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LGBT Network, Islanders partner on anti-bullying campaign in schools

LGBT Network president David Kilmnick announced that the New York Islanders would be partnering with them - making them the only sports team to be part of the LGBT Network's global coming-out campaign, on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. (Credit: Newsday / Shelby Knowles)

The New York Islanders and LGBT Network are joining forces to launch an anti-bullying partnership in more than 200 Long Island and New York City schools, an initiative that will set an important example for LGBT youth, officials said Thursday during National Coming Out Day.

“The Islanders are becoming the first professional sports franchise in any major league to participate in our National Coming Out Day campaign, and that sends a strong message to people on the athletic fields in high schools and also to LGBT young people that if they have a dream to become a professional athlete, they are seeing a team like the Islanders and the NHL saying hockey is for everyone,” said David Kilmnick, president and CEO of the LGBT Network. “Many LGBT youth feel that is not in the cards for them, that the athletic fields are not a safe space for them . . . What the Islanders are doing today — coming out for safer spaces where LGBT play in this instance — sends a message to the entire Island.”

Kilmnick and Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky announced the anti-bullying partnership at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow where the hockey team trains. The Islanders will help the network offer its anti-bullying programs in schools from the midtown tunnel to Montauk. The Islanders also announced this season’s “Pride Night” for Jan. 13, when the Islanders play the Tampa Bay Lighting at the Barclays Center, with a portion of ticket proceeds supporting expansion of the Network’s anti-bullying programs.

“ Hockey is for everyone — sports should be for everyone,” Ledecky said. “We’re delighted the NY Islanders are supporting this initiative.

“ . . . You have a sports team, and sports teams are considered a very cool thing we can use that platform to outreach and bring these groups together, and we can lessen bullying and improve anti-bullying programs in the schools.”

Bullying is seen as a major problem among LGBT schoolchildren, teenagers and young adults. More than 85 percent of LGBT students report daily verbal harassment in schools, with one in three LGBT students reporting skipping school out of fear of bullying during their educational careers. More than 40 percent of LGBT youth believe their environments, at school and at home, are not accepting to LGBT people.

LGBT youth are twice as likely to be physically assaulted. More than 25 percent of youth say they have been bullied repeatedly through cyber means, like their cellphone, computer or internet, the Network reported.

With assistance from the Islanders, the network can expand its anti-bullying programs that provide speakers and workshops at all grade levels. It also includes posters and safe space stickers and helps develop student leaders to run Gay Straight Alliance clubs at local schools. The initiative also helps support the network’s anti-bullying hotline available to students via call or text — initially only available in Suffolk County but soon to expand into Nassau.

Zack Reyes, 21, of Huntington, volunteers with the network and spoke Thursday about how this support is important.

“I think this will bring so much awareness for LGBT youth, for LGBT adults,” Reyes said. “And I think it will bring that visibility — they will have a place to always feel they belong, especially with the LGBT Network and with the Islanders now, especially for sports fans who are still in the closet.”

Ledecky said the partnership developed through the network, along with support from the NHL. The Islanders hosted a pride night last year, which went well, Ledecky said.

“We believe the New York Islanders are a community trust, and as stewards of this trust we have a platform to do good, and this is part of our effort to be proactive in the community,” he said.

More than 500,000 people were expected to participate in National Coming Out Day on Thursday, a campaign that encourages communities to take a stand against discrimination, violence, harassment and bullying of LGBT people.

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