In a Queens Chronicle op-ed written two weeks ago, Queens Pride House Acting Board Director Pauline Park criticized the City Council’s LGBT caucus for not funding “the only LGBT community center in the borough.”
According to Park, the lack of city funding is unwarranted. With the Jackson Heights-based center receiving funding from the State Department of Health and a number of grants through the years, she expressed her confusion over why a caucus dedicated to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered issues will not put funds toward the Queens Pride House.
Lawmakers say there are good reasons for that.
“They have not been completely honest and because of that lack of honesty, there is a sense that not all of the members are a trustworthy group,” Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), who also helped found the Queens Pride House, said. “We can’t fund everyone either. We have limited funds and we’re going to issue those funds to the groups we feel best serve the community.”
In 2010, the Queens Pride House met with LGBT caucus members Rosie Mendez (D-Manhattan), Danny Dromm, Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) and Erik Bottcher, Speaker Christine Quinn’s (D-Manhattan) liaison. According to a letter sent after the meeting by the Queens Pride House to Mendez, it was to discuss possible funding from the City Council, but it went wrong.
“Despite your best attempts to keep the meeting on track and the tone of the discussion cordial and professional, the other two Council Members turned the meeting into an adversarial encounter, demanding specific financial and programmatic information that, had they actually been interested in acquiring, they could have asked for in advance,” the letter read.
When asked about the meeting, Dromm and Van Bramer said the questions they asked were not out of the ordinary and that the Queens Pride House should have been able to answer at the time.
“Anyone who runs a program should be able to answer certain questions about their program,” Van Bramer said. “Questions like what do you do in the community and how will the funding be used are normal questions. I have never asked about a program’s finances and had the group say that it was inappropriate.”
Charles Ober, the treasurer of the Queens Pride House, said that questioning the legitimacy of the organization’s financial records is uncalled for.
“I have offered to show our books to any independent, objective person and that offer stands,” Ober said. “We abide by the highest practices in all fiscal and programmatic matters and I can prove it. I have already proved it to auditors.We gave similar information with many attached documents to the LGBT caucus in 2010 at the request of Daniel Dromm but we never received a response from him or anyone else at the caucus.”
The Queens Pride House has passed both city and state audits with few footnotes. Going through financial papers that Ober supplied, no misuse of funds was apparent.
Ober also mentioned that Dromm and the City Council had allotted money to the Bronx Community Pride Center, which closed last year after a board member was arrested for embezzlement.
According to the City Council budget, there is no evidence that Dromm funded the Bronx Community Pride House with his discretionary funds.
The budget does show the center has received funding through the Department of Youth and Community Development.
Even so, Van Bramer said there were other factors that went into their decision not to fund the Queens Pride House.
“I am proud to have funded a number of LGBT groups both through discretionary funds and caucus funds,” he said. “But with respect to Queens Pride House, I have found their approach and their application wanting. They’ve had opportunities to talk to the caucus about some of the progress they were making but it wasn’t reassuring.”
The councilman went on to say that it is important to remember that any funds the Council issues has to benefit the community in the best possible way.
“We have an obligation,” he said. “This is not our money to give away, it’s taxpayers’ money which is why we have to be exceptionally careful in allocating funds. No one is entitled to funding just because they exist.”
Kevin Wehle, a past employee with the Queens Pride House, said that lack of services is definitely an issue people in the community have had with the center.
“It’s been a rocky experience with the Queens Pride House,” he said. “They have a rocky history with many different stories and many different layers. They don’t have many services so it’s become more of a referral program. They don’t actually offer many on-site services.”
Park did say that the Queens Pride House recently received a grant to pass out condoms in the community but Wehle, who started as a volunteer and became the program assistant in 2011, recalled having difficulty finding outside groups willing to work with the center.
“When we did outreach in the community, so many people, even people in Jackson Heights, had no idea the place even existed,” he said. “Queens Pride House has a proven track record; they have a history of not working well with others. Other groups just didn’t want to work with us because they didn’t see us doing anything.”
“We offer rental space to outside groups like the LGBT AA group that meets here,” Park said. “We have a youth group and we allow anyone to use the computers we have in the lounge. There are people, many of whom are immigrants, who may not have a computer at home or aren’t out to their families yet, so they can come here to use the computers and speak with the other people hanging out in the lounge.”
According to the Queens Pride House website, programs offered include a Medicaid enrollment program, a youth group, a women’s support group and free yoga classes.
But Wehle, who was let go in May 2012, insisted “Queens Pride House has become more of a referral service than anything else. They don’t have things in-house, they’ll just tell you where you can go to get these things.”
A majority of these programs are given through other groups that meet in the headquarters, located at 76-11 37 Ave., renting the space.
“I have received a number of complaints from people and organizations regarding Queens Pride House,” Dromm said. “I find their renting process to be somewhat suspicious. I have heard that they rent the space out to a group and shortly after, they will oftentimes just throw them out.”
The LGBT caucus has been praised for being very supportive of LGBT groups. Dromm and Van Bramer have been continuous supporters of organizations such as Generation Q, an afterschool program for LGBT youth in Forest Hills.
“Much of my life has been about achieving full equality,” Van Bramer said. “I don’t think anyone would accuse me of holding an LGBT group back but at the end of the day, there will always be groups that don’t get funded, we don’t have the money to fund everyone. When we look at these groups, we have to decide which one is serving the most amount of people in the best possible way. In my experience there are other groups that are doing those things better than Queens Pride House. It is a competitive process. For anyone to say that I don’t support LGBT programs is laughable and insulting.”
Unless the LGBT caucus sees the Queens Pride House expanding its organization, they will continue to go unfunded by the City Council.
“We like to see, for example, if a group is in the news,” Dromm said. “We ask groups to show us any kind of newspapers they’ve been in. I have not seen a news story on what the Queens Pride House is doing in the community. The only time they’ve been in the news is when they’re complaining about funding.”
Over the next year or so, Queens Pride House’s exposure may change. Park mentioned a few projects in the works.
“Our biggest is the condom distribution,” she said. “We were only one of three grantees for this program and will be distributing condoms in Jackson Heights, Woodside, Elmhurst and Sunnyside.”
Park also mentioned the Queens Pride House’s new effort to inform transgendered people of their rights. Park said there is a significantly high percentage in the number of transgendered individuals being arrested by the NYPD.
“We are one of the only places to make ourselves open to the community,” Park said “Having a place where people can drop in and hang out is truly invaluable. The lack of funding really makes it a struggle but I know for certain that if the Queens Pride House ever closed, people would be devastated.”
“They have always been in financial trouble,” Wehle said. “There has never been a period when there was money; but you want funding, you have to have something. You have to show people numbers and data to get them to invest in you.”