As PFY is gearing up to celebrate the month of pride in June, and the LGBTQ community in general, this year it is also celebrating its own history, as 2023 marks the 30th anniversary of the agency, which was the first of its kind in a suburban setting in the United States.
PFY, which formerly stood for Pride For Youth, is now known simply by its acronym, because a grant allowed the organization to expand the reach of its services, and it now provides lifelong assistance to anyone who identifies as LGBTQ on Long Island and in Queens.
The Bellmore-based organization was founded 30 years ago as an offshoot of the Long Island Crisis Center, Tawni Engel, the associate executive director of the crisis center and PFY, explained, because its founders recognized the need for services for LGBTQ individuals.
The crisis center operates a 24/7 hotline for people with mental health crises, and in the early 1990s, Linda Leonard, its former executive director, noticed an influx of calls from members of the LGBTQ community, Engel said.
“They were actually getting a lot of calls on the hotline for folks who were looking for LGBTQ services, such as counseling, or, you know, just support groups,” she said, “and there was absolutely nothing like that that existed at the time.”
In 1993, Leonard secured a grant from the Paul Rapoport Foundation, which at the time was one of the oldest LGBTQ foundations in the country. The grant paved the way for the foundation of PFY, and now, 30 years later, it is still growing, and working to be a comprehensive facility that offers a wide range of services.
One of the first was its Friday Night Coffee House, which provides a safe and substance-free environment for LGBTQ youth and allies to come together, socialize and learn, and it is still operating to this day.
“Really over the years, it’s grown exponentially into what it is today,” Engel said of PFY. “And back then, with society, the climate was very different — things were very different.”
The crisis center actually lost funding from private and public donors in the 1990s because they didn’t want to support organizations catering to the LGBTQ community, Engel said.
“I will say that we did the right thing, obviously,” she said. “What we’re sort of known for is just saying, no, we want to meet the needs, and the needs that we are seeing. There’s obviously a gap in services, and we want to be the ones saying we’re filling that gap.”
Devon Zappasodi, PFY’s director, said that as the organization celebrates the momentous anniversary, it is also important to reflect on the work that still needs to be done.
“It’s really exciting when we’re growing and creating these new, innovative programs that are really meeting needs and helping folks,” Zappasodi said. “But there’s also, like, this somber tone, because, you know, we’re growing and growing, but then there are still needs that are just unmet.”
Some of the problems facing the LGBTQ community today include food insecurity, the inability to obtain consistent housing and job insecurity, among others. Many people struggle with their mental health, and with accessing and understanding health care services, and PFY works constantly to make sure those issues are addressed.
At the organization’s 2050 Bellmore Road location and at its Suffolk County center in Deer Park, it offers rapid HIV and syphilis testing. PFY recently partnered with the Suffolk County Department of Health to run a mobile medical clinic, where things like free Covid-19 and HPV vaccinations were offered. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that can cause long-term issues such as cancer if untreated.
Educational tools offered to the community include making sure that the use of PEP and PrEP — medications that help prevent HIV transmission — are understood, Zappasodi explained.
Zappasodi said he was excited that PFY’s programming can now help an even greater variety of people. “Whether they’re 50, 70, 40 — at this point we now have all of these services to meet a lot of the needs of the community,” he said. “As our programs and services continue to grow and expand, we’re just seeing even more and more need.”
To celebrate the anniversary and Pride Month, the organization has an upcoming Pride Gala on June 13 at the Westbury Manor. Ninety-four percent of all proceeds will be devoted to helping the LGBTQ community through PFY’s services.
Attendees will hear from award-winning actor Maulik Pancholy, who is openly gay and known for his roles in the sitcom “30 Rock” and the children’s series “Phineas and Ferb,” among others. There will be drag performances and other entertainment, and overall, Engel said, the event will offer a chance to reflect on how far PFY has come.
For information on the gala, visit TinyURL.com/PFYEvent2023, and for more on the agency, visit LICCPFY.org.
“I think the gala is going to be a time for us to kind of get together and reflect on where we have come (from) as an agency, where we need to go as an agency, and really honor the pioneering leadership and spirit that has laid the groundwork that has made PFY what it is,” Zappasodi said. “(We’re) always keeping the community close to us, because without them, we’re nothing — it’s really coming from them — 30 years of working with and in collaboration with the community.”