Bronx Pride Festival Saved by Volunteers After Community Center Closes

By Patrick Wall on July 17, 2012 9:09am 

Appolonia Cruz (l) with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn at the 2010 Bronx Pride event. Cruz, who will host this year's festival, is one of a handful of volunteers who decided to salvage the event.
Appolonia Cruz (l) with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn at the 2010 Bronx Pride event. Cruz, who will host this year's festival, is one of a handful of volunteers who decided to salvage the event.
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Appolonia Cruz

CLAREMONT VILLAGE — Volunteers have stepped in to save this year’s Bronx Pride event after the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community center that organized the annual festival closed last month when its former director was arrested on fraud charges.

The celebration, scheduled for Saturday afternoon in Crotona Park, comes less than a month after the Bronx Community Pride Center announced it would cease operations after 16 years due to a budget deficit partly caused by a former executive director, Lisa Winters, who was charged in June with using thousands of the center’s dollars for personal expenses.

“It’s a miracle that it’s going to happen,” said Appolonia Cruz, one of a handful of volunteers who decided last week to salvage the Bronx Pride event. “We’re doing it with no funds.”

A small group of LGBT supporters held a low-key pasta party at the center’s former offices last Saturday, where they raised a few hundred dollars for the free festival. The group is also selling Bronx PrideT-shirts online to pay for the $5,000 in permit fees needed to host the outdoor event.

The volunteers also resolved to establish a nonprofit in the coming weeks that, they hope, will evolve into a new LGBT community center in The Bronx, according to Peter C. Frank, a Yonkers-based activist who is the lead organizer of the Pride event.

“We feel the best way to make sure that happens,” said Frank, 38, “is by starting a new organization with a clean slate.”

Among other changes, the group decided that any new center would need a more diverse revenue structure than the previous center, which relied largely on government funding, according to Frank, who organized the center’s final fundraising gala in March.

A coalition of LGBT groups has met with officials in Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.’s office on multiple occasions since the community center closed at the end of June to discuss forming a new one, Frank added.

The former center had offered services to as many as 1,000 LGBT youth and adults each month that included HIV testing and counseling, support groups, job training and cultural activities, such as African dance and yoga.

This year’s Bronx Pride festival promises a mix of multicultural music, drag performances and activism, with guests scheduled to speak about anti-gay bullying, the history of the gay rights movement and the need for a new Bronx LGBT center.

Cruz, who is a longtime drag performer, will host the event with fellow “legendary drag diva,” Tyra Allure. They and the nearly dozen other performers all agreed to appear for free.

Cruz said the volunteers are devoted to the festival because it asserts a sense of gay pride and community in a borough where some people still feel compelled to conceal their sexuality.

“It brings out people who are hiding in the woodwork,” said Cruz. “People who feel alone, like they don’t have a voice.”

The free event happens Saturday, from noon to 6 p.m., at the stage near Indian Lake in Crotona Park.

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