By Carlotta Mohamed
Thousands of spectators flooded the vibrant streets of Jackson Heights Sunday as dancers, musicians, advocates, and elected officials marched down 37th Avenue from 89th Street to 75th Street in the 26th Annual Queens Pride Parade and Festival in celebration of Pride Month.
At the forefront of the parade serving as grand marshals were Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, who has been a LGBTQ supporter during her time in office, and Elijah Betts, the youngest non-binary-identified youth who is an active leader at Generation Q, an LGBT Youth Center for ages 13-24 in Forest Hills, followed by approximately 76 groups and organizations that marched along the avenue. Afterwards, participants attended a festival with a headlining music performance from Ultra Nate.
Just hours after the Queens Pride Parade, however, a 25-year-old man was approached by two individuals in Jackson Heights on 83rd Street and 37th Avenue at around 10 p.m., yelling anti-gay slurs and punched him several times in the face causing bruising and lacerations. The assault is being investigated as a possible biased crime by the Hate Crime Task Force, police said.
The suspects who fled the scene after the attack were black males, police said. There is no further information about the men.
LGBTQ Queens activists and allies scheduled a press conference on the steps of the Jackson Heights Post Office at 78-02 37th Ave. Wednesday night to condemn the vicious assault standing in solidarity with the victims of hate-motivated violence.
State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), who marched in the Queens Pride Parade, denounced the attack saying it’s “intolerable.”
“I am outraged that attacks against people because of their sexual orientation or gender expression continue to occur,” said Peralta. “There is no room for hate in our community, especially in one as diverse as Jackson Heights. Our diversity should unite us not divide us. “We must ensure we all work together to put an end to hate, and send a clear message of unity and solidarity.”
The first Queens Pride Parade was launched in 1993, after the murder of Julio Rivera, a gay Latino man who was brutally attacked by three men near the PS 69 school playground in Jackson Heights, and died from his injuries.
The tragic death of Rivera prompted the Queens LGBTQ community to take action forming several community groups and the creation of the Queens Pride Parade — the second largest parade in the New York metropolitan area — celebrating pride and visibility in the borough of Queens.
Each year, the parade has passed by the school and the corner of 37th Avenue and 78th Street named in Rivera’s honor.
Elected officials such as Councilmen Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) and Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), and U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), were in attendance.
Council member Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), who chairs the Council’s LGBT Caucus, and a founder of the Queens Pride Parade, expressed outrage of Sunday night’s attack.
“It is horrific that a member of the LGBTQ community experienced such violence after Queens Pride, a celebration of who we are,” said Dromm. “While the fight for equality and justice for LGBTQ people in Queens has come a long way since then, sadly, attacks like these still occur. They are in no way representative of Jackson Heights or our borough, and we will continue to resist attempts like these which seek to force us back into the closet.”
A Democratic candidate for state Senate, Jessica Ramos, a resident of Jackson Heights, who was recently endorsed by the Jim Owles Democratic Club in the race against Peralta, and marched in Queens Pride, pledged to fight for equality in her LGBTQ agenda.
“New York is the birthplace of the gay rights movement, and we have come so far since then—but there’s more work to do to reach true LGBTQ equality,” said Ramos. “For too long, LGBTQ priorities have been left to the wayside by Republicans in the state Senate, and the Independent Democratic Conference senators who voted for Republican leadership.”
Ramos’ LGBTQ agenda includes the banning of conversion therapy for minors; increased funding for LGBTQ homeless youth and seniors; the end of “Gay and Trans Panic Defense;” support child-parent security act; support of Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act; and expansion of MWBE contracting opportunities to trans entrepreneurs.
In a statement Crowley said that although there have been “incredible progress in the march toward equality,” there’s still a long way to go to ensure the full rights of LGBTQ Americans, especially communities of color.
The following day after Queens Pride, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a landmark proposal to make birth certificates more inclusive to all gender identities. New York City birth certificates will include male, female and a new, third category of “X” to reflect non-binary gender identity, the mayor’s office said.
“Pride Month is is a time to celebrate how far we’ve come in the fight for equality, and reaffirm our commitment to protecting all New Yorkers from discrimination,” said de Blasio. “This proposal will allow transgender and gender non-conforming New Yorkers to live with the dignity and respect they deserve, and make our city fairer.”
Several participants at Queens Pride said some progress today has been made in the LGBTQ community, but there are still issues that are pertinent such as continued discrimination for just being gay and protection of transgender individuals and use of restrooms.
Sharon John, 62, of Harlem, who described herself as a “free spirit,” could easily be singled out in the crowd for her stand-out attire. She was wearing a red hat that said “Pride” with a big colorful bow attached and a long pride flag as a cape, as she stood on the corner with her black cart filled with pride flags, necklaces, and other accessories for sale.
“I have a nephew that’s gay and some friends that are bisexual,” said John. “I’m here to show support and there needs to be a realization that people are people, and we shouldn’t judge anyone. I raised my children to be the same way, and I’m happy to be here today.”
Nelson Silverio, 30, of Corona, who is a member of the Latino Commission on AIDS’ Oasis Wellness Center, said it was his seventh year participating in the Queens Pride Parade and Festival.
“I’m from the Dominican Republic, so I don’t have the opportunity there to say ‘I’m gay’ in the open,” Sirverio said. “Here in the United States I have the freedom to just be me and celebrate. Pride Month is not just for the LGBTQ community, it’s for all communities and I invite everyone to come out and celebrate with us.”
Reach reporter Carlotta Mohamed by e-mail at cmoha