Just weeks later, he lost his job and his health insurance. Fortunately, Johnson’s doctor referred him to an organization in Chinatown called APICHA, which set him up with a caseworker.
He then signed up for the AIDS Drugs Assistance Program, and his caseworker, whom he would later identify in tweets as Shefali, provided him the care and compassion he needed during that tough time.
“I wouldn’t be standing here today if I did not get the help from the network of LGBT service providers that were placed in the city,” he said. “We are blessed and we are trying everyday to pay it forward, to make sure other New Yorkers get that same level of support.”
Last Thursday, Johnson joined local elected officials and LGBTQ organizations in Long Island City to celebrate nearly $3.8 million in city funding for two initiatives: LGBT Community Services and the Trans Equity Program.
Notably, the Trans Equity initiative is the first-ever program funded by the City Council dedicated to serving the transgender community.
“That is a big deal,” Johnson said. “The trans community is under threat every single day from the White House and federal administration that is trying to wipe trans people out of existence.”
The record funding will be allocated to several LGBTQ organizations across the city that will expand health, legal and workforce development services.
For Councilman Daniel Dromm, a LGBT trailblazer in Queens and chair of the City Council’s Finance Committee, these types of funding initiatives are possible when LGBT people, such as himself, Johnson and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer are in power.
“Electing people to office is one way to show gay power,” Dromm said. “Another way to show gay power is to invest in institutions in our communities so that the services we so desperately need are brought to the people who need them the most.”
The Jackson Heights councilman recalled that when he was first elected to the legislative body, most groups just got a few thousand dollars in funding at best. He called the $3.8 million investment “historic.”
“We hope everybody will get out and use this money wisely,” he said.
Van Bramer, who grew up in Astoria, recalled that as a young boy, he had a trans Latina neighbor who was constantly harassed by the older men and boys on his block.
“It was a very difficult and painful existence I’m sure,” he said. “Yet she was fierce and she fought back.”
While he doesn’t remember her name, Van Bramer said she would would have benefitted from the services that are provided today, but were not available in the 1970s and 80s.
“I know that more lives will be better and more lives will be saved because of the work all of us have done collectively, fighting for ourselves,” he said, “as she would fight for herself against hateful people.”
David Kilmnick, president and CEO of the LGBT Network, which runs an LGBT center in Queens, said the funding will translate to the doubling of his staff. They’re on track to hire six more full-time workers.
That will mean more staff to addressing bullying issues and building youth leadership in schools, coordinating service delivery with health care institutions, and working with LGBTQ immigrant communities.
Kilnick plans to create a “Queens consortium” of groups to discuss the needs of LGBT families from Long Island City to the Rockaways.
“If you’re LGBT in Queens, no matter where you live, the borough is your home,” he said. “You don’t have to travel outside of the borough to be yourself.”
The LGBT Community Services initiative in particular has brought together groups from different boroughs. The LGBT organizations in Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island have already begun collaborating on a major initiative for LGBT immigrant families, Kilmnick said.
For Floyd Rumohr, CEO of the Brooklyn Community Pride Center, the funding will mean their center can serve more Brooklynites.
While the group serves 10,000 people today, it’s projected to help between 25,000 to 30,000 people by 2021, and exponentially more in 2023.
Those services include support groups for transgender and gender nonconforming people, arts and culture programs such as recording oral histories for immigrants, and workforce development for LGBTQ youth.
In the long term, Rumohr said, the funding enables their pride center to focus their job placement and internship program for all LGBTQ people, regardless of age.
“Funding is heterosexual, it breeds,” he said. “It allows us to attract additional funding and provide more services than we would otherwise be able to do.”
The organization has also doubled its full time staff since the funding allocation. Like Kilmnick, Rumohr said expanding the team means following through on each program and idea.
Though they’re currently located in Bedford-Stuyvesant, by 2021, Brooklyn Community Pride Center will be moving into the Bedford Union Armory in Crown Heights.
Johnson added that while he doesn’t know how many lives were saved through these LGBTQ organizations, he knows personally how crucial they are.
“You don’t know exactly when you save a life,” he said, “but you do life-saving work every single day.”