LGBT Center Shuts Off Facebook Comments to Avoid Questions from the Voice as Bronx Pride Center Closes in Scandal [UPDATED]

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via LGBT press page
Glennda Testone: why won't the LGBT Center's leader speak to the press?

Update: Turns out others can comment on the Center's Facebook wall -- they've "just" blocked a journalist, to keep any questions from being asked!

Something very strange is happening on 13th Street at the LGBT Center. As a scourge is affecting LGBT organizations -- the Bronx Pride Center shut down yesterday, amid charges its director, Lisa Winters embezzled $338,000 -- the city's main LGBT Center refuses to speak to the press.

As we wrote in last week's Voice feature "Does 'Gay Inc.' Believe in Free Speech?" the Center clamped down a year ago and refused to allow any discussion of the Israel/Palestine situation. This flies in the face of decades of queer people being able to discuss the important issues of the day on a variety of gay-specific and non-specific topics.

But just as disturbingly to us (for obviously personal reasons) is that the Center refuses to speak to the Voice about anything, or to answer any questions from press as far as we can tell. This could be because of critical things we've said about Executive Director Glennda Testone and her leadership (or lack thereof) over free speech at the Center.

But the Center does get a huge amount of public money (about $2.75 million a year, according to the most recent publicly available tax filings), and Testone is paid a little more than Governor Andrew Cuomo (we'll have more about this in the coming days), so we think it's entirely appropriate she and her paid, full-time spokeswoman would take questions from the press (or at least from the Voice, the first paper to cover Stonewall and a major publication in the neighborhood where the Center resides). The Center has refused to speak to us for a year, but as the Bronx burns with its Pride Center shuttering due to financial matters involving its leader, it's imperative that the partially publicly funded LGBT Center answer questions.

Since, over the past week, the Center has refused to take any of our calls, we posted this query on the Center's Facebook page (which has over 97,000 "likes"):

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The Center responded by not only (predictably) erasing this question, but by shutting off the ability for anyone to post anything on their wall. It's a pretty harsh reaction to keep any of the 97,000 people who "like" the Center from commenting just because they didn't like one question from one reporter.

But this is the locked-down world of Gay Inc., where "communication" only goes one way.

What is the Center hiding? Why are they so afraid of speaking with the press about free speech, their finances, their staff, or anything else? Why will they not answer questions, as another LGBT Center's finances have imploded, about what they are doing with their own money? It's ironic that both Creager and Testone came from GLAAD, an organization adept at telling the media what to say, and yet they both refuse to speak to their hometown newspaper.

But that's a through line through all of the heartbreaking stories we are investigating right now. The heads of these LGBT organizations go from one job in Gay Inc. to another, moving without loss from GLAAD to the Center to other non-profits, no matter how much damage happens on their watch. No matter how poor the people are they are supposed to be "helping," the people who helm these organizations go from one high paying job to the next, often with little setback even when they preside over (or cause) the worst of financial mismanagement.

We saw a lot of this when we reported on "The Nonprofit 1 Percent." It's sad to see it in Gay Inc., too.

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You can follow staff writer Steven Thrasher on twitter (@steven_thrasher) or reach him by email (sthrasher@villagevoice.com).



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20 comments
Cmcluv4u
Cmcluv4u

 Shawakaknocka9 minutes agoThe only Pride Center that's operating with any sense of dignity and genuine care for the community is The Queens Pride House. All the rest deserve to be revamped from head to toe. People of color usually dominate representation of centers in the press, but representation within the organizations is usually next to nil. Also, I think it's very important for the LGBT community to acknowledge organizations of color like GMAD, ALP, SALGA, GAPIMNY, Q-WAVE, etc. who have been doing very good work for a very long time.Shawakaknocka9 minutes agoThe only Pride Center that's operating with any sense of dignity and genuine care for the community is The Queens Pride House. All the rest deserve to be revamped from head to toe. People of color usually dominate representation of centers in the press, but representation within the organizations is usually next to nil. Also, I think it's very important for the LGBT community to acknowledge organizations of color like GMAD, ALP, SALGA, GAPIMNY, Q-WAVE, etc. who have been doing very good work for a very long time.The only Pride Center that's operating with any sense of dignity and genuine care for the community is The Queens Pride House. All the rest deserve to be revamped from head to toe. People of color usually dominate representation of centers in the press, but representation within the organizations is usually next to nil. Also, I think it's very important for the LGBT community to acknowledge organizations of color like GMAD, ALP, SALGA, GAPIMNY, Q-WAVE, etc. who have been doing very good work for a very long time.

