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Astoria LGBT youth shelter to fight hate

A prominent Astoria shelter for homeless LGBT youths is looking into placing security cameras at its entrance after anti-gay graffiti was discovered on the building last week.

The Ali Forney Center, which operates six shelters in Brooklyn and has a drop-in center at 527 W. 22nd St. in Manhattan, opened a 16-bed shelter for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths at St. Andrew’s Church on 31st Avenue in Astoria last fall.

Last Thursday, residents at the Astoria shelter woke up to find the words “gay shelter” and “we don’t want gay people here” scrawled in magic marker near the entrance to the building, said Carl Siciliano, founder and executive director of the center.

“We’ve had a lot of support from this community, so we were surprised by this,” Siciliano said. “There’s a lot of anti-gay violence that happens in the city. When someone is clearly trying to upset and intimidate our kids, it’s a concern.”

No arrests have been made in the incident, which is being investigated by the 114th Precinct and the city Police Department’s Hate Crimes Task Force.

The center cleaned off the graffiti shortly after it was discovered. Siciliano said the incident was the first of its kind at the shelter.

“This is the act of a coward doing something in the darkness of the night,” he said. “We’re not ashamed of what we do here.”

The incident probably occurred at some point between the evening of June 10 and last Thursday morning, he said.

The center is now looking at prices for security cameras, which it soon hopes to place on the outside of the building. The shelter currently houses 14 people, ages 18 to 24.

Youths can stay at the shelter for up to six months.

State Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said the graffiti was a rare incident of hate in a community that welcomes diversity.

“Astoria prides itself on its tolerance and diversity,” he said. “This outrageous act is an aberration and we intend to keep it that way. We’ll crack down hard on the hate-mongers that would do such a thing. It’s unacceptable. As a neighborhood, we have always sent the message that this type of behavior is not welcome here. The people who did this need to be caught and prosecuted.”

Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), an active leader in the borough’s gay community, said he found it disturbing that the incident happened so close to the 20-year anniversary of the fatal stabbing of Julio Rivera, a gay man who was murdered in Jackson Heights in 1990.

“Once again, we have to deal with the issue of anti-gay hate crime,” he said. “Although this was not an attack on a person, it was an attack.”

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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