Friday, June 22, 2007

Was Bronx Pride 2007 dealt the Homophobia Card?

June 20, 2007

Adrian Benepe, Commissioner
New York City Department of Parks and Recreation
The Arsenal
850 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York 10021

Dear Commissioner Benape:

On Saturday, June 16th, the Bronx Community Pride Center held our Gay Pride Cultural Celebration at Barretto Point Park in the Bronx. The event was a great success – we were joined by Harlem United Community AIDS Center, Citizens Advice Bureau, Positive Health Project, Amnesty International, African Ancestral Lesbians United for Social Change, The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center, St. Lukes Hospital, South Bronx Health Center for Children and Families, Adolescent AIDS Program at Montefiore Medical Center, New York City Department of Health and Mental Health, Empire State Pride Agenda, Channel 12 News, Hepteam New York, Hetrick Martin Institute, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Hispanic AIDS Forum, Heritage of Pride, Citiwide Harm Reduction, Planned Parenthood, Mt. Sinai Medical Center, Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, Marriage Equality, Right Rides, and Bronx AIDS Services. Unfortunately, the success of the day was jeopardized by the attitude and behavior of Parks Department staff. Instead of cooperating with my staff, volunteers and community organizations to plan and run a successful day, Parks Department personnel, at nearly every turn, attempted to obstruct our plans, and consistently presented undisguised hostility toward our event. More seriously, on the day of the event, Parks Department staff continuously harassed my staff, volunteers, representatives of Community-Based Organizations and the public attendees of the Celebration. We are disappointed by the Park staff’s negativity and refusal to work cooperatively, and we seek your help in an effort to prevent a recurrence of this behavior, so that we can all look forward to the 2008 Bronx Pride Celebration.

The event was sited at Barretto Point Park after our requests for four other locations were denied, and the Parks Department’s offer to place us at Crotona Park was withdrawn. The Department presented Barretto Point as our only alternative. As you know, this park is a beautiful gem, but small and distant from public transportation. Although the location presented obstacles, we pushed forward with our plans, securing participation from major health providers and community not-for-profits. We also provided private shuttle buses at the #6 subway stop at Hunts Point and Longwood Ave as Barretto Park is one mile from the train station. But only days before the event, Parks Department officials informed us that we would not be allowed to have any of our community groups located at tables in the park. Since it was far too late to obtain closing of the street outside the park, the Department’s position threatened to effectively shut down the celebration. At a meeting at the park, two days before the event, we reached an agreement with the Department that we would place the tables on the concrete pathways, so that the sod would be protected from damage from chairs and tables. The public would not be using the paths, but would walk unfettered on the lawn. We also agreed on the location for the large trailers from Bronx AIDS Services, Citiwide Harm Reduction, and Hispanic AIDS Forum on the street, the location for our rented Port–o-sans and the registration table. It was also agreed that a small tent would be put up behind the stage area, to serve as a changing room for performers, and that plans for a protective structure to be erected over the stage area would be sent to the Department for approval.

On the day of the event, as I noted above, Park officials and employees behaved in an egregiously hostile, uncooperative manner. Between our initial meeting at the park and the day of the event, several additional community groups had asked to join the celebration and set up tables to distribute information. We also had two additional vendors present. This was a positive development. But instead of working with us to accommodate the additional participants, Parks Department personnel threatened to confiscate the groups’ materials, and continuously harassed event participants. Without any specific explanation of its objections, the Department refused to allow any shelter to be erected over the stage, other than a small tarp to cover the public address equipment. At every turn, Parks Department personnel threatened and obstructed the operations of the day. This behavior was not motivated by a desire to protect the park lawn; we all were committed to that value, and stayed within the agreed parameters. (We kept all table legs off the sod, despite the fact that the day before the event, several gatherings were observed at the park by my staff, where tables and chairs were permitted on the lawn.)

Throughout the day, Parks Department staff pestered, nitpicked and threatened. They consistently refused to work with us to resolve problems, choosing instead to aggravate them, constantly attempting to limit the participation of community groups and the public. Park staff tried to force us to end our entertainment by six p.m., despite our sound permit, which was valid until eight. This inhospitable, hostile attitude was strongly experienced by me, my staff, and the staff of the participating groups.

Our parks are a vital resource, and essential to the health and vibrancy of our City. The Bronx LGBT community cannot allow itself to be excluded from access to this resource. We also cannot tolerate the expression of insidious prejudice that we experienced at the hands of Parks Department personnel at our Pride Day Celebration. I believe that you and the entire Administration share our concerns and our goal of a tolerant, open, vibrant City. I ask that you join me in exploring ways to address the problem we encountered this week and plan for a more successful experience in 2008. I look forward to hearing from you.

Lisa Winters, Esq.
Executive Director


PassionNYC said...

Hello Lisa,

As someone who is involved in the event production world I have heard about problems that arise in dealing with the Parks Department. However, the level to which your staff and volunteers were subjected to discrimination seems nearly intolerable. I myself am looking into volunteering with the Bronx Community Center and appreciate your response letter as an exemplarly stance for those within the GLBT community.

All my best,

David Breitzmann

Erica said...

Hi Lisa,

I am so sorry to here about the dispictable behavior the the Parks Department. I wonder if they were following someones directive. Well regardless, hopefully in 2008 they would have gotten the memo on time regarding: HOW TO TREAT PEOPLE THE WAY YOU AS A HUMAN BEGIN WOULD LIKE TO BE TREATED:

Erica Callender
Sullivan County NY.