Queens Pride House: a history
Queens Pride House is a community center serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) people in the borough of Queens.
The origins of the organization go back to discussions among activists in 1996 about creating a community center in Queens, which would become the first LGBT community center in the outer boroughs. At the time of the founding of Queens Pride House, the only such community center was what was then known as the Lesbian & Gay Community Services Center of New York City, the center in Manhattan that was later renamed the ‘Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center.’ Activists in Queens felt that it was important that members of the LGBT community in the borough have a community center of their own, and so a series of meetings began that would eventually lead to the founding of Queens Pride House.
After several such meetings, founding members came together at Elmhurst Hospital in January 1997 and agreed that they would constitute a board of directors for the new organization, which was incorporated as the Queens Lesbian & Gay Community Center, Inc. However, Pauline Park, the only openly transgendered member of the founding board, who was elected the first secretary of the new board of directors, urged her colleagues to consider adopting a name that was more transgender- and bisexual-inclusive, and after some discussion, the board voted to adopt the name ‘Queens Pride House’ to reflect the new organization’s philosophy of inclusion. Hence, while the name under which the organization was incorporated has not been changed, the name used for public reference since its founding has been ‘Queens Pride House.’
The first significant decision that the new board made was to find a space from which to build a full-service community center, and board members approached then-Borough President Claire Shulman, who offered Queens Pride House an office in Queens Borough Hall. Established in their new office in Borough Hall by the fall of 1997, the members of the board of directors of Queens Pride House began the long, slow process of creating a community center, seeking grant funding from private foundations and government agencies and individual donations from individual members of the community.
After months of preparation, the founding members of the board opened the new Queens Pride House in a storefront space on Woodside Avenue in Woodside in May 2001, welcoming elected officials, social service providers and community members to the new space, which served the organization well for three years, until it moved once again, this time to its current site on 37th Ave. in Jackson Heights. The new space was a joint venture with two other organizations and was named ‘the Diversity Center of Queens,’ with Queens Pride House as the lead organization.
Under the leadership of then-executive director and now-board treasurer Charles J. Ober, Pride House greatly expanded its organizational capacity, increasing its budget to well over $300,000 a year, with funding from the State and City of New York and from numerous private foundations and donations from individual donors, and hiring paid staff.
The first program began at Pride House was Queer Links, a health care provider referral service for members of the community seeking LGBT-sensitive providers. In addition to providing over 3,000 such referrals to health care providers since 2001, Queens Pride House has distributed over 5,000 pamphlets since 2002 as part of an effort to educate the LGBT community about public health issues. And since 2002, Pride House has hosted educational and social events drawing over 4,000 participants from throughout the borough and beyond.
In 2010, the budget crisis facing the State of New York significantly eroded the position of the New York State LGBT Health & Human Services Network, the umbrella network under which LGBT social service providers across the state have secured funding from the State of New York for over a decade. In response, Queens Pride House held two community forums in the summer of 2010 to inform community members of the serious situation facing the agency. Internally, Pauline Park (newly elected as president of the board of directors) and Charles Ober (as board treasurer) created a management committee that included the executive director as well as the president and treasurer in order to ensure more effective organizational management in between monthly board meetings.
As the only LGBT community center in the borough, Queens Pride House continues to be a critical element in efforts to empower lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people in Queens. In January 2011, Pride House hired Peter Pavich as interim executive director, and the new executive director is now working in partnership with the president and the treasurer as part of the management committee as well as with the rest of the board, the staff, and volunteers in order to provide a firm foundation for the organization’s capacity to continue to serve the community effectively.
On 24 August 2010, representatives of Queens Pride House met with Council Members Rosie Mendez (D-2), Daniel Dromm (D-25) and Jimmy Van Bramer (D-26) and Erik Bottcher, the LGBT liaison to Council Speaker Christine Quinn. This is the letter to Council Member Rosie Mendez (10.5.10) sent in response.
Queens Pride House letter to Council Member Rosie Mendez (10.5.10)
Hon. Rosie Mendez
Council Member and
Chair of the LGBT Caucus of the New York City Council
237 First Ave, Suite 504
New York, NY 10003
5 October 2010
Dear Council Member Mendez,
We are writing to thank you for meeting with us on Aug. 24 to discuss our request for funding for Queens Pride House through the New York City Council’s LGBT Caucus.
When we arrived at the meeting with our colleague Rosa Bramble Weed, we took at face value the invitation to discuss the Queens Pride House funding request with you, Council Members Daniel Dromm and Jimmy Van Bramer, and Erik Bottcher (Speaker Quinn’s LGBT community liaison). We were therefore surprised and disappointed to be confronted with a barrage of questions from Council Members Dromm and Van Bramer, both of whom seemed intent on turning the meeting into an interrogation and whose barely concealed hostility towards us and Queens Pride House as an organization made it clear to us that they were determined to block any funding from the LGBT Caucus, regardless of whatever information we provided to them.
