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After last week’s brutal gay news from up north, we caught up with Dirk McCall, executive director of the Bronx Community Pride Center (BCPC).
It’s also been a tough month in other ways for McCall, only the fourth of his tenure. New York State owes the BCPC more than $200,000 in vouchers. We met McCall in his office, and talked about the recent spate of violence, HIV/AIDS, and the youth ballroom scene in the city’s only borough on the U.S. mainland.
But first, we discussed the state’s most visible homophobe of the week: Carl Paladino.
Dirk McCall: I think you should [write about] Paladino, and the permission he’s been giving to people to hurt gay people. He’s been using the term “use a baseball bat.” He’s been saying he’s going to take a baseball bat to people in Albany. Well, what happened to those kids? They used a baseball bat on him. And then Carl Paladino had to open his mouth and say these horrible things. It’s outrageous! That’s the kind of thing that gives people permission to gay-bash! It empowers people.
McCall (continued): If you read some of the things on the N.Y. Post blog, I’ve been tracking these stories, they’re trying to bring NAMBLA into this. They’re saying that these kids were 17, they shouldn’t be have been having sex with a 30-year-old. Well, 17 is the age of consent in New York, and we don’t know what they were doing. . . . We don’t know if it was mutual masturbation, if it was oral sex, we don’t know what was going on between these people. Nobody knows. It is all speculation! It could have been totally platonic. We don’t know. And they’re jumping to conclusions, they’re all of a sudden trying to make it about pedophilia, which, it wouldn’t be anyway, it would be ephebophilia, because it is adolescent, but . . . 17? Most 17-year-olds that I know are having sex.
Thrasher: With last week’s news, a lot of people in New York are surprised to even hear that there are any gays or lesbians in the Bronx, and they typically think of New York City homos as being a bunch of gay white men in Chelsea.
McCall: There are a lot of gay people in the Bronx, and it’s a very diverse community. If you look at some of the recent census data, from the 2000 census, the highest number of partnered lesbian couples raising children is in the Bronx in the entire country. It’s not Park Slope as the lesbian Promised Land. It’s the western Bronx.
Thrasher: The violence this last week has been in the news, but is violence against LGBT people in the Bronx new?
McCall: It isn’t new, but it doesn’t usually get this kind of coverage. The only difference here is that they went to the press, they brought it to the attention of the police department, they captured the people, and they’re prosecuting them. And we have the mayor, the police commissioner, the speaker of the city council, and the borough president all utilizing this as a chance to speak up and say, “Look, we have every right to be here, you don’t. You don’t have the right to perpetrate violence against us.” There are a lot more attacks that are just swept under the rug, and they thought they had intimidated these people from going to the press, but they came out.
Thrasher: What do you know about the Latin King Goonies? Were they on your radar before this?
McCall: We never heard of them. We think they’re part of the Latin Kings, maybe a subset, like a Junior League of some sort.
Thrasher: We’ve talked to people this past week that had thought gang violence and LGBT violence were two completely different things. Had you ever seen any link between the two before?
McCall: We knew there were LGBT gang members, and I think in other gangs there are LGBT people. LGBT people want to belong, just like everybody else. You may not have come out to yourself when you join they gang, and they’re not really big on gay issues. But there are a lot of Latin Kings who are totally cool with LGBT issues. I’ve known a number of Latin Kings over the years, and none of them have had a problem with gay people. So I think it varies a lot.
These kids were really freaked that somebody might be involved in activities they thought were gay. The question is, does the kid identify as gay? And we don’t know whether he does or not. We haven’t spoken with him.
Thrasher: Is keeping kids out of gangs something you’ve done?
McCall: We’ve never done that before. But it’s something we need to look at. Who knew? It’s not something I’d have ever predicted.
Thrasher: People think of Chelsea being the center of the AIDS epidemic in the city —
McCall: It isn’t.
Thrasher: The percent of people dying from AIDS is actually highest in Central Brooklyn and the Bronx, right?
McCall: It is. It’s Brownsville, East New York, Bed Stuy in Brooklyn, and it’s the South Bronx. We are at the epicenter of the epidemic in New York. We have the highest rate of conversions. Kids who have gone through our programs and gone through prevention programs still then fall into the type of behavior where they put themselves at risk, and we’ve had a number of sero-conversions. It’s truly tragic.
It’s treatable, but suddenly you have this chronic health condition until we find the cure. It’s hard. You have to make sure you’ve got your meds, and that you’re taking your protein inhibitors. A lot of the kids here who are sero-converting are part of the ball scene, and they prefer to spend their money on their ball gowns and trying to compete and building their self-esteem by winning competitions. And they’re not spending their money on their protein inhibitors, they’re selling their drugs on the open market, they’re not eating properly, so we provide food programs here.
Thrasher: Other than AIDS and HIV, what are some of the biggest challenges of the gay community in the Bronx?
McCall: Poverty and homelessness. You hear about groups like Queers for Racial and Economic Justice talking about how it’s not all about marriage. Here in the Bronx it’s about survival. It’s about having a job, it’s about making sure you can pay your rent. If you’re a youth and your family doesn’t accept you, it’s about making sure you have a roof over your head and having a chance to complete your GED or high school. A lot of these kids are tortured, bullied, treated badly in the schools.
We refer people to the . . . Harvey Milk High School, we’re constantly funneling these kids into programs where they can actually finish their education, and they should be allowed to be able to finish at schools in the Bronx. They shouldn’t be victimized by their families, they shouldn’t be victimized by the education system. But they are.
Thrasher: Has the recession affected your work?
McCall: Completely. Government money is down. Donations are down. Corporate funding is down. Everything is being done with less; it’s really difficult. We didn’t have a nest egg when the recession hit.
Thrasher: Is it harder living in the shadow of the big gay and lesbian center in the Village?
McCall: It’s the Bronx. We’re poor and no one wants to come up here! It’s like, ‘Mott Haven? Why would I want to come up to Mott Haven?’ But we partner with the LGBT Center, and they are very supportive of us. They do serve people from the Bronx. Some people don’t want to get services where they live; they want to hide in Manhattan.
They don’t want to hang out on the piers in the Bronx, they want to hang out on the piers in Manhattan. Down there, they can sashay and do whatever they want — the kind of things that would get them attacked in Mott Haven.