By Phil Corso
The sidewalks along 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights were jammed with a crowd of more than 40,000 spectators Sunday as a colorful, booming celebration of gay pride emanated from the parade floats passing by.
Twenty years since its inception, the Queens Pride Parade and Multicultural Festival capped off the Queens Pride weekend with singing, dancing and a gathering that some visitors said had grown to become a greater part of the community.
“People have definitely seemed more interested over the years,” said Tony Matulis, of Brooklyn. “It’s good to see more and more groups of people coming, including families and straight people.”
Rainbow flags fluttered in the mild wind as drag queens danced their way down 37th Avenue near 84th Street before the parade culminated at 75th Street for a festival equipped with information booths, barbecue and even free screenings for sexually transmitted infections. Performances rocked the festival’s main stage throughout the day, including Martha Wash, singer of the famous tune “It’s Raining Men.”
One of the first tents visible upon entering the festival was that of the Queens Chapter 32 Vietnam Veterans of America, who said they were there to promote veterans’ benefits after President Barack Obama repealed the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in 2010, bringing an end to the ban on openly gay men and women serving.
“Why do we come here? Because there are gay veterans and they deserve to know about their benefits, too,” said Tom Corbin, who worked the tent selling military apparel including hats and jackets. “We support any and all who serve this country.”
The office of City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), a parade founder, worked a tent in the middle of all the frenzy to pass along his support for the gay community and to share that appreciation with Obama, who voiced his support for marriage equality in May. The openly gay councilman marched in the parade along with two other powerful members of the city’s gay community: Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) and Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan).
Right outside the tent stood a large cardboard postcard addressed to Obama that read, “Thank you, Mr. President, for supporting marriage equality.” Passers-by stopped at the tent to etch their names onto the postcard in marker.
“There’s something special about the parade this year,” visitor Matthew Womp said. “We have so much to celebrate as a community. We’ve come so far.”
Immediately after the festival there was a free sneak preview screening of “Julio of Jackson Heights,” a film dedicated to Julio Rivera, a gay man who was stabbed and beaten to death in Jackson Heights more than 20 years ago. Rivera’s story has been a consistent staple of the parade’s 20-year tenure and helped provoke the initial planning of the event.
Queens Pride weekend began last Thursday night when drag queens and partygoers flocked to Studio Square in Long Island City for the kickoff.
The parade, sponsored by the Queens Lesbian and Gay Pride Committee, included local youth and social groups in its goal to engage the community on issues important to the LGBTQ community. The committee also hosts an annual film series and a Winter Pride Dinner to advocate for its causes.
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.