By James DeWeese
A diverse group of onlookers – from stroller-pushing borough families to gay couples from Manhattan – lined a 14-block stretch of 37th Avenue as the parade featuring bagpipes, marching bands, banner carriers and a few scantily clad men and women traveled from its starting point at 89th Street to 75th Street without incident.
As the procession wound up, paradegoers were greeted by more than half a dozen politicians who pledged to expand and protect civil rights for the city's gay and lesbian population. Many offered explicit promises to assist in the fight for same-sex marriages.
“There isn't one protester: People are happy and cheering,” said marcher Brendan Fay, co-chairman of the borough's all-inclusive St. Patrick's Day parade. “It says something about the shifting tide in America.”
Among the most profound changes are those on the political scene, said Fay, an Irish immigrant who has lived in the United States since 1984. Marching in the parade with his spouse, Tom Moulton, whom he married in Canada, Fay said he expected same-sex marriage was just around the corner for New Yorkers.
Jackson Heights resident Carlos Calle said the pride parade was a novel way to spend Sunday with his family.
“It's a different type of activity,” Calle, 30, said in Spanish as he stood with his wife and 10- and 2-year-old children watching a 6-foot-5-inch drag queen dressed in a bright yellow outfit strut by. “That's why we came, to see something different.”
About two blocks down, the Clabo family smiled as the same drag queen walked by.
Just in town to visit family, the upstaters said they were surprised by the parade when they took their 13-year-old daughter, Amanda, to get a haircut at a 37th Avenue salon.
“It's interesting,” said Amanda's father, John, as he stood next to his wife, Mary, and 10-year-old niece Stephanie.
“It brings everybody out and its a sense of togetherness and pride and lets the world know we're here,” said the 35-year-old Perez, who was accompanied by his boyfriend Tony Silveira. The pair said the Queens parade is smaller and more relaxed than the annual Manhattan Pride Parade.
That was just fine with 33-year-old David Braun.
“It's not as corporatized, Manhattan's just a big advertisement,” said the Manhattan resident, accompanied by his boyfriend, Pedro Delgado, who lived in Jackson Heights for four years. “This is just a gathering of community, a celebration and a little consciousness- raising but not so mass produced.”
Organizers billed the event and all-afternoon festival in the heart of the borough's gay community as a family affair designed to entertain and educate.
Several musical stages, sponsored by gay and lesbian rights organizations and local bars, offered a thumping mix of Latino and house music with performances by drag queens as paradegoers ambled among the food and vendor stands along 37th Road between 75th and 77th streets. More than 20 informational stands addressing issues from gay marriage to HIV/AIDS also dotted the final two-block stretch.
State Sen. John Sabini (D-Jackson Heights) served as one of the parade's grand marshals.
Area politicians briefly addressed paradegoers from the event's main stage at 75th Street and 37th Road, promising to support them.
“Although one decides to live another lifestyle, that doesn't mean they have the right to tell you you can't get married,” said state Assemblyman Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights) after trying to hook the crowd into repeating lines from Aretha Franklin's hit-song, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”
U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) promised to oppose any constitutional amendment defining marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman.
“I will in no way support a constitutional amendment that would take rights away,” Crowley said. “We won't let them turn our constitution into a weapon of hate; it's a weapon of love.”
Assemblyman Ivan Lafayette (D-Jackson Heights) and state Sen. Thomas Duane (D-Manhattan), the Senate's first openly gay, HIV-positive member, promised to work to protect rights at the state level.
And City Councilman Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria) called gay rights “the civil rights issue of our generation” while Council Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan) and Council members Christine Quinn, an openly gay legislator from Manhattan, and David Weprin (D-Hollis) pledged to overturn a mayoral veto of a bill that would extend equal health benefits to same-sex partners.
“The issue seems to be the most popular right now,” Briarwood resident Glenn Johnson said of same-sex marriage. “But there are other things.”
Among other issues, the 43-year-old Bulova employee pointed to accessible health.
“The same things as heterosexuals,” the openly gay man said. “They're not special rights, just basic ones.”
Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at email@example.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.