Beverly
Beverly

So the only question Thrasher posed is "why won't you respond to other unspecified questions?" Thrasher, you are a tedious twit.  If you have something to report, then report it.  If you are positing that there is some connection b/t practices at the Bronx Center and the one in the Village, then say so.  Whatever it is you want to say, for God's sake just say it and stop whining about how the Center won't talk about how it won't answer your unspecified questions.

MPetrelis
MPetrelis

Nice try, Jenny, to throw in red herrings to the debate and your poor debating skills. First, no one has suggested the center's contracts with the city are not delivering services to clients. What is being said is that in exchange for public dollars the NYC should have public comments are their board meetings. Second, I'm advocating the kind of open board meetings like we have at the SF center. The board chair explains the rules; three minutes for each speaker, board member can respond if they so choose, and the entire meeting is open, but no every agenda item will take public comments.In short, the SF shows respect to the public and the respect is returned at board meetings. Third, the past fiscal problems of the SF center are no excuse for lack of meetings at the NYC center. Oh, and the 'recent' loan you speak of what from 2, two, years ago.

red
red

They didn't shut down all comments. They just blocked YOU. This is an important issue. If you want to be credible and taken seriously, don't be sloppy and impetuous. You need to print a correction. 

Jenny
Jenny

Again, if people don't like the way city funds are allocated, they should contact city officials and make it an issue there. They might have a hard time getting anyone to take them seriously, however, since the Center is very effective in delivering services to the LGBT residents of NYC. Moreover, I'm sure the type of public meeting you're advocating for would be very useful, what with "concerned activists" hijacking the agenda and insulting staff. And the San Francisco Center is hardly the paragon of sound fiscal management, even with public meetings. The city recently had to arrange a 100K+ loan for them so they could pay the mortgage on their building.

MPetrelis
MPetrelis

Instead of attacking the questions and how they are phrased, how about getting the board to open their meetings? I get the impression the only questions you and the center and board want are those lack criticism of any sort. I think accountability activists in NYC should follow the SF nonprofit accountability act, mandating groups that receive at least $250,000 in city funds must hold open board meetings in exchange for public dollars. the latest IRS 990 for the NYC center shows it received $1,068,569 last year in NYC dollars. For more than a million city taxpayer bucks, the public should receive a few public meetings from the board - pronto!

MPetrelis
MPetrelis

 If Glennda can't stand the heat, maybe she and her shoes should get outta the kitchen. The center has paid a person, Cindi Craeger, who does nothing write the most glowing and positive releases and blog posts hailing all the good the center does. We have our facts, um, straight about how the board refuses to hold public meetings and is not following the example of the SF gay center board which holds 6, that's six, open meetings annually. SF gay center board meetings = 6. NYC gay center board meetings = Zero.

Dykeivette
Dykeivette

I think that all of you posting these malicious comments about Glennda Testone should try walking a day in her shoes! No one is talking about the good things that have happened at the Center to benefit our LGBT community because of Glennda Testone! Get your facts straight before you become judge and jury and sentence Ms. Testone!

Jenny
Jenny

Maybe the Center's staff isn't answering your questions because they are completely disingenuous and there's nothing they could say that would shake underpinnings of your stupid arguments. If you don't like what the Center is doing, don't give them money and lobby the public officials who allocate funds to direct them elsewhere. Found your own "queer liberationist" Center where people are paid crap and all decisions are made "democratically"… and see how far that gets you. Ms. Testone is just doing her job, a job that is made infinitely (and needlessly) more difficult by people who attack her personally. 

