The anonymous letter threatened “trouble” for Alive After Five. It also made hateful, disparaging remarks about homosexuality in general.
According to its author, it came in response to reports that the June 27 installment of the popular street festival in Patchogue will carry a LGBT Pride theme.
The letter also called David Kilmnick, the CEO and president of the esteemed LGBT Network, “sick.”
Kilmnick says he’s no stranger to such letters.
“I’ve received a lot of letters over the past 25 years,” since the Network’s inception, he said. “There’s probably three to four letters a year that I get. They’re all anonymous, like this one.”
He was speaking to about 100-plus people who showed to a special gathering Wednesday night at Temple Beth El of Patchogue.
Kilmnick said he never makes threatening letters public; he just passes them along to the police.
“Do we really need for people to see a hate letter online to know there is hate in this world?” he asked. “All you have to do is watch the news every night to know hate is out there.”
But this letter happened to get out, and was widely circulated on social media.
It was written around the same time a transphobic Instagram post resulted in an April 13 rally outside The Cliffton bar in Patchogue. The post outed a transgender patron.
The letter was hurtful. The post was hurtful. But the people in attendance Wednesday weren’t about to stay home and lick their wounds.
They got together for what was called “A community dialogue & response to hate” at the temple. The event was co-hosted by the temple, the LGBT Network and The Congregational Church of Patchogue.
The attendees, overwhelmingly, asserted the only way to effectively combat fear and hate is with love and understanding.
Oh, and no one is backing down. The Pride-themed Alive After Five will go on as planned.
Kilmnick said the idea Wednesday night was to “leave here knowing there’s certainly a hell of a lot more of us that one letter-writer or one bar owner. We’re part of a larger community. We’re part of a united community.”
The event also drew state, town and county lawmakers, all of whom vowed solidarity in their remarks to the crowd.
“I was here when we had someone murdered in Patchogue because of the country he came from, and it was because he was dehumanized … because he was ‘less than’” his attackers, said county Legislator Rob Calarco, referring to the 2008 killing of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero. “That is something we always have to stand up to.”
To that point about dehumanization, the organizer of the rally outside The Cliffton, drag performer Annie Manildoo, also spoke.
“I always understood that pride was about visibility,” she said. “People need to see LGBTQ people as their brothers and their sisters and their daughters and their mothers, because otherwise they don’t see us as people.
“When you don’t see someone as equal to you, when you don’t see someone as a person, it makes it incredibly easy to hate that person.”
Then violence can and does ensue.
That’s why pride events are so important, she reiterated. “Because it’s a chance for us to show the greater community that we are somebody that you can love. And if you love us, we can love you right back. That’s the message we have to send to all the people who want to hate us for literally no reason. So fight hate with love.”
South Country school board president Cheryl Felice also offered a note of hope for the community, touching on her own experiences growing up in Patchogue — and later running for public office in neighboring Bellport.
“I’m 62 years old. I came out when I was 19,” she said. “Coming out at that time was not a pleasant experience, and it was a scary time. But because of the work that David and a lot of people have done, it’s a better time now.”
She mentioned that she ran for Patchogue mayor in 1996.
“How that campaign was derailed, was I was outed and the campaign went south after that,” she said. “It was a very hateful time. It was a very hurtful time. But I’ve always been true to me. And I’ve always been true to my beliefs … I never wavered.”
Twenty years later, Felice ran for school board in South Country, she said. In a Newsday writeup about her campaign. Newsday mentioned in an article that she lived with her wife in Bellport.
Felice was upset, she told the crowd. She said she put down the paper, turned to her wife, and said “that’s the end of that campaign,” wondering why Newsday had to mention her wife.
“I not only won that campaign, I had the highest amount of votes,” she said. “And I’m very proud of Patchogue, because now that very same village has come around and is supporting a pride event.”
Several other audience members also got up to speak, including the longtime Alive After Five chairman and Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce president, James Skidmore, who introduced themes to the festivals in 2014.
Skidmore assured everyone that all Alive After Five events are safe.
And security for the June 27 event will be beefed up even further, in conjunction with the Suffolk police department, the village, and private security hired by the chamber, Skidmore said.
He also spoke of an “incredible silver lining” he’s witnessed in Patchogue during uncertain times.
“There’s always this incredible power in Patchogue that I see over and over again,” Skidmore said during touching, tearful remarks. “And that community and that love is the essence for evolution … I pray for the folks that have this type of ignorance, because I know they can evolve, too.”
He also said he hoped to see everyone at Alive After Five come June 27.
“Because I’ll be there,” he said. “And I’m going to be happy. And I’m going to be proud. It took me 50 years to come out of the closet. And I am not going back in it!”
Top (L-R): The Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter of The Congregational Church of Patchogue, Rabbi Azriel Fellner of Temple Beth El, and Town Councilman Neil Foley (backs to camera) listen to community remarks over transphobia and hate speech in Patchogue Wednesday night at the temple. (Credit: Michael White)