By Alex Robinson

Mayor Bill de Blasio did something none of his predecessors had ever done Sunday when he marched in the Queens Pride Parade.

“It is the second largest pride parade in the city, but its spirit is tied for first,” the mayor told parade-goers in Jackson Heights. “I want you to know this parade is a celebration of life. It’s a celebration of diversity and inclusion and strength in this city.”

A crowd of thousands made its way to 37th Avenue for the annual celebration despite a No. 7 train shutdown, which closed down service from Times Square to the Roosevelt Avenue-74th Street station for repair work.

Booming music permeated the air as dancers, elected officials and drag queens strutted down the parade route.

De Blasio praised the borough’s gay community as instrumental in starting the movement that has led to marriage equality in 19 states.

“Because of your efforts, equality is spreading like wildfire across this country and we are living up to the ideals of this country and that is something to celebrate,” de Blasio said.

Walde Mar and Milton Nugra, a gay couple who are planning to get married in July, watched the parade from the sidewalk. The two traveled all the way from Connecticut to behold the colorful spectacle.

“We are here to have fun and be proud,” Mar said. “We deserve to have equality.”

City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), who served as one of the grand marshals of the parade, along with other members of the Council’s LGBT Caucus, said he found it shocking that in 22 years of the parade’s existence no other mayor had marched.

“I love Bill de Blasio for showing every day that his commitment for equality for the LGBT community is something that’s deep in his heart,” Van Bramer said. “To have a mayor of the city of New York so publicly and visibly support our equality is really heartwarming and powerful in the message that it sends.”

Marchers stopped briefly at 74th Street to observe a moment of silence for Julio Rivera, a gay man who was murdered at the street corner in 1990.

Parade-goers also remembered Flushing resident Jeanne Manford, the parade’s first grand marshal in 1993, who died last year.

Manford is considered a pioneer in the American gay rights movement as she was the first mother to march in the city’s pride parade with her gay son in 1972. She also founded an organization called Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays, which now has more than 200,000 members worldwide.

U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), who marched in the parade, introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives Monday honoring Manford’s life and work.

“Jeanne’s unconditional love helped change the hearts and minds of so many people in Queens and throughout the city of New York,” Crowley said. “She leaves behind an incredible legacy of courage and humanity and today we live in a more just society because of her work.”

Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at arobinson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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