David Kilmnick first entered my orbit (or perhaps more accurately, I entered his), in my second year of college. Of all the things I’d thought about doing, pledging wasn’t one. But most of my friends had joined this co-ed fraternity, and though i didn’t exactly meet the qualifications, I was invited anyway. After a lifetime of feeling unsure about where (or whether) I fit in, the idea of joining a group gave me a hope for belonging like I had never felt before.
At the heart of the experience was David, who led our little group through the trials and tribulations of pledging. It was all very hush-hush, more than a little stressful for a girl with more than her fair share of insecurities.
He had a laugh unlike any I’d ever heard–it was loud and silly, a signal that fun was about to start. During the first few weeks, he seemed to recognize my nervousness. I was far more anxious than was reasonable, but throughout the stretch of 8 weeks or so, I could count on him to talk me down off the ledge. I got more than one calming note and advice to relax.
Once we had passed all the tests, I entered a time that to this day, holds some of my fondest memories. As one of the main leaders of this merry troupe, David played the roles of organizer, pep squad, and all-around fun-maker. Nearly every party included something that he got going – his irrepressible personality was made to engage people and bring them into the action. For someone who’d been craving a community their whole life, it was incredible to feel this kind of connection to people. If we were a small town, David was definitely the Mayor.
Like so many others, I lost touch with all but a few close college friends after graduation. I wasn’t one of those people who went back for homecoming or got involved in a lot of alumni activities. So when Facebook came into my consciousness almost 10 years ago, seeing the old faces who were such a big part of the best years of my life was especially fun. I’m not sure who friended who, but suddenly, there was his face again. And after all those years, it still made me smile.
David had continued his path as a welcomer, and had found a way to do it that was beyond what I could have imagined. He was the founder and leader of a Long Island-based group dedicated to helping LGBT youth. Over the last two decades LIGALY has provided support and services to hundreds of thousands. The larger LGBT Network he currently directs runs programs focused on health, employment, housing for seniors – if it’s an issue for someone, David’s likely got it covered.
It’s a huge responsibility and his role encompasses more than just being the guy welcoming those who need a place to be heard and helped. And yet, as I watched his interviews, his speeches, and read his posts, what struck me most is how he radiated that same acceptance I felt as an unconfident college kid desperate to fit in.
He’s been all over the country – the world – as a speaker on LGBT issues and has won multiple awards for his efforts. David is often who networks call for reaction to events and he has worked with high-profile public figures to maximize the impact of his group’s initiatives.
Among his accomplishments is putting together the first suburban prom for LGBT youth in the US. I don’t know if he attended, but I can see him out on the floor urging everyone to have a great time. Another recent event was especially close to my heart. Anyone who knows David knows he loves his his sports teams, so when he coordinated with the Mets on a Pride Night at Citifield, I imagined him cheering on his team with the boisterous glee of a kid, even as he celebrated such a momentous occasion.
In a world where we are tempted to stick to our safe spaces, folks who make it their mission to be that friendly face, who let us now we’re not alone, are like a gift from the Universe. Those of us lacking in natural self-esteem often count on them to not only be nice, but to accept and encourage us to be more than mere observers in this life.
One of the many amazing people David has known is the late Edie Windsor, whose role as plaintiff in the case United States v. Windsor, which successfully overturned Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act and was a landmark legal victory for the same-sex marriage movement in the United States. While it doesn’t surprise me in the least, I am still a bit awed by David’s proximity to such incredible leaders.
The world needs as many people as possible looking out for and lifting up others. Using their gifts to show the less brave among us that despite how it may sometimes feel, we are not alone; that there are folks out there waiting to be the outstretched hand that says “Come on in.” Those who know David can rely on his to be there.
I leave you with a quote from Ms. Windsor, whose personal victory was one for so many she’d never meet: