With just 10 weeks to go before it produces an alternative march in New York City on the last Sunday in June, the Reclaim Pride Coalition has issued an open letter stating it will no longer meet at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center and denouncing The Center.
“The attitudes and actions of The Center appear to be rooted in transphobic, racist, and classist attitudes,” the group wrote in the April 18 open letter. “It is these very attitudes that the community looks toward an institution like The Center to resist and expunge. Instead, The Center largely caters to the more privileged members of the LGBTQTSIA+ community while failing to provide a safe and welcoming space to its more vulnerable and marginalized members.”
The Coalition’s unhappiness with the agency grew when The Center rented space for a March 28 meeting of the #WalkAway Campaign, a conservative group that seeks to convince Democrats to leave that party and join the right wing. The town hall was to feature Brandon Straka, the gay man who founded the campaign in 2018, and three other LGBTQ speakers. The Center canceled the rental after an outcry from a number of groups including the Coalition.
“It was the Walk Away event,” said Ann Northrop, a member of the Coalition. “There was a lot of online chatter about The Center having rented a room to the Walk Away people.”
The Coalition originally planned on holding a March 27 town hall at The Center, but canceled after the #WalkAway event was booked and instead met at The Church of the Village, which is on the same West 13th Street block as The Center. The #WalkAway event was the last straw.
“After all of that, we kept talking about and had a couple more events scheduled [at The Center],” Northrop said. “It all just piled up and the decision of the group was to cancel our stuff there and not just cancel, but write an open letter.”
Dating back years, a small number of LGBTQ groups have elected to not meet at The Center with those groups typically citing a general discomfort among their members with the atmosphere at The Center. Currently, Rise and Resist, the activist group, meets at The People’s Forum on West 37th Street in Midtown Manhattan. The Coalition has also used that space, which is cheaper than The Center and is seen as more politically aligned with the group’s views.
The open letter also cites The Center denying space to Queers Against Israeli Apartheid and any group that was organizing around the Israel-Palestinian conflict in 2011, a ban that was lifted in 2013, and its banning Sylvia Rivera “in the mid-90s.”
In 2012 and again in 2014, SAGE, the LGBTQ seniors organization, battled to keep its drop-in space at The Center and some smaller groups, such as the Zappalorti Society, have had tensions with The Center over space mostly related to the cost of rent. The Zappalorti Society and The Center have resolved that matter and it continues to meet there.
On June 30, the Coalition will stage a march that begins on Seventh Avenue near Sheridan Square at 9:00 a.m. It will head north on Seventh Avenue then east on 23rd Street then north again on Sixth Avenue to Central Park for a rally on the Great Lawn.
Separately, Heritage of Pride (HOP), the group that produces the city’s annual Pride Parade and related events, will stage its march in the blocks east and west of Fifth Avenue and above 26th Street. That march, which always steps off at noon, will head south on Fifth Avenue, west on Eighth and Christopher Streets, then north on Seventh Avenue to disperse in the blocks above 24th Street.
This year’s events commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots, which mark the start of the modern LGBTQ rights movement. The Coalition march roughly approximates the 1970 march, which was the first commemoration of the riots. The HOP march goes by the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, the site of the riots.
A few of the charges in the open letter appear to have not been investigated by the Coalition. Some Coalition members, who were not identified in the letter beyond saying they were trans women, alleged that when they people tried to enroll in The Center’s substance abuse programs, they faced “Onerous and ‘mandatory intake requirements’ including drug and HIV tests and psychiatric evaluations were required” and “full, legal names were taken in order to fulfill grant requirements.”
The Center’s two substance abuse programs are licensed by the state Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) and it is the OASAS that requires some of these practices, not The Center. The Center has city and state contracts to provide services and some of the services provided are paid for with Medicaid or private insurance dollars. Those payers will not reimburse for services without the individual receiving a diagnosis, so intake with a full name is required and they may well require drug testing to show that the individual is complying with the program.
Additionally, if city or state corrections or probation refers an individual to The Center’s drug treatment programs, those agencies might also require drug testing to prove compliance, which would be a condition for staying out of jail or prison.
Robin Scott, the Coalition member who raised these issues at its most recent meeting, told Gay City News that she was a member of a trans-feminine support group at The Center in late 2014 and early 2015 when she heard these complaints from other women in the group. Scott never participated in The Center’s substance abuse programs. Members of her support group were required to give full names.
“You talked about intake requirements for substance abuse,” she said. “I have no experience with that. It was all anecdotal… I was there for people being required to give their full names, and I was not in the substance abuse programs.”
[Editor’s note: At the time of this story’s original posting, Gay City News had not yet gotten comment from Robin Scott.]