By Mark Hallum
Queens Pride kicked off in Jackson Heights Sunday with a turnout far exceeding the year before, honoring members of the LGBT community who lost their lives to hate crimes over the decades.
Leaders in the fight for equal rights walked the parade route on the 25th anniversary of the event along with many organizations and elected officials.
Onlookers were treated to the unexpected sight of an elderly man in a World War II veteran’s hat dancing while waving the flag as he unofficially led the procession starting at 37th Avenue and 89th Street. The man, who did not give his name, said he was from a liberal church just east of the parade.
“This is my first [Pride Parade], and probably my last,” he said. “I may not live that long.”
City Councilmen Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) and Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), openly gay lawmakers, were at the forefront of the procession as marshals. Also with them were Councilmen Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), Carlos Menchaca (D-Brooklyn), Public Advocate Letitia James, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who was a grand marshal.
The elected officials all took a pause from the march to pay tribute to Julio Rivera, a gay man who was murdered in 1990 by two assailants whom Dromm described as “white supremacist skinheads.” Rivera’s family was there, cradling the cremated remains of their loved one in their arms.
“I miss my brother. It’s hard even now to speak of my brother over 25 years from when he was killed,” said Rivera’s brother, Ted, his voice trembling with emotion. “But I’m happy so much good came out of it. We’re very grateful to [Dromm] and the gay community.”
DiNapoli took the microphone to urge attendees not to be discouraged with the current political climate, but to keep fighting for LGBTQ rights through legislation such as GENDA, a bill designed to add people with different gender identities as a protected class under the state’s human rights laws as well as provide nondiscrimination protections in terms of housing, employment and credit among other things.
“This parade and the activity that Queens Pride does throughout the year has really been transformative,” DiNapoli said. “We are a better community because of your efforts and we know we’re living in a very strange time with a lot of challenges out there. It means we need to keep the work going.”
James encouraged people to use all the resources at their disposal to keep fighting for the values of the LGBT movement.
“At a time when our democracy is under attack and our values are under attack, Julio’s death must not be in vain,” James said. “All of us must rise up and use our voice to stand up for freedom for who we love. This is really all about love.”
The importance of Queens Pride is more than just LGBTQ rights, however, according to Van Bramer. There are men and women from Queens communities who would not be alive without support from such events as Queens Pride to make them feel safe to be themselves, he said.
“All of us who remember those dark times remember Julio Rivera every time we march,” Van Bramer said. “We would have none of what we have it weren’t for the pioneers. For so many LGBTQ folks who dared to be who they are and live their full truths, and Julio Rivera was one of those gay men. So everything we have, everything we celebrate today, we owe to Julio Rivera and to all of those who came before us.”
Dromm, a founder of the parade, then led the crowd in a moment of silence for members of the LGBTQ community who have died.
The parade was followed by a street fair with food and many Latin American vendors from the surrounding neighborhoods.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall