Boro lawmakers rename streets for gay activists

Photo by Christina Santucci
By Christina Santucci

Western Queens leaders honored two late gay rights activists over the weekend with streets renamed in their honor.

In Jackson Heights, Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) led a ceremony Saturday for Guillermo Vasquez at Elmhurst Hospital Center, where friends spoke about his work to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS, which ultimately took Vasquez’s own life.

About an hour later, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) was joined by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) in Woodside to pay tribute to Lou Rispoli, who was beaten to death in October 2012. Police are still searching for two suspects who were last seen with Rispoli walking on 43rd Avenue in Sunnyside. Authorities believe the pair hit 62-year-old Rispoli over the head before fleeing to a waiting car. Immediately after the attack, he was placed in hospice care, and he died six days later.

In Jackson Heights, official unveiled the co-named corner at 77th Street and Broadway for Vasquez after a tribute by elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) and state Sens. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) and Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing). One of his friends recalled going into gay bars with the native of Colombia to advocate for safe sex practices in return for his work with Latino organizations.

“He gave me a lecture,” joked Nayibe Nunez-Berger, the president of the Latin American Cultural Center, of which Vasquez was a founding member. “And I said, ‘Ok. It’s a deal. If you come with me to a business and we will ask for money for the Latin American Cultural Center, I’ll go with you.’ And I became familiar with all the gay bars in Jackson Heights and Elmhurst.”

A former seminarian, Vasquez founded the U.S. Colombian SIDA/AIDS Foundation and was a member of the Empire State Pride Agenda and the Latino Commission on AIDS, as well as Queens Gays and Lesbians United and the Queens Lesbian and Gay Pride Committee. He worked in the community outreach department for Gay Men’s Health Crisis.

“He was waiting for a position at GMHC that he found to be the best place in the world to work,” said friend Rafaela “Ronnie” Billini, former director of the AIDS Center of Queens County.

Vasquez also took his community work overseas in 1995, when he traveled to his homeland of Colombia and funded a recreation room in an AIDS hospice in Pereira. A year later, Vasquez died at the age of 42 from complications of AIDS.

“Today is not about mourning but remembering this extraordinary man who touched so many hearts,” Billini said.

Van Bramer and Quinn renamed the corner of 51st Street and 43rd Avenue in Woodside for Rispoli, who lived in the community for more than 30 years.

An avid supporter of music and the arts, Rispoli served as a mentor to young musicians throughout New York City, according to Van Bramer’s office. He also worked as an administrator at the Greenwich House Music School

In his free time, Rispoli cooked and cared for friends with AIDS and HIV through his volunteer work with the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the councilman said. Rispoli had celebrated a year of legal marriage with Danyal Lawson, whom he had been with for 31 years, before he was murdered, Van Bramer said. Rispoli’s niece Christine ODonnell also was in attendance at the event,

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