– Delivered at QSpot Town Hall on September 24, 2016 by John Mikytuck, QSpot Executive Director
Good afternoon everyone, thank you for being here. I know the news of QSpot facing eviction has been very upsetting. It seems unbelievable, after all we’ve fought for and won, that QSpot, an LGBT Community Center, could be facing eviction under highly questionable circumstances in 2016. The reality is, despite all we’ve accomplished, we still have a long way to go. So our fight continues.
We wanted to hold this town hall so we could come together as a community and update you on the situation and address as many concerns and questions was possible. Given the ongoing nature of the dispute, we will most-likely not be able to answer every question or concern you might have.
More than anything, we want to assure everyone in the community that QSpot’s staff, Board of Trustees and supporters are doing everything possible to protect our home and defend our rights. We will pursue all avenues to challenge the actions of the JSAC and although no outcome is assured, come January 1, there will be a place called QSpot for the community to use.
Let me summarize the situation and update you on recent events.
In May, the JSAC notified QSpot that they were not going to renew our lease at the end of this year.
Since then, QSpot has privately taken every possible non-legal step to get the JSAC to reconsider their decision. These efforts have included face to face meetings, mediation, and non-binding letters exchanged between lawyers.
At no time, during these discussions, has QSpot ever been offered a new lease. Let me say that again, the Jersey Shore Arts Center has at no time ever offered QSpot new lease.
When we were first notified of the decision in May, we were told that the reason our lease was not being renewed was because we did not provide arts and education programming.
Our primary argument was, and continues to be, that QSpot does provide robust arts and education programming and therefore should be allowed to remain in the building. A quick look at the banners hanging around this room attests to that fact. But let me summarize our Arts and Education programming again for everyone.
QSpot, a great tenant of the JSAC since 2012, is the creator and producer of QFest, New Jersey’s only LGBT film festival. if you’d like to learn more about the festival and better understand how much time and energy QSpot has spent producing QFest, please visit QFestNJ.org.
QSpot is also the recipient of a 2016 Monmouth Arts Council Grant. In fact, we’re probably one of the only tenants at the JSAC who has ever received a Monmouth Arts Council Grant, which is funded by the New Jersey State Council of the Arts.
Additional QSpot arts programming includes regular live performances by artists such as Emmy- winning actor Leslie Jordan, America’s Got Talent contestant Julia Scotti, film/tv director Del Shores, local entertainer and open mic show host Bobby Egan, well-known musician Christine Martucci and others.
QSpot is also home to the QSpot Marching Band, film club and Creative Expressions Group. In addition, the beautiful art hanging on our walls is from the many art exhibitions QSpot has held for local artists including Lou Storey, Steve Cummings, MaryAnn Buchanan and Ramon Robledo.
QSpot’s educational programs include a professional development center, monthly discussion groups and an extensive library with free computer and wifi access.
QSpot is also an official field placement site for Monmouth University students completing year long academic internships for graduate and undergraduate degrees. This year Victoria Borges, who is here with us tonight, will be completing a year long internship at QSpot as part of her BSW degree. Everyone say hello to Victoria.
In May, when we first learned of the Jersey Shore Arts Center’s decision not to renew our lease, it became immediately clear something was wrong.
When we asked if other tenants at the JSAC such as the yoga studio, guitar repair shop, and the talent and modeling agency, whose businesses weren’t apparently arts focused, we’re being evicted, JSAC’s consistent response was no. We found that very troubling.
Then, on June 18, six days after the Orlando Pulse nightclub tragedy, QSpot received a letter from the JSAC demanding the agency remove a rainbow flag hanging at our entrance. The rainbow flag was clearly part of a temporary memorial created by the community to honor the victims of the shooting. There were also flowers, candles and a handmade poster listing the names of those who had died.
Now, let me make it clear, over the last year, QSpot has hung at least 3 large signs where the rainbow flag was hanging. Some of those signs are hanging on our walls today. At no time, while those signs were hanging, did we ever receive a letter asking us to take them down.
So, why this time? I think the answer is obvious, this was the first time QSpot had ever hung a well-known symbol of the LGBT community at our door.
