Anti-LGBT Fliers at Restoration Plaza Highlight 'Collision of Cultures'

By Paul DeBenedetto on April 18, 2014 11:20am 

 Anti-LGBT fliers popped up in Restoration Plaza in April.
Anti-LGBT fliers popped up in Restoration Plaza in April.
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DNAinfo/Paul DeBenedetto

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — A venerable Bed-Stuy nonprofit has been littered with anti-LGBT fliers over the last few weeks — in what its CEO is calling a sign of clashing demographics in the neighborhood.

The fliers were left in the lobby of Restoration Plaza, home of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, a 50-year-old nonprofit founded through a collaboration between Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, Sen. Jacob Javits and Mayor John Lindsay as a way to help develop the struggling neighborhood in the 1960s.

Through the years the nonprofit, at 1368 Fulton St., has focused on housing development, employment opportunities and small business services, among other areas.

But it's in their support for the arts — Restoration Plaza houses both the Skylight Gallery and the Billie Holiday Theater — that has caused a "collision of cultures" with their sometimes-progressive themes, Restoration President Colvin Grannum said.

"In our effort to involve younger people, we've been encouraging the theater and the gallery to be inclusive," he said. "And we know that comes with some pushback. I can't say it's a majority."

While there was no specific program mentioned in the fliers, Grannum pointed to an exhibition currently in the Skylight Gallery focusing on black women in the LGBT community, called "You May Sit Beside Me: Visual Narratives of Black Women and Queer Identities."

"Our thinking is, it's a forum for everybody, but this is new for a lot of people in the community," Grannum said. "I've been here long enough to know with a certain level of certainty that there would be some people who say 'wow, I'm surprised Restoration would do something like that.'"

One of the fliers, first noticed on April 4, was a nine-point list entitled "A Statement by Strong and Committed Black Men and Women on the Topic of Homosexuality," which detailed religious arguments against homosexuality.

The second flier promoted a book called "Homosexuality and the Effeminazation of the Afrikan Male."

Baba Mteteaji, 65, whose name and phone number were attached to the flier, said the intention of the flyers was not to be offensive, but instead, a mission of "telling the truth."

Grannum, who immediately took action to remove any remaining fliers, didn't see it that way.

"We're trying to be a place where ideas can be exchanged without filtering out things," Grannum said. "But a lot of people are not tolerant."

That intolerance led to the creation of the Safe Outside the System Collective, or SOS, an anti-violence program started in 1997 by the Audre Lorde Project to combat anti-LGBT hate and violence in central Brooklyn through community partnerships.

The SOS Collective, which will sponsor its fourth annual Bed-Stuy Pride in Herbert Von King Park in August, saw its own share of controversy at Restoration Plaza. The group used to hold regular community events at the building, and would endure occasional harassment, said Chelsea Johnson-Long, an organizer at SOS.

"Certainly, generationally, there's always going to be differences in politics," Johnson-Long said. "It's not a new story."

Some of how that plays out in Bed-Stuy is through fear of gentrification and displacement, Johnson-Long said.

"Often what gets conflated is the insurgence of newcomers into the neighborhood who are often younger, and that gets conflated with queer folks being in the neighborhood," Johnson-Long said.

"Our strategy is to let people know there are people in the neighborhood who are queer and are invested in the neighborhood."

Laylah Amatullah Barrayn, the photographer and curator behind "You May Sit Beside Me," the LGBT photo exhibit, said she chose Restoration Plaza precisely because she hoped it would give her access to people who may not normally interact with the LGBT community.

"It makes me happy that I did do the exhibition, because everyone needs to be represented in a positive light, and an accurate light," Barrayn said. "People who feel afraid of the LGBT community often times haven't engaged with the community."

She also said that while the location could help breed controversy, it can also help lead to mutual understanding.

"There's moments where there's conflict," Barrayn said. "And you know, the good thing about conflict is that you can sometimes address the conflict and hopefully get rid of it."

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