Co-founder of 34th Avenue Open Streets program in Jackson Heights alleges he faced anti-gay harassment

34th Avenue Open Streets program
The co-founder of the 34th Avenue Open Streets program in Jackson Heights, alleges he has been targeted with homophobic slurs from a community group. (Photos by Adrian Childress)

The co-founder of the award-winning 34th Avenue Open Streets Coalition alleges that he and his volunteers have been repeatedly subjected to “vulgar homophobic slurs” by members of the Jackson Heights Coops Alliance, which their leader vehemently denies.

Jim Burke made his allegations during a press conference on Sept. 12, when he was joined by Councilman Shekar Krishnan and his predecessor Daniel Dromm.

“Misinformation disseminated by this group has caused unnecessary strife in the community and directed hate toward our volunteers,” Burke said. “Purported members of this group have used homophobic, xenophobic and racist slurs against our volunteers and program participants, sometimes in the presence of children and community members.”

Burke, who is openly gay, said he was personally subjected to the harassment on at least eight occasions.

“Hate has no place in Jackson Heights, the birthplace of Queens Pride,” Krishnan said. “I am appalled at the homophobic harassment that 34th Avenue volunteers like Jim Burke and many others have had to experience by members of the so-called Jackson Heights Coops Alliance.”

Jackson Heights Coops Alliance president Ricardo Pacheco released a statement on social media Monday evening rejecting the allegations against his group.

“As a gay man myself who has a long history and proven record of advocating for the civil rights of LGBTQ+ community, I would never tolerate such bigotry and hate from our alliance or from anyone,” Pacheco said. “The malicious accusation directed at us by Council member Shekar Krishnan and the 34th Avenue volunteer Jim Burke without concrete evidence is disturbing, if not pure slander.”

Pacheco added that no member of his group has been approached by any current or former local leader regarding the allegations, and an NYPD spokeswoman said she had no information on any investigation into the matter.

“Bring forth the evidence and let’s fight hate in our neighborhood,” Pacheco concluded.

It was one year ago that the 34th Open Streets program was awarded the inaugural Alfresco Awards for “exemplary outdoor dining structures, open streets and collaborative efforts” awarded across the five boroughs, but the alliance has been a vocal opponent of the closure of the 1.3-mile stretch of 34th Avenue from 69th Street to 94th Street.

open streets
34th Avenue Open Streets program in Jackson Heights. (QNS/File)

“No matter how their members may feel about 34th Avenue, there is no excuse to engage in hate,” Krishnan said. “Jackson Heights Coops Alliance must condemn its members’ actions now.”

The accusations have stirred up the ghosts for Dromm, a trailblazing figure in the gay rights movement in the borough.

“Jackson Heights is the home of Queens Pride, but we have also seen terrible violence against LGBT individuals in our community,” Dromm said. “Julio Rivera was murdered by three white supremacists in 1990. Edgar Garzon was murdered by a white supremacist in 2001. We must call out and condemn homophobia wherever we see it. Jackson Heights Coops Alliance is now on notice.”

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, who served alongside Dromm on the City Council, addressed the allegations with a statement of solidarity.

“I stand with Jackson Heights residents against homophobia and all forms of hate,” Richards said. “The 34th Avenue Open Street is a real jewel in the borough of Queens. It is home to so much incredible community programming; I am proud to have been an early and strong supporter of this dynamic space. That will not change. I will continue to work with Council member Krishnan and all of our community partners to ensure that it remains a safe place for all who wish to use it.”

Kilmnick announced his organization is launching a new Queens Hate Crime Victim Advocacy Initiative to support all victims of hate across the borough.

“The harassment that Jim has endured on the Open Streets, unfortunately, represents a broader trend in Queens,” he said. “We are also calling out the Jackson Heights Coops Alliance to condemn this behavior that is not acceptable anywhere, especially not in the birthplace of the LGBTQ movement in Queens.”

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