Maria del Carmen Arroyo, elected the City Councilwoman for Bronx District 17 a year ago, acknowledged, in a Gay City News interview at her district office, the importance of LGBT community issues in her overall agenda.

Asked about concerns voiced by Lisa Winters, executive director of the Bronx Consortium, a growing LGBT community center with youth activities at the drop-in center The Spot Next Door on 149th Street, that the effort has received no official local funding, Arroyo declared, “We should provide services regardless of who provides it.”

Arroyo underlined that the Bronx was no different than any other New York City borough in aiming to provide a gay-friendly community spirit.

“It has always been a part of who we are,” she said of gay life in the borough, adding, “I have friends and family members who are gay and lesbian.” Asked about notions that it is difficult to grow up queer in the Bronx, Arroyo offered a contrary view.

“Culturally, we are more accepting” than the norm, she said.

Getting specific on local LGBT issues, Arroyo, a former health care administrator with community-based experience combating HIV, pointed to recent action by the City Council’s Youth Services Committee to fund homeless gay youth housing in the Bronx. She emphasized that “sexuality is a part of our reality” and endorsed a bold program to address sexuality-related youth issues.

“We need to create formal training to have youths as young as 12 and 13 years old to educate their peers in schools about their issues and risks of any behaviors they engage in as well as facts about HIV transmission,” Arroyo said, adding the borough needs “an army of young people that would demonstrate youth leadership, on sexuality matters, including LGBT issues.”

The Bronx Consortium’s Winters welcomed Arroyo’s comments.

“We should team up,” she said. Noting a $100,000 federal grant made possible by Congressman José Serrano, Winters said funding from the city could “increase our capacity to train more team leaders and target resources at strategic places, such as schools and churches.” A primary aim of Winters’ efforts is to “increase skills of LGBTQ youth but also the knowledge of their peers.”

For her part, Arroyo is happy with what she described as an increasingly “culturally diverse neighborhood.”

“We’re better off as a mixed neighborhood,” she said of the influx of young people, sometimes gay, sometimes white, to the South Bronx.

“I mean, who can afford to live in Manhattan?” she asked, explaining the neighborhood has been her home for more than 40 years. “I won’t live anywhere else.”

— Marcus O. Carlson