Only one day before it was scheduled to begin, New York City's popular black gay pride function, Pride in the City, has canceled events amidst a dramatic upheaval at its sponsoring agency, the Brooklyn-based& ; HIV/AIDS group People of Color in Crisis (POCC). Rod 2.0 has exclusive details on the last-minute event cancellation and firing of former executive director Michael Roberson—including a lawsuit just filed against POCC, alleged financial improprieties, state and federal investigations, and, a possible possible criminal investigation.
Pride in the City (PITC) parties and official events were supposed to kick
off tonight. As recently as Tuesday, vendors sent emails promoting
official events, such as Friday's much-anticipated Blackout Arts
Festival which was scheduled to host the New York City premiere of Derrick Briggs' new film Finding Me, and, a round table discussion featuring writer/blogger Clay Cane and Terrance Dean, author of Hiding in Hip Hop. However, yesterday afternoon an unexpected email blast
from POCC said, "Due to events beyond the control of the events
organizers, the Blackout Arts Festival of Pride in the City has been
cancelled." The email also cryptically reported "Michael Roberson is no
longer Executive Director of People of Color in Crisis." The parties scheduled over the weekend will continue, but,
most all of the POCC-sponsored events, such as the BlacKout Arts Festival, will not occur.
"I was shocked," Terrance Dean tells Rod 2.0. The former MTV executive is the author of the hot, new behind the scenes tell-all Hiding in Hip Hop, which blows the lid off of the down-low and the entertainment industry. Dean was scheduled to sit on a panel on Friday and says organizers re-assured him the event would proceed as planned and only learned of the upheaval last night. "I heard about the recent cancellation of black pride in Los Angeles," he tells Rod 2.0, and "never thought it could happen" in the nation's largest city. "This is one reason why we are looking for leadership in the black gay community."
This has been a disappointing season for black gay prides. In July, the official At the Beach Los Angeles Black Pride was canceled amidst allegations of financial mismanagement. Organizers in Seattle recently canceled their black gay pride function. Chicago has two competing "official" black gay pride sponsors, and, one of the officers of In the Life Atlanta was recently accused of embezzlement.
Roberson is seen at left with Gary English, the former longtime POCC executive director. (Photo via Can We Be Frank) Although the official POCC communique says Roberson resigned, sources tell Rod 2.0 Roberson was fired earlier this week amidst escalating legal and financial problems. One source close to PITC tells Rod 2.0 their associates were "warned" weeks ago "not to participate" by sources in POCC.
Roberson's dismissal comes after a mass resignation of four members from the Brooklyn-based POCC's board of directors who protested the boards refusal to fire Roberson. The organization is reportedly being investigated by state, federal and local authorities—including the Centers for Disease Control and state health department for allegedly not providing HIV/AIDS prevention, as well as the state attorney general for possible tax violations. (For a detailed discussion of the allegations, listen to the July 1 edition of Serve the Kids Radio here. ) However, an email obtained by Rod 2.0 written by Frank Leon Roberts, the young New York City-based black gay activist, critic and a recent POCC hire of Roberson's, makes no mention of the agency's mounting legal problems. Roberts' email slams the POCC board of directors and calls their action "a truly unscrupulous, selfish, and tasteless move." Roberts is a doctoral candidate at New York University; the email was sent from his NYU email address, not from an official POCC server.
Ironically, Roberson is quoted in the latest edition of Gay City News discussing the "fiscal strain" caused by recession and budget cuts on service agencies and POCC's scaled down plans for black pride. GCN went to publication before Roberson's dismissal.
Roberson's firing and the PITC cancellation were reportedly anticipated by veteran black gay pride organizers, and, according to one source close to PITC, Earl Fowlkes, the International Federation of Black Prides president, was "concerned" about Roberson's lack of executive experience and historic involvement in the ballroom community. Roberson is the co-founder of the House of Manolo-Blahnik and the "father" of the New York City chapter of the House of Miyake-Mugler.
After the jump, exclusive details behind a new lawsuit filed against POCC that alleges Roberson reneged on this weekend's Greatest Ball on Earth and maxed out organization credit cards to "bail personal friends out of jail."
The icing on the cake is a damning lawsuit against POCC in New York City Civil Court alleging embezzlement, "gross mismanagement, misappropriation of funds, abuse of power" and "sexual ... casting couch" in Roberson's office.
The suit filed by veteran promoter and legendary ballroom personality Terence Dixon for $8450, is the eighth lawsuit filed against POCC in the last ten years. A search of the New York State Unified Court System shows at least four legal actions against Michael A. Roberson, including two lawsuits filed by Consolidated Edison.
Dixon, the founder of the House of Legend, scheduled a fundraiser for August 2, the Greatest Ball on Earth, and filed suit after POCC only reneged on plans to cosponsor the event. Dixon says he is outraged by Roberson and POCC's actions and now has to front the costs himself. "I've been advertising for eight months," Dixon tells Rod 2.0, adding TGBOE was originally slated for April 19, but Roberson personally convinced him to move TGBOE to August 2 to coincide with PITC.
Dixon's lawsuit claims Roberson and POCC waited until July 10 to pull out of Saturday's event. These plans were "finalized in November and we had a meeting every month with the executive director," Dixon tels Rod 2.0. "In each meeting, he said every thing was okay. I asked every time were these rumors [of investigations] true, he said no. Even after their own ball was canceled he claimed there were no" financial irregularities at POCC, Dixon says.
Dixon's lawsuit and ballroom insiders claim Roberson used POCC as a virtual ATM, exhausting "the agency's credit cards, credit line and spent federal grant money on such things as bailing personal friends out of jail." Roberson is also alleged to "have purchased dozens of roundtrip tickets to Los Angeles on POCC's account to visit his significant other." The charges, drama and alleged financial irregularities and "sexual casting couch," including the legal history surrounding the ball, are chronicled in a 22 page thread at the always-entertaining Walk4MeWednesday message board, the go-to site for ballroom news.
To add insult to injury, Dixon tells Rod 2.0 that Roberson did not have the "decency" personally cancel. "I called him earlier this month and he wouldn't get back to me. Then, when we did talk, he told me he would call me back in 20 minutes and he never did. Someone else called me back, a friend, not even an employee of POCC."
Terence Dixon tells Rod 2.0 the biggest insult is that Saturday's Greatest Ball on Earth is a fundrasier planned for HIV/AIDS services in Harlem and Brooklyn, as well as scholarships for college students.& ; "I don't know what to say," Dixon laments. "This has never happened before."