A major struggle faced by nonprofit organizations, specifically those that work with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, is finding adequate funding.
As the budget shrinks on the federal, state and city levels, groups like the Queens Pride House in Jackson Heights often rely on private grant funding but four Queens borough president hopefuls are looking to appeal to the LGBT community and provide alternatives to competitive grant seeking.
Last week, the candidates made a brief appearance at the Queens Pride House for a forum to address issues affecting the LGBT community and the Queens community in general.
Originally, the forum was set for two hours, but the event was cut short as many of the candidates had to make another appearance at a political club in Kew Gardens. Despite the lack of time, the candidates were able to address some of the issues, namely funding, that affect the LGBT community regularly.
“This borough should be a place where people can live here, they can travel here, they can go to school here, they can go to stores here and they can be safe here,” Melinda Katz, one of the candidates, said.
As a way to promote communication and transparency, Katz, who has been involved in government for almost 20 years, suggested continuing a tradition established by former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman.
“She was really very good in being a total Queens advocate,” Katz said. “Claire Shulman held monthly meetings where she met with groups and agencies and I plan on continuing the tradition.”
After the four candidates gave their opening remarks, Queens Pride House Treasurer Charles Ober brought up the issue of funding and the lack of support faced by two vulnerable parts of the LGBT community: youth and seniors.
“There isn’t a concerted borough-wide effort,” he said. “There are some disjointed little efforts here and there but there is no borough-wide effort to provide resources and funding for LGBT seniors and LGBT youth.”
“Dollars on the state level are shrinking and it’s becoming more difficult to get funding,” City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) said. “In my time as a Council member, I have shown nonprofits how to write and apply for grants and that’s something I’d like to do as borough president. I would bring private foundations and people that give money every year to a venue and then have the nonprofits in the borough come and meet with these groups so they can show them what they need to do to get this money, how to apply and give these groups opportunities to create more dollars.”
For places like the Queens Pride House, which relies almost solely on competitively won funding, the opportunity Comrie proposed could help a great deal.
“Our funds are completely based on competitively won grants and we’ve done okay with that, but every month we’re looking for something else to apply for and it becomes a struggle,” Ober said.
State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) pitched the idea of a database to make the process of searching for grants more efficient.
“They have databases in D.C. for grant proposals,” Peralta said. “If it exists in D.C. then we can do that for the LGBT community in Queens as well. We can create a database for the City of New York or the Borough of Queens where we can compile all of that information and put it all together.”
Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) took a different approach and focused on the public safety of the LGBT community, an issue that has been of concern to many people after a series of attacks on gay men in recent months.
“I know what it takes to keep the LGBT community safe,” Vallone said. “If there is a problem with the Police Department, I’m there in the precinct with you. I spent the day with the police commissioner, Ray Kelly, and he and I worked together to make this community 35 percent safer, but one of the questions I asked was what is he going to do to make the LGBT community safe. I have been the chairman for public safety for 11 years and I am going to continue to work to make our borough a safe place for the LGBT community and the Queens community.”
Vallone also seconded much of what Peralta and Comrie said on funding.
Approximately 30 attendees sat in the Pride House library to hear the candidates speak, most of whom were part of the LGBT community.