New Haven Pride Center Reinstates Nonprofit Status

Lucy Gellman | February 8th, 2023

New Haven Pride Center Reinstates Nonprofit Status

Culture & Community  |  LGBTQ  |  Arts & Culture  |  New Haven Pride Center  |  Ninth Square

JuancarlosJn23 - 1Juancarlos Soto, interim executive director at the New Haven Pride Center, photographed at the 84 Orange St. space last month. Lucy Gellman Photo.

The New Haven Pride Center (NHPC) has restored its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status and received $200,000 in relief funding from the state. Now, leadership is focused on bringing back furloughed staff, drafting a new operating budget, and moving forward with a strategic plan centered on the community’s needs.   

That news came out of a virtual listening session with NHPC staff and board leadership Tuesday night, as interim Executive Director Juancarlos Soto, Board President Dolores Dégagé Hopkins and board member Hope Chávez fielded questions and gave updates via Facebook Live. Over 100 people tuned in to listen.  

“I think this is the best group project I’ve ever worked on,” Soto said of restoring 501(c)(3) status in an interview at the center before the event. “We have worked really hard to do three years worth of work in a couple months. And you know, here we are. It’s an incredible way to start the week.”

“It feels like we can start moving forward,” he added. “We have a path to start moving forward.”   

It comes two and a half weeks after the Pride Center’s board voted unanimously to furlough eight of nine employees and just over two months after it voted to terminate the former executive director. The 501(c)(3) status has been restored retroactively, meaning that donations made to the center in the past two months can now be considered tax deductible.

When & Why The Board Stepped In 

Tuesday’s livestream began with a clearer timeline of the events that led to the center’s decision to terminate its former director and furlough staff. Walking listeners through the past several months, Chávez said that the board initially learned that the center had failed to file several years of 990-N tax forms in January 2022. 

At that time, it contracted with BryteBridge Nonprofit Solutions to work with the former executive director to get the forms to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). 

“We were trying to get ahead of the problem by having BryteBridge engaged and having all of that paperwork filed,” Chávez said. For months, she and fellow members of the board assumed that the process was moving forward. Then in October of last year, Hopkins contacted BryteBridge to check in. The organization told her that “they had not received any documentation or communication from the center,” Chávez said.  

That’s when the board first stepped in. It was October 2022. At the center’s 84 Orange St. offices, board members allegedly found an unopened envelope from the IRS confirming that the center’s nonprofit status had been revoked. Chávez said that it appeared not to be the first communication of its type from the IRS. It was then that the board voted to terminate the former executive director.

In early November, board members worked alongside center staff and representatives of BryteBridge to get the forms to the IRS (read more about that here and here). The center also filed a Form 1023, formally asking for reinstatement of its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. It enlisted Marcum LLP on a pro-bono forensic audit of the organization’s finances that is still ongoing. When it became clear that the center was too financially stretched to make end-of-January payroll, the board voted to furlough eight of nine staff members last month.  

That vote was nearly three weeks ago. Since then, Soto has been coming into a largely empty office, where volunteers occasionally cycle in and out. Then on Monday, he came into work to a letter from the IRS, stating that the center’s status was formally reinstated. He felt like a weight had been lifted, he said. 

He added that he would like to see staff back in the building “as soon as possible.” 

Both he and Hopkins said they are grateful to U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who have been in frequent contact with the center and helped expedite the process. They added that community groups including the Triangle Community Center, Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, Fair Haven Community Health Care, Junta for Progressive Action, and the New Haven Symphony Orchestra have been extremely supportive. 

Now, “the board has been working on multiple tracks” to keep the center afloat, Chávez said. While the most pressing may have been the reinstatement of 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, others include drafting a new, “realistic and sustainable” budget, bringing back furloughed staff, fundraising, and doing an organization-wide restructuring.

Last year, the center’s operating budget was close to $1 million, Soto said. This year, he and board members expect it to be closer to $500,000. 

“We Can Lift Our Heads”


Multiple times Tuesday, Soto and Hopkins stressed that the NHPC is not going anywhere. Instead, it is returning to its roots as a community center, where every member of the LGBTQQIP2SAA+ community feels seen and heard. Soto said that he intends to see it its next 25 years, a reference to the quarter century mark that it hit in 2021. 

