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Budget cuts threaten Queens Pride Center

Despite early support of two sitting City Council members, the Queens Pride House in Jackson Heights could soon be closing its doors due to Gov. David Paterson’s line-item vetoes of discretionary spending in the fiscal year 2011 state budget.

“It’s in limbo,” said Daniel Castellanos, executive director of the QPH. “We don’t know what we’re going to do.”

Castellanos said City Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) was one of the co-founders and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) was once on the board of QPH, but neither has allotted funding for the community center, which Castellanos said is the only lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender center in Queens.

“We were surprised,” Castellanos said. He added that former Councilwoman Helen Sears had allocated funds for the center in the past.

But the biggest blow to the QPH was Paterson’s line item vetoes in the fiscal year 2011 state budget. Castellanos said Paterson vetoed new discretionary funding, as well as reappropriations for existing contracts with the state.

QPH had one five-year grant that would pay for its referral system, which links LGBT individuals to services, backdated to June 1, 2010. QPH also expected five additional grants: three from the state Senate and two from the state Assembly that provided additional support. These totaled around $80,000.

“Now that those grants are gone that means we have to reduce the services we provide,” Castellanos said.

Monies that QPH needs to spend now also may not be repaid. For example, one of QPH’s contracts began Jan. 1, 2010, and ends in December, but since the new fiscal year began April 1, 2010, the state will not reappropriate funds spent from April 1 until now, Castellanos said.

“What’s happening is we don’t know at this point is if those contracts are going to be paid,” he said.

Since April, Pride House has been getting some loans from foundations to pay its personnel and stay open, and Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) provided QPH with a $5,000 grant in conjunction with lesbian Latina group Las Buenas Amigas to continue a support group at QPH for lesbian Latinas called “Charla!”

But significant cuts have been made. Castellanos said QPH has had to reduce hours, shut down some programs and let go of the program coordinator as well as its main referral person.

“Losing someone who knows what services are available in Queens … it’s been very traumatic to clients,” Castellanos said.

If the line-item vetoes are not overturned, QPH will have to close down. While he understands budget cuts due to the financial crisis, Castellanos said as a member of the diverse community of Jackson Heights QPH provides a place where LGBT individuals can forge an identity not just as LGBT people, but also as immigrants and members of their own unique racial and cultural groups.

Pride House also provides other services, such as its open computer lab and a meeting space for independent groups who rent it out.

“It’s such a shame because Queens has close to 2.5 million people. … There are not many LGBT services in Queens,” he said.

Dromm said in a statement that he has provided services for other LGBT groups, but could not for QPH.

“I can’t provide money for all of them,” he said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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