Queens Celebrates 20 Years of Gay Pride in Jackson Heights, Queens
Thousands of LGBT people gathered in Jackson Heights, Queens, on June 3 for the 20th Annual Queens Pride Celebration. The event began with a parade down 37th Avenue, and culminated with a street festival on 37th Road, where headliner Martha Wash fought intermittent showers to sing her legendary gay club hit, "It’s Raining Men!" Elected officials praised fellow Councilmember Daniel Dromm for his excellent organization of the parade.
"Twenty years ago I was told by gay people in the community that this could never happen. I had a dream and I went with it, and got people to help me execute my dream, and now we’re at year 20. It’s unimaginable that that much time has passed," said Dromm.
Openly gay State Sen. Tom Duane, who announced this week that he intends to retire from politics, marched in the parade with his longtime partner, Louis Webre. Duane thanked the crowd for their support of LGBT legislation.
"It is only because I see your faces that I can do the job," said Duane, who introduced marriage equality legislation in the State Senate. "Who woulda thunk: SONDA, hate crimes, Dignity for All Students and marriage...but we still need to pass GENDA. So no stopping on the fighting! One community united. I’m a native son of Queens, and I’m home."
Queens City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer listened to Duane’s remarks with interest. Van Bramer said that when he was young, he didn’t think it was possible for a gay man to hold elected office. At 20 years old, he worked for Duane’s election campaign, which he said inspired him to follow his own political ambitions.
"We have to be visible and people have to know that gay and lesbian people are mail carriers and teachers and lawyers and also political leaders," said Van Bramer.
He said that as a gay man, he had a lot of experiences that brought the truth of who he was to his job. He also celebrated the shared experiences of the larger LGBT community, like those assembled at Queens Pride.
"It also sends a really powerful message to young LGBT people who may be closeted or struggling like I was and the ability to see out, proud and powerful representation of LGBT people makes a difference between someone, God forbid, committing suicide and/or saying maybe I can do that. Maybe I’ll run for office, too," he said.
The annual Queens Pride parade marched down 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights from 84th Street to 75th Street, where it veered left to the festival, held on 37th Road. As is customary, the Dykes on Bikes led the parade, followed by a coterie of elected officials from the City Council of New York.
"Look at the sea change that has happened over those 20 years, especially in Queens," said Dromm. "The first parade, hardly an elected official would even march with us. And today, Queens came in second in terms of the largest delegation in support of marriage equality. That’s been the work of the Queens Pride Committee and the people who have helped make this parade, because it’s really the focus and coming out point for everyone in the community.
Elected officials marching in the parade included Duane, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Van Bramer, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, City Councilmember Rosie Mendez, City Councilmember Letitia James, Comptroller John Liu, former City Comptroller Bill Thompson, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley, Councilmember Richard Perez, Councilmember Domenic Recchia, Jr., Councilmember Karen Koslowitz, Councilmember Mark Weprin, among others.
The Queens Center for Gay Seniors (SAGE Queens) served as Grand Marshal; also serving as a Grand Marshal was the family of Julio Rivera, the Latino gay man killed in a bias crime in Queens in 1990.
Marching in the parade were various groups, both from Queens itself and from other parts of the city, including the Queens Lesbian & Gay Pride Committee, Generation Q, the Stonewall Democrats of New York City, the Queens Community House Center for Gay Seniors, Queens County Young Democrats, PFLAG Queens, the cast of Broadway’s "Wicked," the American Veterans for Equal Rights New York, Argentinian/Uruguayan group Mateand, Cheer NY, SALGA NYC, Indo-Caribbean group Sangam, the AIDS Center of Queens County, GMHC, Translatinas of New York, Make the Road New York, and more.
Gay cheerleaders of Cheer NY lined up as members performed back flips and round-offs up the middle of the street, and the Lesbian & Gay Big Apple Corps Marching Band played Katy Perry’s "Raise Your Glass."
The large Latino population in Queens was evidenced by the wealth of drag queens and other participants in native dress, and the participation of local clubs and businesses including Lucho’s Place, which presented a large float with members in costume.
At the festival stage, emcee Appolonia Cruz prepared for the completion of official remarks by elected officials before she ushered the entertainers to the stage. It was her second time serving as master of ceremonies.
"We should celebrate Pride because there are still people out there who don’t get us, so the more events we do like this, the more exposure we get," said Cruz. "Also, there are a lot of organizations here that help out gays and lesbians that don’t have anywhere to go. Every time I see them I get so happy, because there are people who are closeted, and these groups help. Especially for the youth, because they don’t know who to turn to, and they have questions."
Cruz began the stage show by performing with the vibrant members of Cheer New York. Dressed in toreador costumes and flamenco dresses, Hombres presented an elaborate dance routine. Other performers included Candy Samples, Caribbean Pride, Tony Boylesque, Anthony Bruno, Mahina Movement, Anthony Rodriguez, Bekele, Lovari, Lady Clover Honey, Melissa Ray and Shamar Forte, opening for headliner Martha Wash.
"It’s an incredible milestone, it’s my baby and I hate to step away from it, but I have to; I’m a councilmember now," said Dromm. "But 20 years is a major accomplishment."
For more info, visit www.queenspride.com