Monday, August 2, 2010

Queens Pride House Tries to Stay Afloat by Mark Lord - Queens Chronicle

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Photo Caption: Queens Pride House director, Daniel Castellanos addresses a crowd at Tuesday night’s meeting. Photo by Pauline Park

Queens Pride House, the only community center for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered communities in the borough, is waging a battle to prevent itself from becoming yet another victim of the difficult economy. At an emergency community meeting on Tuesday night, organizers suggested that unless the group’s financial situation improves, and quickly, it may be forced to shut its doors for good next spring.

Nestled between a laundromat and a mini-market, a couple of flights up from a beauty salon, a billboard outside QPH touts the organization as “Working together against injustice, discrimination and violence in all forms.”

“We’re a young organization,” said treasurer Charles Ober, “and we have a huge fiscal challenge.”

QPH opened its first office in Queens Borough Hall in 1997. After years of identifying funding sources and community needs, the organization opened for service in Woodside in 2001.

“We wanted to be who we are here in our own neighborhood,” said Daniel Castellanos, one of the original founding members and current director of the organization.

In 2006, the group outgrew its space and joined two other community-minded organizations to create the Diversity Center of Queens at its current location in Jackson Heights.

QPH provides a variety of health-related programs and services, as well as social and cultural programming, in areas such as substance abuse, immigration, employment, healthcare, legal assistance and youth services. The organization served a total of 4,588 people last year alone.

Now, QPH is calling upon the community it has assisted for over a decade to come to its rescue.

“We came out of a grassroots structure,” explained Ober, “and we still run as one.” The group’s estimated annual operating budget is $300,000.

Originally, all staff members were volunteers.Since the move from Woodside, several individuals have become paid employees.Recently, because of budget issues, five of the organization’s eight paid workers have been laid off.

Like many other funded organizations, QPH seems to have been caught up in a bureaucratic tug of war.

“The governor wanted certain things that the legislature refused to pass, so the governor vetoed what the legislature wanted to pass,” said Ober.

As a result, most of the $83,000 that had been anticipated from the state is, at least temporarily, on hold.

Inequities in city funding have left the organization wanting, as well.

In a financial report distributed by Ober at the meeting, statistics indicate that QPH received only $5,000 from Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras’s (D-Corona) office for the current year, placing it in a distant last place for funding among the five boroughs LGBT centers. Its Manhattan counterpart, by comparison, received $225,000 from the City Council.

Last year, QPH received a total of $12,500 from three council members.

Compounding the group’s woes is the fact that the two other organizations that had been sharing rent expenses have both gone out of business, according to Pauline Park, president of the board of directors of QPH.

“We now have the full burden of the rent,” she said.

If Queens were a city, it would have the ninth largest gay population in the United States. Castellanos said “Our needs cut across many groups. We are an immigrant community; we have many issues of diversity.We don’t want to lose that.”

In an attempt to overcome the current crisis, the organization is considering sharing its office space with other organizations.An Internet fund-raising campaign is in the works and fundraising committees are being formed.Volunteers have been recruited to replace the laid-off staff members, but more are needed.

Despite the severity of the situation, the organization’s leaders remain die- hard optimists.

“I’m thrilled we had over 50 very enthusiastic community members here,” Park said. “I was excited by all the positive energy. By the end of next spring we’ll see if we can keep our doors open.”

“We will stand based on the grass roots in this room,” said Ober, regarding the standing-room-only crowd.“We expect some of our money to be released by the state.”

“It is disappointing that we were moving in the direction of a dream.We don’t want to slow down. We want to make that dream a reality,” said Castellanos.

For further information on Queens Pride House, or to make a donation, visit