Jimmy Zappalorti, a 44-year old gay military veteran, was brutally murdered on Staten Island in 1990 for being gay in a case that shook the city and sparked gay activism in that borough. On May 29, Jimmy Zappalorti Lane was unveiled on a portion of Androvette Street in Charleston, the south shore street where he lived. On hand were Jimmy’s brother Robert, who spoke of the gay life Jimmy enjoyed in Manhattan and the more conservative life he lived at home in Staten Island.
In comments to NY-1 News, Ralph Vogel, executive director of the Pride Center of Staten Island, said that the response to Jimmy’s murder “became the kernel of an LGBT center for Staten Island — the people that got together, the conversations began, and we knew that we needed to speak up for ourselves and that we needed to educate the community and we needed a safe and welcoming place for that community to go to.”
Robert Zappalorti has written a book about his brother, “Stained Glass Windows: The Life and Death of Jimmy Zappalorti” that chronicles his life growing up, serving in the navy in Vietnam, working in the family stained glass business, and meeting his untimely end. “It is the story of a devastated family that channeled its pain into seeking change to ensure that there was justice for Jimmy and for the entire LGBT community,” according to a written statement announcing the street renaming.
The unveiling was also attended by former Mayor David Dinkins, who was in office at the time of the murder, Staten Island City Councilmember Vincent Ignizio, and Bert Coffman, who helped organize the Zappalorti Society to work on gay mental health issues. Mental health problems that led to his 1965 military discharge continued throughout Jimmy’s life.
One of Zappalorti’s assailants, Phillip Sarlo, died in prison. The other, Michael Taylor, remains behind bars.