By Mark Hallum
The Jackson Heights community laughed and cried at a vigil as they remembered the colorful linchpin named Ms. Colombia or La Paisa, but known officially as Osvaldo Gomez.
NYPD officers found the body of Gomez, 64, in Jacob Riis Park the morning of Oct. 3. A popular LGBTQ figure in Queens and the city, Ms. Colombia was loved for her flamboyance and liveliness which she proudly displayed during special events, including the Queens Pride Parade, and could be encountered any day of the week if one was lucky.
The Oct. 5 vigil for Ms. Colombia was held at 78-02 37th Ave. in the neighborhood he called home for many years and was organized in part by City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights).
“As Osvaldo would say, ‘I am not gay, I am not lesbian, I am a human being from another planet,” Dromm said. “The most beautiful thing that Osvaldo did for all of us was to bring a sense of freedom to everybody, not just the LGBT community, but to everybody who met him… I first met Ms. Colombia when I started the Queens Pride Parade in 1993. I remember coming down 89th Street from a friend’s apartment and I was worried that nobody would show up. But of course, Ms. Colombia was there.”
Dromm went on to explain that Ms. Colombia did not prefer to go by the pronoun of either him or her because of gender fluidity.
News of Gomez’s demise was more than a shock to Jackson Heights resident, 32-year-old Peter Gonzalez. Gonzalez, who is autistic, went missing the day after the bearded Ms. Colombia was pronounced dead.
David Gonzalez, Peter’s twin brother, choked back tears as he spoke at the vigil about how Gomez was the only person in the neighborhood who treated his brother as a friend.
“He actually called my brother his friend and that change his life,” Gonzalez said at the vigil, offering $1,000 to anyone who could help him find Peter.
Good news came for the family Monday as Peter was found disoriented but in good spirits and was taken to Zucker Hillside Hospital in New Hyde Park.
“This is the happiest day of my life. The fact that he was found safe and sound is a blessing,” David Gonzalez posted on Facebook.
A hospital employee had recognized Peter from news reports.
“I’ve known Osvaldo nearly my entire life growing up here in the neighborhood, and there is no greater example of happiness and the sense of humor that exemplifies Colombians and we should be so proud to call him a neighbor,” said Jessica Ramos, a Democratic candidate who unseated state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) in September.
Police have determined there were no signs of foul play in the nature of Gomez’s death, but said the city Medical Examiner’s office is conducting an autopsy in order to determine a cause.
“Ms. Colombia brought life and character to Jackson Heights. This city is a little less colorful and a little less brilliant without her here,” City Councilman Francisco Moya said. “Ms. Colombia knew who she was and had the courage to be exactly that, every day. We should all be so brave. Rest in peace, Ms. Colombia, an institution of Jackson Heights, a treasure of Queens.”
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall