“The issue of gay marriage is important because it’s a fundamental civil rights issue, and it’s an institution along with which comes hundreds and hundreds of rights and responsibilities, but an institution some Americans are allowed access to, and other Americans—LGBT Americans—are not allowed access to,” said City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, who vowed to press the fight for marriage equality.
Last month, Quinn convened a meeting of gay leaders citywide and Congressman Anthony Weiner, along with representatives of Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles Schumer and Congressman Jerrold Nadler, to discuss how Democrats and the gay community should frame the battle against the federal Marriage Protection Amendment being debated in the Senate this week.
“Now that the president is calling for a constitutional ban on the rights of many people in our population to have the rights that others have, I am particularly outraged and infuriated, said Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum. “And for me it’s a drop-dead issue in terms of making sure we give our brothers and sisters the right to marry, just like the rest of us have.
And so for me, it will be something that I will be screaming and yelling about probably even a little louder than my pal here [Quinn], just because I am married and I want her to have the right to be married with her partner—and I want to be at the ceremony.”
“Betsy is invited, first of all,” said Quinn, laughing. “Secondly, I think it’s really great to have someone who’s a heterosexual citywide elected official take this position, and when straight, elected officials scream really loud, even louder than us, it has a bigger and better impact.”
The Queens Lesbian and Gay Pride Committee led the parade down 37th Avenue from 89th Street to 75th Street in Jackson Heights, with a cadre of politicians—from Queens and citywide—in their wake. Congressman Joseph Crowley, also a same-sex marriage supporter, was a parade grand marshal, along with Wendy Moscow, a former co-chair of the event and a longtime anti-war activist, and John Azzali, the former head of Queens Gays and Lesbians United.
“We wanted to pick a grand marshal who was really an advocate for marriage, and Joe Crowley has been that person,” said Jackson Heights Democratic district leader and Queens Pride co-chair Daniel Dromm. “When they introduced the first federal marriage amendment, Joe Crowley and two or three other Congressmen went out on the steps of Congress and advocated on our behalf. I don’t just mean they defended the community, they actually got up there and said they are pro-gay marriage and wanted a law to pass that would allow [it].”
Also marching were Sean Patrick Maloney, the gay former top White House aide to President Bill Clinton who is seeking the Democratic nomination for state attorney general in the September 12 primary, state Senator John D. Sabini, City Councilman Hiram Monserrate (who on Monday announced he will challenge Sabini for his Senate seat in the September primary), Comptroller William C. Thompson, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, Assemblyman José Peralta, and Councilwoman Helen Sears.
Maloney, who had also attended Staten Island Pride and Marriage Equality/New York’s Wedding March the day before, said, “I think we need to remember it’s not easy for everyone everywhere to just be who they are. Sometimes we all focus on Manhattan, but in some of the outer boroughs, it still takes a lot of courage to just walk down the street and be yourself. It’s important to show we’re not all going to be equal until we’re equal everywhere in the city, in the way we’re treated in public places.”
Sears opened her office on 75th Street to welcome attendees needing a break, and said she was happy to be working on the Council where she contributes to the push for gay rights. Sabini said that he would press politicians like conservative Republican Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno to allow for passage of “a marriage bill that we can all be proud of here in New York.”
Though Bruno is opposed to gay marriage, such a bill, sponsored by Manhattan Assemblyman Dick Gottfried and Senator Tom Duane, has not yet received a vote even in the Democratic-controlled Assembly.
Dromm was particularly pleased by the turnout, saying, “This is the culmination of 14 years of work here in the borough... Today we have a lot of elected officials supporting us I am certain every elected official out there today from Queens County, the land of Archie Bunker, is supporting gay marriage. This parade is very much connected to that because it shows the numbers—an active and involved, politically astute community—and that’s what the sign of today is.”
The Lesbian and Gay Big Apple Corps was among the community groups making a strong showing, with a full color guard including three dancers clad in teal bodysuits, dancing with gold hula-hoops. Other marchers included the Gay Officers Action League, Generation Q, the borough-based youth outreach group, SAGE Queens on their trolley, PFLAG Queens, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Las Buenas Amigas, an organization of Latina lesbians, the South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association, Latino Gay Men of New York, Men of All Colors Together, the American Veterans for Equal Rights, the Hetrick-Martin Institute that serves queer youth, and the Hispanic AIDS Forum.
Gay youth held banners reading, “Students hear ‘fag’ & ‘dyke’ 25 times a day by students and staff,” advocating for “Dignity” anti harassment bills in both the city, where Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg refuses to implement a measure passed over his veto, and the state, where Bruno’s Senate Republicans have long resisted a measure that includes protections for transgendered youth.
A hard-hat clad group of women from the Latina lesbian bar Chueca danced on a float, adding to the festive mood. The Long Island Ravens Club, a group of leather enthusiasts, was followed by a band of bagpipers in tartans. By 2 p.m., the parade was over, and the crowd poured into the festival, on 37th Road between 73rd and 77th Streets.
Once there, attendees could choose between the main stage and one on 77th Street—or enjoy the many gift and food vendors, and local service organizations. Generation Q also had a special area for gay youth. At the main stage, politicians made speeches, and the Lesbian and Gay Big Apple Corps performed about a half-dozen numbers.
Salsa and bachata groups entertained Queens’ large Latino and South Asian community. Special guest performances came from Tina Cox, and Ms. Barbara Herr, who served as a parade judge with along with Democratic district leader Rudy Greco and boutique owner Rudy Volcano. By the end of the evening, many had moved from the street festival to gay bars in Jackson Heights—Atlantis and Friends Tavern—and Chueca in adjacent Woodside for Queens Pride after-parties.