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Queens gay, lesbian group ups profile of Pride Center

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The Queens Lesbian and Gay Pride Committee announced in a recent newsletter that the Pride Community Center it opened in March 2001 is becoming its own autonomous organization with a new name, the Queens Rainbow Community Center.

The split signals a new stage in the short history of the community center at 102-09 Northern Blvd. in Corona, which has greatly expanded its services and programs in its less than two years of operation.

“The idea was to get the center up and running ... and then spin it off once a decent foundation is built,” said Barbra Ann Perina, who was recently hired to serve as the center’s first full-time executive director, a position she assumed in October. “They made the center and they gave it a foundation. Now it’s time for it to sprout wings and grow.”

The Queens Lesbian and Gay Pride Committee was founded more than a decade ago to mount the borough’s annual pride parade in Jackson Heights, an event that has greatly increased the visibility of the county’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community.

The pride center came along about eight years later, providing a place to house the social services programs that the committee had developed beyond the parade — most notably a youth program called Generation Q.

But the group’s leaders deemed the two-pronged mission of both organizing the parade and operating a community center to be too extensive for a single organization.

“We are at a tremendous time of expansion, and it just became apparent that we really needed to break down the tasks of the different organizations and work it that way,” said Daniel Dromm, a newly elected Democratic district leader who founded the pride committee and serves as its co-chairman.

The split was motivated by a desire to encourage the growth of both the parade and the community center.

“It crystallizes their missions and it allows each organization to proceed with their missions even more strongly,” said Larry Menzie, who serves as president of the board of directors for the Rainbow Center. “Whereas the parade is a one-day event, the center and the youth program is a 365-day-a-year activity that needs different types of emphasis and care and support.”

The center has seen its most impressive growth in the Generation Q program, which was founded in May 2000 and provides an opportunity for youth who identify themselves as gay or are questioning their sexual identity to hang out and get counseling. A dance sponsored by the program in early December drew more than 200 people.

“In the last year we’ve quadrupled our attendance on a consistent basis,” Menzie said. “We’re providing a very vital service to them.”

Perina said her top priority is to expand the center’s youth services, doubling the frequency of Friday night meetings from twice a month to once a week and providing a five-day drop-in center.

The ultimate goal, she said, is to house a full spectrum of programs at the Queens site.

“There is no reason that Queens residents should have to travel to Manhattan to get those type of services, whether it’s medication service, whether it’s substance abuse service, whether it’s mental health service, whether it’s youth services,” Perina said.

The group is also hoping to relocate to Jackson Heights, the neighborhood considered the heart of the borough’s gay community. It shares its current space in Corona with the Jackson Heights Community Development Corp.

The new board of directors for the Rainbow Center began meeting last March, and the organization’s incorporation is expected to receive state approval sometime this month. But the pride committee will serve as the center’s fiscal conduit until it secures nonprofit status of its own, a process that can last up to 18 months.

Although money is tight during a tough economy, Perina is optimistic about the center’s possibilities.

“My job right now is to build on what we have, get the funding in some very difficult fiscal times, which is scary. It’s going to be a hard road,” Perina said. “From a fiscal point it’s a challenge, but there’s not a more needed time to really do this.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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