Brad Taylor
Brad Taylor

Steven Thrasher is standing up for all of us queers as the liberationist community we naturally are, but largely forget.  But, maybe more importantly, he's also just doing his job - well - as a journalist, by standing up for information, comment, debate, analysis.  This inclination to protect and further (free) speech is the hallmark of real journalists and is at the heart of the Center controversy.  Even if you're backward enough to think that "The free speech we are talking about is the bashing of Israel...", you owe it to a free society to protect gay people's right to discuss "the bashing of Israel" in OUR community center.

Emily Caigan
Emily Caigan

 I hope that everyone replying to this thread is volunteering and on a committee. That is one way to make groups accountable. Not responding to press is probably against the mission statement for the Center. Perhaps start with that research. If communication is in the mission then it must be met. As for negative statements about SAGE, cut it out. I have never met a more dedicated group of people. My uncle helped found the organization and at 87 still volunteers. They need your HELP, not mistrust. Call SAGE, they are our elders and many have no children. They need the next generation to step up!

Mack1655
Mack1655

This is another example of a "journalist" trying to create controversy by connecting the LGBT Community Services Center and the Bronx LGBT Center. Your lack of research in this article is disheartening. You obviously have no clue about how LGBT non-profits work nor have you done your research on the average salaries of Executive Directors of similar LGBT non-profits around the country becasue then you would have seen that Glennda Testone's salary is subpar. Go ahead and continue to be the misinformative, radical, and pussy-cat "news source" you are!   

LIMEN !
LIMEN !

My brother died  of AIDS in Austin, Texas. In 1987, at the age of 30. And I know how moch pain, love, and hard work that we put into those works of loving remembrances. Oryx754, if what you say is true about Glennda Testone's disrespectful way that she treats one of our gay iconic treasuures. She most definitely resign. Mr. Thrasher please see if you can get some one to bring evidence to the fact of the disrespectful manner that Glennda Testone care for the AIDS GUILT. This is down right an abomination. It may give you more leverage in this situation. Good luck.

Zafa
Zafa

The Center and SAGE are like corporate America. They are trying to remove a senior presence at the Center. Also, a National Lesbian organization's NYC chapter sent a letter to the LGBT Center concerning access for seniors and disabled people and the Center never responded. The Heritage of Pride Committee did the same. What happened to grassroots activism? We need to be in the streets picketing and protesting. P.S. Don't vote for Quinn!

MPetrelis
MPetrelis

Here in San Francisco, our gay center holds eight open public meetings annually and public comment is allowed. They publicize the meetings on their site and I've been to one of their meetings and the gay world didn't end. The next SF gay center meeting is in July and I'll be there about local issues, but I'll be thinking of how NYC's gay center fails to hold a single meeting annually open to the public. Also, in SF we have a nonprofit accountability act that grew out of AIDS Inc arrogance in the late 1990s. People with AIDS and the public were never allowed to attend board meetings, and the groups came up with every excuse in the book - privacy violations of board deliberations, they were transparent enough, etc. But AIDS activists and the gay Supervisor Tom Ammiano said, well, if AIDS and other nonprofits want PUBLIC dollars, there would be PUBLIC strings attached mandating PUBLIC engagement at the board level. The law says that any nonprofit receiving $250K or more must hold at least two open and publicized board meetings. Pretty good example NYC folks should push at their City Council and up in Albany. Shame on NYC's gay center and all of Gay Inc that doesn't allow for public engagement at board meetings.

Steven W. Thrasher
Steven W. Thrasher

I would gladly ask them about this on the phone, IF they'd return my calls! In any case, this reporter is not able to access their Facebook wall through my account. 

Oryx754
Oryx754

Glennda Testone is the worst thing that has happened to the Center. I stopped volunteering when I saw that they stored the AIDS Quilt, which was on loan, by rolling it up and keeping in lying on a dusty dirty floor. She needs to resign!

Frank Susa
Frank Susa

When I visit the Center's FB page, it appears that the public comment function is online and operating normally. Whether this was the case before or after the Voice published Steven Thrasher's blog post, I still applaud their efforts to promote accountability and transparency at the Center.

Gende Jus
Gende Jus

MPetrelis those are great points, could you cite some links or other online references to the SF accountability act? I did some googling but haven't found much... is this related to CA's NonProfit Integrity Act of '04?

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