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Despite Its Center Closing, the Bronx Celebrates Pride This Saturday

by Winnie McCroy

EDGE Editor

Tuesday July 17, 2012

Despite the recent devastating news that the Bronx Community Pride Center (BCPC) was closed down amidst the scandal of a former employee's alleged malfeasance, community organizers have stepped up to ensure that the annual LGBT Bronx Pride celebration will go on as scheduled. On Saturday, July 21, in Crotona Park in the Bronx, the LGBT community will come together for an afternoon of speakers, entertainers and LGBT visibility. They say it is the only way to start rebuilding what will become a new, unsullied face of the Bronx gay community.

"There are a number of people in the community who are donating their time and energy to perform," said volunteer Pride organizer Peter C. Frank, a disabled Westchester County activist who pitched in to help with the event in the wake of the BCPC scandal. "Everyone knows our financial situation, and they are coming together to make sure Pride still happens. It is heartening that the community is putting this first instead of the almighty dollar."

Frank said that they currently have about a dozen performers lined up for the six-hour event. A member of the Human Rights Commission from neighboring suburban country of Westchester, Bill Schmidt, will speak, as will the first openly gay elected official of Yonkers, N.Y., which borders the Bronx, Michael Sabatino. The New York City Council will send at least one representative, but no Bronx politicians have responded to requests for participation.

In the past, the BCPC was the major benefactor and organizer of Bronx Pride. With the sudden closure, organizers were on their own to raise the $5,000 needed for various permits to stage the festival and rally. They are raising money by selling Bronx Pride 2012 T-shirts and through online donations.

Frank had organized a fundraiser for the BCPC in March. Although his group hasn't reached its goal, they've secured permits and the festival will indeed go on with the aid of a tiny army of volunteers.

"Normally everyone gets paid at an event like this," said Frank, "but this year everyone is willing to do it for free," such as longtime Bronx Pride emcee, Appolonia Cruz.

"She's really working hard because it's so important to her," said Frank. "She lived in the Bronx for decades, and having Pride here is so important to her and her friends. People need to know that just because the BCPC has closed, they won't be abandoned."

Since Cruz moved to New York City from Florida at the turn of the millennium, she has participated and hosted many of the city’s Pride celebrations. When Bronx Pride was threatened, she immediately turned to co-host Tyra Allure and rallied her cadre of trusty showgirls, who all agreed that the show must go on.

"We’ve been working on this for less than three weeks and we’re going crazy, but everyone wants to help out," Cruz told EDGE. "And we must have it! It’s very important to me because we need to let Bronx politicians like Senator Rubén Díaz, Sr., know that his borough has LGBT people, and we need to have our events and services. If we don’t make noise as part of the community in the Bronx, there is going to be a lot of closures of services for us."

Diaz, a renegade Democrat, is notorious as the most openly homophobic member of the State Senate. He lobbied hard against gay marriage, with a rally at City Hall.

As of press time, the Bronx Pride schedule includes performances by Barbie Crawford, Lovari, JFortino, Tym Moss, Zaman of Chutney Pride, reggaeton performer ICC & J-Alva, Mr. Stonewall Cub 2011 Jay Edwards, drag king Stefon Royce, singer Greg Allen, and Taylor, a poet who will perform with a DJ, Mami Cutz.

There will also be an anti-bullying rally, and a Full Equality Now demonstration.

Stonewall Veterans Association, the LGBT Community Center in Greenwich Village, the Anti-Violence Project, The Trevor Project, The NYC LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce, the New York City Police Department’s LGBT Liaison’s office, CitiWide Harm Reduction, Rivers at Rehoboth and the Human Rights Campaign are all participating.

Bronx Pride will be held on Saturday, July 21 from noon to 6 p.m. at Crotona Park, just south of Indian Lake near the intersection of Claremont Parkway and Crotona Park East. For more info or to support Bronx Pride, visit the event website.

Building a New Community Center in the Bronx

Even before Bronx Pride is over, community members will begin to address the need for a new local community services center.

They have already planned a rally of support at Pride, during which representatives from an ad hoc committee will tell people how they can help. All agree that in order to be a success, the new center must start from scratch.

"Since the closure of the center, people are not certain about what they feel," said Frank. "All we basically figured out is that if we want to have a center in the Bronx, it needs to have clean slate, one without the history and negativity of the BCPC attached to it."

The BCPC closed at the end of June amid allegations that former Executive Director Lisa Winters, who led the group from 2004 to 2010, stole $338,000 to use on lavish vacations, meals, clothing and even a dog walker. Winters was fired two years ago and was arrested last month by the Bronx District Attorney’s Office. She’s been charged with larceny and falsifying business records.

The BCPC had been struggling to survive since 2010. But it shut its doors in June. Bronx Pride is the first major step people have made to fight for services badly needed in the sprawling borough.

"Hopefully we’ll be able to work with people that didn’t work with the old Bronx Pride Center and open their eyes so they can work with a new organization, which as of now we are just planning," said Cruz. "I found out about the BCPC in the press, and they never informed anyone that it was going to be closed, so it was a big shock to me. But I said I still wanted to be part of a Pride that was not part of BCPC, so we took this on our own. We are feeling good because the community is responding, and they want to volunteer."

The ad hoc committee has already envisioned a new LGBT Center as a true community services center, an umbrella organization that would house groups and organizations to provide some of the services the old center did. Unlike the BCPC, however, which some complained only catered to youth and the transgendered, the new center will serve all segments of the borough, which has a heavily Hispanic population, but also significant recent immigrants from Africa, Ireland and Asia.

"I’m very excited to learn of plans for creating a new community services center with a clean slate, one that isn’t beholden to no-good politicians and people," said outspoken advocate Reverend Carmen Hernandez-De Armas, president of the NYC LGBT Chamber of Commerce. "We would be honored to become part of a new center, as we have a lot to offer the members of all of our diverse communities, from job search preparedness and assistance to skills training to assistance with creating and running your own business."

Other community organizations have also expressed interest in becoming active in the new center. Frank believes that Bronx Pride will only increase momentum to create a new center from scratch.

Right now, the focus is on producing Bronx Pride 2012, which is in less than a week. Once that’s over, Frank and others are forming a new New York State nonprofit corporation, the first step in a long road toward creating the new community services center. "It is my hope that the Coalition to Save the BCPC will recognize the wisdom and benefits in creating a new center with a clean slate, and come to support our efforts," Frank added.

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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