Photo by Duncan Pflaster
Councilman Daniel Dromm introduces honoree Melissa Sklarz (right) as Winter Pride chair Tina Arniotis looks on.

BY DUNCAN PFLASTER

Queens Pride held its 26th annual Winter Pride gala fundraiser on Jan. 19, with the proceeds going to produce the June Pride Parade & Festival. The evening included a social hour of cocktails and appetizers followed by a banquet and awards ceremony at the Astoria World Manor.

The evening’s three honorees were all transgender women, including longtime activist Melissa Sklarz, the New York City Anti-Violence Project’s LaLa Zannell, and Dominique Jackson, a star of FX’s “Pose.”

Elected to a Democratic district leader post in 1999, Sklarz was the first transgender person to win public office in New York. In 2004, she was the first trans person to represent the state at the Democratic National Convention, and in 2016 Sklarz was the first transgender person to participate in the Electoral CollegeA primary candidate for the State Assembly this past September, she has now joined the staff of SAGE, Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders.

In her remarks, Sklarz mentioned how, in her political work, she has often been the only trans person in the room. Politics, she said, is less about ideas than about building relationships that will lead to coalitions advancing the community’s needs.

Sklarz’s observations came just days after the trans community won a long-sought victory, with the passage in Albany of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act. The same day, the Legislature also approved a ban on conversion therapy practiced on minors.

Zannell was honored for her organizing work on behalf not only of AVP but also the National Coalition of Anti Violence Programs as well as her advocacy for trans women generally, which included her participation in two White House briefings during the Obama administration.

In a rousing speech, Zannell called out the gay community for largely ignoring its trans brothers and sisters, saying, “I wanted to teach us how to treat our trans and gender-nonconforming folks better. GENDA passing means nothing if queers and LGBT people ain’t respecting a girl like me.”

Jackson, who is an activist as well as a model and “Pose” cast member, sent her cousin to accept the award on her behalf.

Councilman Daniel Dromm, chair of the Finance Committee and a founder of Queens Pride, introduced the political dignitaries in attendance, including State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., Queens State Senator Jessica Ramos, City Council members Donovan Richards and Costa Constantinides of Queens and Helen Rosenthal of Manhattan, former State Senator Tom Duane, and former Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley. Two candidates in the February 26 special election for city public advocate — out gay Manhattan Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell and former Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito — were also on hand.

Though neither Governor Andrew Cuomo nor Mayor Bill de Blasio attended, each sent a representative.

After the solemnity of the awards presentation, the evening’s diverse and enthusiastic crowd hit the dance floor and partied away.

This story first appeared on Jan. 21 on Gay City News, an affiliate of QNS.

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