boston Marathon Bombing was bad, just wait until LI Pride.” From that day on, security as we knew it for LI Pride would be forever changed. Working with the Suffolk County Police Department, the FBI and other law enforcement officials, sweeping safety changes were implemented including bag checks and other discreet measures. Over 4 dozen plain-clothes police officers are present each year in addition to private security staff hired at our expense to ensure safety for all guests and spectators. Each subsequent year has brought new and different threats of death and violence against me personally, my home, and our LGBT community centers.
Volunteers = Capacity = Safety
A continuously growing event, combined with mounting public safety concerns has necessitated far more volunteers to ensure a safe, enjoyable experience for all attendees. For the 2015 LI Pride celebration, we recruited over 100 volunteers who attended orientations and signed up to help with both the Parade and Festival portions of Pride. However, there was a 50% drop-off of those who sign-up and attend an orientation compared with those who show-up for assigned duties on the day-of the event. This drop-off creates a difficult challenge for LGBT Network staff and the volunteers running the event – it impacts the flow of the event, and detracts from the quality of LI Pride as well as people’s safety. A few years ago this amount of volunteers would’ve been sufficient, but it just isn't anymore with the growth of Long Island Pride and where most people want to spend it...in the park. We need at minimum 150 volunteers who show up for the entire day to staff the event. This is a positive challenge to have with more of the Long Island community coming out for Pride to celebrate and one that we look forward to meeting in the coming years.
A Difficult Decision
This need for more capacity in order to maintain order and safety is the major reason why this year’s parade is not taking place. The LGBT Network has made the decision to put the parade on-hold for one year in order to build the capacity to ensure that LI Pride can be held with the support it needs to ensure the safety of all involved.
Capacity must be directed to where the need is greatest, and the need is greatest for the Pride festival. While a few hundred watch the parade, there are 15,000 that attend the festival only.
The decision to not hold the parade this year is a difficult one, and a decision I do not take lightly. In fact, I am not personally happy with the decision myself, but I know we must do what is right for the event – and that is prioritizing the safety of all.
We know that some people are disappointed with this decision – and that is understandable. However, being disappointed and behaving in a destructive manner are two mutually exclusive things.
See something, Say something
Any form of threats – written, on the internet, or otherwise – against the LGBT Network, LI Pride, or any of its employees will not be tolerated. We need the support and cooperation of all to ensure that LI Pride continues to be a safe place for all attendees.
At the urging of Suffolk County and Nassau County Police and Town of Huntington officials we must be responsible in reporting all forms of threats, and we encourage that if you “see something, say something.”
This includes language that is hostile and violent on the internet and social media. Given the history of threats to LI Pride, all threats will be taken seriously and investigated by law enforcement. It is difficult to imagine that anyone in our community, knowing that this event has been the target of bomb and death threats, would write and distribute the degrading and destructive rhetoric which has been passed around with no regard for the negative impact it will create. This behavior runs counter to what the LGBT Network and the LI Pride event represents – building community and celebrating our lives.
Support LI Pride!
LI Pride continues be a free event to attend…but it is not a free event to produce. The cost of LI Pride exceeds $75K and when you account for the staff time the figure easily surpasses six figures. While we encourage a humble $5 donation at entrances, we always need more support, especially as more and more people attend and celebrate LI Pride.
We are grateful for our sponsors that help ensure the production of a great event and to cover a major portion of the expenses, and for our volunteers that give of themselves endlessly to help. Without the generosity of all involved, our community would simply not have a Pride event to call its own.
I invite you to support LI Pride to help ensure the success of this year’s event.
Thank you for your support, and I look forward to seeing you on Saturday, June 11, 2016 for the 26th Annual Long Island Pride – and for a big announcement for 2017’s LI Pride!
David Kilmnick, PhD, MSW
Chief Executive Officer &
Co-Founder of LI Pride