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Leading on Long Island.

After coming out to family and friends at age 12, Nikki Weitheim kept a low profile at school and remained apathetic toward politics. That was until she found Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth, the region's only LGBT-owned and -operated community center for gay teens.

Now Weitheim, a 17-year-old senior from the town of Miller Place, has decided to start a gay-straight alliance at her high school. "The center helped me get more involved," the aspiring writer says.

"It helped me think of myself as a leader and to realize there's no time to sit around doing nothing."

The center was the brainchild of David Kilmnick, 38, who wrote a masters thesis on the subject of young queers and launched a youth support program with a single answering machine in his Levittown apartment in 1993. The project has since blossomed into a 4,300square-foot multipurpose center in Bay Shore, offering a "safe space" to 1,000 queer youths each month. "If kids don't have a positive safe space to be themselves, many run the risk of turning to other things to help them cope with the world," such as drugs or even suicide, says Kilmnick, who serves as LIG ALY's executive director.

The center has been gaining high-profile support from lawmakers and community leaders, including Long Island resident Bill Thierfelder. The 54-year-old English professor at Dowling College biked and walked 115 miles across Long Island August 22-27 to raise money and awareness for LIGALY. "It was so empowering to say that prejudice and bias against any kid is just not acceptable any longer," Thierfelder said after completing his "Journey for Safe Spaces" from Valley Stream to Montauk Point, which raised $7,000 for the center. "No child should fear going to school--ever."

For Weitheim, the fear is gone, but there are challenges ahead, and she plans to use what she has learned at the center to face them. "I know that once I leave Miller Place I'm going to have to deal with the real world," she says. "And things need to change."
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Article Details
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Author:Divito, Nick P.
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 25, 2005
Previous Article:Died.
Next Article:Nikki Kowell.

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