By Bill Parry
When the Queens Pride Parade steps off in Jackson Heights at noon Sunday, memories of the first march 23 years ago will flood back for the event’s founder, City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights). The award-winning public school teacher at PS 199 turned activist for his LGBT community believes the world has changed since 1993.
“There were police on the rooftops with helicopters circling above 37th Avenue,” Dromm said. “Nobody knew what to expect that day. It was the first time it was done outside of Manhattan and people thought I was crazy.”
Dromm became a notable figure after the gay-bashing murder of Julio Rivera in 1990 that led to candlelight vigils, marches and new gay-rights groups in Jackson Heights. Then came a public battle between Dromm and the District 24 board over using the Children of the Rainbow Curriculum in public schools in 1992. Dromm fought Board President Mary Cummins to use the guide to teach children to respect and appreciate gay people.
That battle turned ugly when Dromm accused the board of creating an atmosphere of intimidation after the members would not accept three pages in the guide because they were contrary to family values.
“Those were some very tumultuous years,” Dromm said. “I received many death threats and I needed a police escort for nearly five years. I even had an order of protection against one individual.”
Many of his supporters in the Jackson Heights LBGT community were not sure the parade was a good idea.
“These were all people who marched every year in Manhattan and they didn’t think it was a good idea to march in Queens,” he said. “They thought it was too close to home.”
That first year more than 10,000 bystanders showed up. Now it’s the second largest Pride celebration in New York City, drawing crowds of 40,000 spectators each year.
“I just believed we had to bring the movement outside Manhattan to where we live,” Dromm said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio will serve as grand marshal, along with health care provider APICHA Community Health Center, of the parade that will carry the theme; “Pride-Strength-Unity” as it follows the lavender line down 37th Avenue, from 89th Street to 75th Street. A street festival with more than a hundred vendors will take place at 75th Street and 37th Road and there will be performances on two stages, including CeCe Peniston with her hit “Finally” and other songs from the Festival Stage.
“This year I’m marching with an added sense of pride as an Irish-American gay man,” Dromm said. “To see where we started to where we are now gives me a tremendous feeling, but then you add in what was accomplished in Ireland on May 22, when the population voted overwhelmingly in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage. I just never thought I’d live this long to see that we were right all along.”