In their demand letter, JSAC president Herbst stated that the flag had to be removed because it violated Neptune Historic Preservation Commission rules. But according to people familiar with those rules, temporary flags are not forbidden.
More importantly, given the overwhelming suffering caused by the Orlando tragedy, demanding QSpot remove a rainbow flag, less than one week after the deaths of so many from the LGBT community, was not only insensitive, it raised even more concerns about the underlying reason why our lease was not being renewed the attitudes of the Jersey Shore Arts Center’s leadership towards the LGBT community.
Those are the details you may already know. Let me update you on a few others you may not.
As we mentioned, since May, we’ve held meetings, had mediation sessions and exchanged letters between lawyers with the JSAC. Throughout this period, we’ve been in close contact with the LGBT community’s leading legal advisors and advocates such as the ACLU of New Jersey, Lambda Legal Defense and members of the New Jersey State Bar Association’s LGBT Rights Section. Most recently, we’ve been represented by a private attorney who is a member of the ACLU of NJ’s Board of Directors. These legal resources continue to be engaged in every aspect of our on-going situation.
As you may know, last week, Randy Bishop, former Neptune Township Committeeman and Mayor, resigned from the JSAC board of directors.
First and foremost, I want to acknowledge what a tremendously courageous testament this is to Randy’s commitment and support of all that is fair and just!
Randy notified Herb Herbst, President of the Jersey Shore Arts Center on September 12th, that he was resigning due to the handling of QSpot’s lease renewal. Bishop, the only openly gay member of the JSAC board, said Herbst had failed to follow through on items requested at a meeting he moderated with JSAC and its attorney and that he had not been notified or invited to any JSAC board meetings where QSpot’s lease renewal was voted on.
For those not aware, the Jersey Shore Arts Center is a 501(c) 3 tax exempt nonprofit organization. It is not a private commercial business. According to law, a nonprofit board is tasked with a primary role in the administration of an organization, including oversight of the organization’s operations.
We believe Randy’s resignation is another indication that there are unanswered questions surrounding JSAC’s decision not to renew QSpot’s lease. The fact that the only openly gay member of the JSAC board had not been involved in the decision making process, speaks volumes to our concerns about the JSAC’s decision not to renew QSpot’s lease and their leaderships attitudes towards the LGBT community.”
In addition to Randy’s resignation, Herb Herbst, President of the JSAC, has made some very troubling comments in the media over the last week. In an interview with a reporter from 101.5 FM, Herbst used the term “homosexuals” to describe the LGBT community. In the same interview, Herbst said everyone was “making a mountain” out of the issue and evicting QSpot was merely a “business transaction.”
In yesterday’s Asbury Park Press, Herbst described being LGBT as, “their type of lifestyle.”
And to top it all off, in a paid advertisement, placed in the local Coaster newspaper, Herbst called me “condescending.”
Let me be clear, it takes a unique personality to evict a good tenant for highly suspicious reasons, then turn around and try to belittle them when they act to defend themselves.
I wonder what Carol Watchler, President of GLSEN Central New Jersey and GSE and others who fight bullying, would have to say about?
Joking aside, and bullying is not something anyone should joke about, after years of fighting discrimination and homophobia, we’ve all become a little desensitized to the most obvious signs of intolerance.
But let me be clear, aside from me being publicly insulted, this battle has taken a great toll on QSpot.
In actual terms, Qspot was assured last September, when we signed our current lease, that our lease was under no threat and would be renewed. I’ve been reading that Herbst is now saying QSpot was told we were only “temporary” residents.
Let, let me be clear, at no time, over the last four years of being a tenant at the JSAC, and especially during extensive lease negotiations involving multiple people last year, was anyone in QSpot’s leadership ever told QSpot’s tenancy was temporary. In fact, we were assured last September that our lease would absolutely be renewed.
Given those promises, QSpot has invested hundreds of volunteer hours and thousands of community dollars to renovate a dilapidated basement unit into a beautiful, safe and welcoming place for the community.
In addition to those costs, QSpot has had to allocate much of its staff, board and volunteer time over the last three months to fighting this eviction. As a result, we’ve been unable to use that time and energy to run the agency, expand services, and plan events, especially fundraising events, that are the life support system of QSpot.
For comparison, during this time last year, our staff, board and volunteers were diligently engaged in producing QSpot’s largest community fundraising event, a benefit concert by Leslie Jordan. The concert raised enough money to fund the cost of operating QSpot for almost 6 months.
As frustrating and disturbing as this has already been, and given everything that we have done up until today to resolve it in a reasonable manner, we believe that one thing continues to be overwhelmingly clear, the JSAC is not going to renew QSpot’s lease without a continued fight.
And unless QSpot is prepared to continue that fight and take even more action, the JSAC will evict us on New Year’s Eve 2016, just about 3 months from today.
So, today, QSpot is taking another step in our fight against the JSAC by announcing the creation of a fund that will be used to defend our rights and protect our home. We’re calling it the “No Place Like Home Fund” and all resources donated to it will be used specifically for that purpose. As this battle progresses, we’re going to need the support of the entire community to win.
Let me conclude with a few important items.
When people ask, and many have, what does QSpot consider the best outcome in this situation?
QSpot has always wanted and still firmly believes that the best outcome to our current situation is a new lease at the JSAC that will allow us to stay in our beautiful home.
Although there are those among us who cringe at the idea that we would stay in a building that doesn’t want us and has already mistreated us, especially if it remains under its current leadership, after evaluating all options, QSpot’s staff and board of trustees has concluded that staying is our best option. It’s also the right thing to fight for!
But given all the unknown outcomes of our fight, have we been and are we planning for other options? Yes, we have been and we continue to be.
And this leads me to something I never imagined I’d hear during this fight, which as surprising as it was for me to hear, probably isn’t that surprising. That somehow QSpot is benefiting from being evicted?
Let me speak briefly now to those who would turn even the fact that QSpot is being evicted into an opportunity to speak poorly of an agency, and its volunteers and supporters, who are working hard everyday to help the LGBT community.
Since 2005, when QSpot’s founders such as Joe D’Andrea, MaryAnn Vitiello, James Nappi and others began discussing opening an LGBT community center in Asbury Park, the organization hoped it could have its own home. A place where it could serve the LGBT community without fear of what is happening today, being evicted. But like many dreams, the reality of acquiring a home was harder than they had imagined to accomplish.
When I speak with people today about QSpot’s history, I tell them it took 11 years to find a home. Sometimes I wonder if they think I’m exaggerating? But I’m not.
For QSpot’s first 8 years, the agency was a virtual organization. It had no home, no office, not even a desk to sit in. It provided services and held events in rented rooms, donated and rented restaurants and public facilities. A PO Box was the most permanent structure QSpot had.
Four years ago, QSpot’s leadership took the biggest leap of faith imaginable and moved into the JSAC. For those of you among us who remember, QSpot’s first center was an old storage closet, literally. We rented a 200 sq ft room that had been used to store costumes on the other side of this basement.
Through the incredible hard work and commitment of our then leaders MaryAnn Buchanan, June Colaicovo, Chris Generoso, Liz Gigliotti , Judy Cominski, Sharon Davis and many other volunteers and supporters, we turned that closet into a center and started to grow.
Last year, Qspot took another huge leap of faith and moved into our current location, a 2000 sq ft facility that 200 people per week use today.
When we moved into this facility, we had no idea how we were going to pay the rent, let alone pay for the renovations it desperately needed to make it a home. But we had faith and worked hard and with the tremendous support of our community, we are still here today. I tell everyone, QSpot IS the little engine that could!
So, to anyone who says that planning to secure a new home for QSpot, as one of the possible outcomes to this situation, is opportunistic, I say you’re absolutely wrong. It is not opportunistic, its responsible, smart and courageous.
So to close, I want to say to everyone again, QSpot is not going away. We’ve been around for 11 years and faced many challenges, we have weathered many storms. this one is no different. Because of our combined strength, commitment to our community and the idea that having an LGBT community center is important and valuable and changes people’s lives, we will always be here! BUT make no mistake, we are going to continue to fight to protect QSpot’s home and defend our right to be in it using every available resource we’ve got.
Thank you all for your support and for everything you do to help the LGBT community.