Get on the Bus to Save A Needed Mental Health Program

The 11th hour has come for the Rainbow Heights Club. Without a small miracle, the end of next month will see the end of the Brooklyn-based mental health center, New York State’s first and only government-funded support and advocacy program for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people with serious mental illnesses.

This would be a real tragedy for the clients of Rainbow Heights, those queer people who rely on the club’s support to remain stable and out of hospitals or institutions. These are people who are made invisible twice over, first as mentally ill, but also as queer people in a mental health system that is still often openly homophobic.

For the last two years, the Rainbow Heights Club has provided an alternative to stigmatizing services in mainstream mental health programs, providing a safe haven where queer people can come together to find and give support. The program has given individuals their voices back and empowered them to become advocates.

On a larger level, if the Rainbow Heights Club is allowed to be another casualty of Republican Gov. George Pataki’s draconian and short-sighted budget cuts, our community will lose a ground-breaking institution, the first of its kind. As a community, we are judged in part by our institutions. The Rainbow Heights Club represents a significant victory in the community’s demanding and receiving earmarked funds for some of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters who otherwise will return to a state of invisibility and neglect.

Just as the Rainbow Heights Club succeeds by calling on individuals to come together out of isolation and stand together in a mutually supportive community, so now must various organizations and individuals come together on behalf of this vulnerable and isolated organization and say with one voice, “We will not let this happen. We will not turn our backs on our own.”

That is why Brooklyn’s queer political club, Lambda Independent Democrats (LID), is joining with Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA) to bring the “Save Rainbow Heights Club!” message to the State Capitol in Albany. Tuesday, May 24 is ESPA’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Equality and Justice Day. We urge you to join with LID and ESPA to get on the bus with members of the Rainbow Heights Club and tell our state legislators to restore the club’s funding. If you can’t make it that day, please call Sharon Carpinello, the executive deputy commissioner of the New York State Office of Mental Health, at 518-474-7056, and tell her to restore the Rainbow Heights Club’s funding—all of it, right away.

Christian Huygen, the Rainbow Heights Club’s director, said that the consumers who come there seeking help to end the vicious cycle of hospitalizations and social isolation wind up very often “realizing they have assets that they didn’t know they had. It’s galvanizing when a marginalized population comes together to help each other. People really start to thrive when that happens.”

It’s also galvanizing when queer people rally to the fight for gay marriage and are energized by the call for complete equality under the law. For the last two decades, queer people have led the way in focusing the fight against HIV/AIDS. More recently, many queer groups expressed grief and outrage in one collective voice concerning the brutal and grisly murder of a young African-American gay man in Brooklyn, Rashawn Brazell. In fact, LGBT people have a long and proud history of standing up together and demanding an end to discrimination and an acknowledgement of the way we live our lives.

Our needs cannot continue to be overlooked if we stand up for our community. When we stand up for the most vulnerable among us, the safety, fairness and equality of the queer community as a whole is ensured. Please join LID and ESPA in helping ensure that queer people with mental illness continue to receive the support, care and advocacy they find at the Rainbow Heights Club.

To join LID and the Rainbow Heights Club for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Equality and Justice Day in Albany on May 24, please visit the Empire State Pride Agenda’s Web site at or call 212-627-0305. For more information on the Rainbow Heights Club, visit its Web site at or call 718-852-2584.

Gary Parker, MSW, and Christopher Murray, MSW, are, respectively, the president and vice president of Lambda Independent Democrats, Brooklyn’s oldest LGBT organization.