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,qw had they actually been interested in acquiring, they could have asked for in advance. Despite Council Member Dromm’s calling an abrupt halt to the meeting (clearly the prerogative of the chair of the LGBT Caucus), you and Erik Bottcher generously offered to continue the meeting in your office, and per that discussion, we have attached here the information requested by all three Council Members.
What you may not be aware of is a significant development subsequent to our Aug. 24 meeting at 250 Broadway: a meeting of the board of directors of the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City on Aug. 25, at which Alfonso Quiroz presented a draft letter which he proposed the club send to members of the Queens delegation of the New York City Council expressing SDNYC’s support for funding for Queens Pride House and encouraging Queens delegation members to fund our organization.
We are informed that, at that SDNYC board meeting – coming only the day after our meeting with the LGBT Caucus on Aug. 24 – Michael Mallon spoke against the proposal, accusing Pride House of financial irregularities (without presenting any evidence to substantiate that claim) and telling SDNYC board members that he was not only present at the Aug. 24 meeting at 250 Broadway but was actually sitting at the table with us, a claim that you know is inaccurate. Given that Mr. Mallon is both on Council Member Dromm’s staff and on the board of directors of the Stonewall Democratic Club, it was a clear conflict of interest for Mr. Mallon to use information ostensibly gleaned from our Aug. 24 meeting to persuade the SDNYC board to vote against sending a letter in support of funding requests to members of the Queens delegation.
But the issue that we present to you for your consideration is not the question of whether Michael Mallon had a conflict of interest, but rather whether your Caucus colleagues from Queens were as sincerely open to considering our request for funding as we believe you were – or were in fact determined to block funding for Queens Pride House.
In those circumstances, the question must be asked whether any purpose would be served by our continuing to pursue a request for funding through the LGBT Caucus. But we wanted to assure you and Erik Bottcher of our appreciation for your goodwill towards Queens Pride House as well as the courtesy, professionalism and respect that you and Mr. Bottcher have shown us.
Please feel free to contact us with any questions or thoughts that you might have about this matter; we would be happy to discuss it further with you, Mr. Bottcher, and members of your staff and that of the Speaker’s office.
Daniel Castellanos, Executive Director
Pauline Park, President, Board of Directors
Queens Pride House
76-11 37th Ave, Suite 206
Jackson Heights, NY 11372
To: Council Member Rosie Mendez, chair, LGBT Caucus
From: Charles Ober, treasurer, Queens Pride House board of directors
Re: Queens Pride House funding request to LGBT Caucus
Date: 5 October 2010
In keeping with federal, state and local laws and the terms of our grant contracts, Queens Pride House posts state and federal tax returns and audited financial statements on our website as well as providing that information through pre-qualification forms filed with the City of New York, and our audited financial statements are entirely free of footnotes noting deficiencies as would be required had there been any. All of this is public information readily available to City Council Members as well as the public. In addition, we have provided up-to-date grant-specific statistics and work plan reports to both the State of New York and the City of New York. We have successfully completed a recent site visit from the State of New York and a phone audit with e-mailed documentation for the City of New York and were found to be in compliance with all requirements, and we have been pre-qualified for federal funding. Queens Pride House meets all of its obligations and operates entirely within standards for good practices and legal requirements for non-profit organizations as well as meeting U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB122) standards of accountability.
Last year, Queens Pride House was found to be operating in an entirely legal and organizationally competent manner in an audit of all our organizational transactions, and a legal opinion confirming that assessment was issued by counsel. The audit covered all organizational details, board minutes, board resolutions and major decisions made by the board, financial controls, budgeting, lines of authority and resolutions about loans and lending.
We also provide financial information to lenders and maintain lines of credit in good standing. Queens Pride House is not required to track and provide information about the number of clients we serve by City Council district, nor are we aware of any other LGBT community center in the borough of Queens or any of the other four boroughs that track or provide that kind of information.
Some information is by law confidential and we follow state and federal confidentiality requirements in that regard. Anecdotal evidence suggests that most of our clients come from western Queens but that some come from other parts of the borough and even from other boroughs. In 2009, we published a major needs assessment in conjunction with Columbia University staff and students and we mailed copies to City Council Members and other elected officials, community stakeholders and funders (a copy of that needs assessment is on our website).
Because of the increasing cost of printing, we have not mailed a print newsletter since 2008; rather, like many LGBT 501(c)(3) organizations, we have been communicating increasingly through electronic listserves such as our public e-mail list — to which a number of Council Members and/or their staff subscribe — and a program client list as well as through ‘new social media’ such as Facebook and Twitter. It is through such Internet-based media that we inform the public as well as funders about our programs and operations (including public hours that the center is open). All of our funders have found that the information we provide is up-to-date and in full compliance with their requirements. And we would be happy to respond to any questions you might have about our programs, operations and finances.