Queens borough president and ‘Free’ singer are among special guests at 26th annual Queens Pride Parade

Photo courtesy of Queens Pride

Celebrating life, love and freedom, Queens residents will take to the streets of Jackson Heights on June 3 for the 26th annual Queens Pride parade and festival.

Melinda Katz, who has been an LGBTQ+ supporter during her time as borough president, will be one of the grand marshals for this year’s parade and festival. Joining her as grand marshal is Elijah Betts, who has been involved with Queens Pride for seven years.

There will also be a special musical performance by Ultra Naté, known for such dance hits as “Free” and “If You Could Read My Mind,” as part of the group Stars On 54.

The parade is sponsored by the Queens Lesbian and Gay Pride Committee, which was formed in 1990 when three men murdered Julio Rivera, a gay Latino man from Jackson Heights.

Following his death, Maritza Martinez and future Councilman Daniel Dromm co-founded Queens Pride, along with the parade and festival, as an act of protest. Since then, the parade has evolved into a yearly celebration of the LGBTQ+ community. But the parade keeps true to its roots, with marchers and attendees gathering at Julio Rivera Corner at the start of each year’s parade.

Rivera’s death inspired Dromm, then a public school teacher at P.S. 199 in Queens, to become a staunch advocate for LGBTQ+ rights. In the 1990s, the Jackson Heights resident pushed for the Children of the Rainbow curriculum to be taught in schools, which would teach children to respect the races, ethnicities and sexual orientation of their classmates.

According to Tina Arniotis, a current co-chair of Queens Pride, other supporters of the parade include Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, Senator Michael Gianaris, public advocate Letitia James and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Arniotis, who co-chairs the organization with Monique “Mo” George, joined the organization in 2016. She and George nominated themselves after the previous co-chairs decided to end their terms after six years of leading the organization. Before then, she said that there had not been any women chairs of the Queens Pride in nearly two decades.

Though the parade usually follows a specific theme like “Pride – Strength – Unity” and “A World of Pride,” Arniotis said that there would not be a specific theme for this year’s festivities. Instead, she said the organization would “just celebrate pride as we always do.”

She added that in 2019, New York would be celebrating “World Pride” which marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising in Greenwich Village. Following this year’s parade, Arniotis said that they would be putting all of their energy into planning the parade for World Pride, which she believes will have a huge impact on tourism to New York.

All registered parade marchers will be eligible for a Queenie award, which Arniotis said recognizes the vast talent throughout the community. This year, marchers can win one of six awards, including The Drag Race awarded to best drag performance, The Rainbow Award for the best use of color and The Screaming Queens Award, given to the group with the best sound, “be it chanting, singing, a band, live or pre-recorded.”

The parade begins at noon on Sunday, June 3, and runs from 37th Avenue from 89th Street to 75th Street. Following the parade, the festival will take place on 75th Street and 37th Road from 1:30 to 6 p.m. For more information, visit queenspride.org.