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Saturday 11 April 2015

Reaching out widely to build communities

Posted in: Our Communities
By Jay Bennie - 10th March 2015

David Kilmnick
While New York is almost on the other side of the world from New Zealand the issues faced by young glbti people and the groups serving them are quite similar, says the boss of a major Long Island gay youth organisation.

David Kilmnick started the Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth (LIGALY) organisation twenty two years ago. “We've grown to be a rather large organisation with thirty five full-time staff and serving over 100,000 people with a variety of services and operating four lgbt community centres,” he says.

Of his keynote address to the NXT 15 youth conference, held as part of the Auckland Pride Festival, Kilmnick says he “wanted to impart strategies on how we can build organisations and part of those strategies is to take a look at who our target audience is. How I have run the organisation back home in Long Island, New York is that every single person in Long Island is part of our target communities, not just the lgbt community but every single businessperson, every single teacher, every single parent, every single worker. Every single person who lives on Long Island is impacted by someone who is lgbt and could certainly be part of the movement to make things better for our lgbt community."

Increasingly, wider communities are made up of people from differing backgrounds and with different life experiences. Not all will feel a need to be involved in the lives of glbti youth and some will even be opposed to glbti equality and wellbeing.

“We do that in a number of ways. One is through our education and training services, but also reaching through their heart-strings. And another important one is really getting out in front and defining the issues and not letting them be defined for you... and that is utilising the media, to not be reactive but to be proactive. We've had a lot of success with that in terms of getting out in front and letting folks know that.”

Kilmnick says personalising the lives and issued of glbti people is important. It's a strategy used with great success during the 1980s campaign for Homosexual Law Reform in New Zealand. “Some of the data that exists about lgbt youth being at high risk for suicide and high school drop out rate and other health disparities, but also putting a face behind those numbers and that's really important because it's something many people could connect with. A parent could say 'this could be my child and I want to have a safe space or a world that will treat them with equality.”

Supportive businesses are also an important part of the mix Kilmnick says should be reached out to. “If it's a businessperson and they're not going to do it because it's the right thing to do then we'll make the business casethrough a very large business programme that we've established that has over a hundred and fifty businesses.

The US Embassy says it helps fund the Auckland-based NXT conferences as part of its social equity support programme for New Zealand and the Pacific. The Pacific Islands communities in New Zealand and in the Pacific nations come to mind as strongly influenced by forces opposed to glbti equality. But Kilmnick says there are ways to overcome these barriers.

“I met with a number of the groups that serve the Pacific Islands community and part of my address was about messaging for different audiences. I gave an example of how I would approach the two different political parties back in the United States. If I was to speak with the Republican party which is not well known for their support of gay rights – or social justice period – I would speak of the criminal justice perspective with them. For example, talk about suicide, talk about bullying, hate crimes. That was something that they could hold onto and get behind and support. You are able to bring some of those people into building a large village of folks who will support lgbt issues and lgbt youth. If I went to the Democrats I would have a similar message but also to talk about how inequality and inequity and discrimination leads to all of these risk factors.”

But is it possibly go up against the powerfully entrenched religious intolerance that young glbti Pacific Island people are struggling against?

“It's not easy,” says Kilmnick, “and it's a long haul but there are people that are religious and who do support lgbt youth and it's important to bring them in as advocates and ambassadors. Many times we focus in on those that don't support us versus those that do support us in these different religions. You can't forget those that don't support us because of course they are causing problems and issues for us but we can get a lot further of we bring the folks that do support us into the fold.”

“There are Pacific Island families out there that are supporting their children and it's important that we focus on them as well and tell their story so that other families can see that it is ok to support their child and that they won't be the only one.”

Jay Bennie - 10th March 2015

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