"I think this is why this moment feels so incredible, because it feels like we can lift our heads, and start really looking into the future,” Soto said. “It's always been there, but now we have a clear path ... we can really lay the foundation."

Going forward, that foundation includes a sustained investment in existing programs, including support and affinity groups, a robustly stocked food pantry, inventoried and full community clothing closet and a corner for personal hygiene products (Soto said that winter coats, as well as pads and menstrual cups, are an especially critical need right now). 

In addition, the board and staff have been engaged in revisiting the organization’s mission statement, values, finances, and staffing structure in a multi-year strategic planning process. Soto said that both the board and employees understand the strategic plan as “a living document” that will change with the needs of the community. 

Hopkins added that the plan is still in progress as an internal document, but will ultimately live on the center’s website. 

“We need to make sure that our budget is sustainable with the actual projections that we have for the next year, right?” Chávez said. “We don’t want to grow so big, so fast that we can’t actually serve everyone.” 

As if on cue, questions filled the side panel of the screen, both asking how to help and pressing the center on its promise of community involvement.  

“Very disappointed that the bi day of action did not happen in October,” commented Shari Lucas. “You still have it listed which is wrong because it gives the impression that it happened and that you should get credit for representing the bi community. Nice that staff is coming back but wish there bi specific representation in staff like was talked about at one point.”

“When are the next volunteer options?” asked Sarah Allen. Allen later added a call for more events focused on the juncture of disability, access, and the LGBTQ+ community.  

In response, Soto said that planning and programming will include a lot of listening, and also look like coalition building with other groups in the city and the state. He pointed to topics “that are typically not thought of as LGBTQ issues,” including the fight for affordable healthcare and housing, police reform, and public education, as part of the center’s work in the wider New Haven community. 

“These issues all intersect with being LGBTQ folks,” he said. “We don’t have to do it alone. That’s one of the benefits we have in this amazing landscape that is New Haven. There’s a lot of organizations doing a lot of this work. We just have to talk to each other and build together.” 

“Our number one goal here is to be a benefit to the LGBTQ community at large and to collaborate with as many organizations as we can” Hopkins added. “To not be singular. We are all here together. The more the better.”

 Looking Toward The Future 

ChocolateCheesecake2022 - 1

Hopkins at the New Haven Pride Center's "Chocolate and Cheesecake" gala in November 2022. Lucy Gellman File Photo.

All three added that there are several ways to help the center as it moves forward. The center is still looking for volunteers “to support Juancarlos, to answer the phones, to be here if someone needed to use the food pantry,” Hopkins said. She praised Jennifer Crookes Carpenter, who spent Tuesday afternoon sorting shoes and winter coats with Soto, as an example of how a few hours of volunteer help can make a difference. 

The center is also in need of monetary donations and supplies, including non-perishable items for its food pantry and toothbrushes, toothpaste, binders for men, and menstrual products for its free hygiene cabinet. Volunteers can fill out a form online or drop in at the center during business hours Monday through Friday.  Soto invited people to come by and work in the space.

Near the end of an hour-long listening session, speakers also addressed questions around the center’s programming, which has been largely on hold. Since the board furloughed staff in late January, Soto has continued to support affinity groups, which are volunteer-led and presented both in-person and online. He said that those will continue without interruption and anticipates that they will grow as staff returns.  

Programs that are temporarily on pause, including the center’s rotating gallery and mentorship program, will also return as staff comes back into the building. When asked if he had a timeline for the staff’s return, he suggested that it may be as soon as within the next two weeks.  He added that the center “is always open to suggestions” for programming and can offer free training to potential facilitators.  

“It has been rough,” he said. “It has been a very tough time. I don’t want anybody to think that because I’m smiling or happy or joyful that I’m taking all of this in any way lightly. This is a really rough moment. It has been really rough for me personally. I just prefer to focus on what I do want, which is for the center to be in a good place, for the center to succeed, for the greater New Haven and LGBT Connecticut community to be taken care of. That’s where my focus is.”