“Julio Down by The Schoolyard,” a play by Queensborough Community College professor C. Julian Jimenez, premieres tonight at Manhattan’s INTAR Theatre.
The play explores the impact of the death of Julio Rivera, a gay man from Jackson Heights who was brutally murdered 29 years ago.
Jimenez begins the story a day after the murder during which “the community reacts and is taken on a journey of self-discovery by a fabulously unapologetic queen personifying the beauty and brutality of Jackson Heights,” Jimenez said in a QCC interview.
On July 2, 29-year-old bartender Rivera was heading home from a shift when three men lured him into the schoolyard of P.S. 69 before beating him with a hammer and beer bottle and fatally stabbing him with a knife.
Police initially classified the attack as “drug-related” but later said it was a bias crime following intense community pressure and a protest. Prosecutors confirmed that three men connected to a skinhead gang targeted Rivera because he was gay.
According to Jimenez, the show examines “how marginalized people deal with grief” and “the political and societal environment in Jackson Heights,” following Rivera’s murder. Hundreds of family, friends and members of the LGBTQIA+ community joined in Queens’ first public demonstration against homophobia.
But Jimenez added that the show “does not follow a traditional narrative,” which echoes the “nontraditional lives that many LGBTQIA+ people are often forced to follow.”
Community response to the crime helped to spark LGBTQIA+ activism in Queens, paving the way for the borough’s annual Pride parade and the eventual election of two gay City Council members.
Rivera’s murder was the first hate crime tried in New York state, according to Jimenez.
“Queer people of color are … now being threatened by the current administration. The play is a reminder of where we came from and how much further we have to go,” Jimenez added.
The New York City Council, through the office of Councilman Daniel Dromm, and LaGuardia Community College made the creation of the play possible. It was later developed by The Lark Play Development and INTAR Theater, located at 500 W. 52nd St. in Manhattan.
Julio Down by The Schoolyard is showing on June 27 and 28 at 7 p.m. and on June 29 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets are available online for $10.