Thousands of spectators flooded the vibrant streets of Jackson Heights Sunday as dancers, musicians, advocates, and elected officials marched down 37th Avenue from 89th Street to 75th Street as part of the 26th annual Queens Pride Parade and Festival celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month.
At the forefront of the parade serving as grand marshals were Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, a supporter of the community during her time in office, Elijah Betts, a non-binary-identified youth who is an active leader at Generation Q, an LGBTQ youth center for ages 13-24 in Forest Hills, and Thomas Krever, representing the Hetrick-Martin Institute where he is CEO. Katz, Betts, and Krever were followed by more than 75 colorful contingents. Afterward, participants attended a festival with a headlining musical performance from Ultra Naté.
Just hours after the parade, at around 10 p.m., however, a 25-year-old man at 83rd Street and 37th Avenue was approached by two individuals who yelled anti-gay slurs and punched him several times in the face causing bruising and lacerations. The assault is being investigated as a possible bias crime by the NYPD’s Hate Crime Task Force, police said.
The suspects, who fled the scene after the attack, were black males, said police, who offered no further information about them.
As Gay City News goes to press, LGBTQ activists and allies in Queens were planning a Wednesday evening press conference on the steps of the Jackson Heights Post Office to condemn the assault, standing in solidarity with the victims of hate-motivated violence.
State Senator José Peralta, an East Elmhurst Democrat who had marched in the parade, denounced the attack, describing it as “intolerable.”
“I am outraged that attacks against people because of their sexual orientation or gender expression continue to occur,” said Peralta. “There is no room for hate in our community, especially in one as diverse as Jackson Heights. Our diversity should unite us not divide us. We must ensure we all work together to put an end to hate and send a clear message of unity and solidarity.”
The first Queens Pride Parade was held in 1993, three years after the murder of Julio Rivera, a gay Latino who was brutally attacked by three men near the PS 69 school playground in Jackson Heights and died from his injuries. Rivera’s tragic death prompted the local LGBTQ community to take action, forming several community groups and in time creating the annual Pride Parade and Festival — the second largest such celebration in the New York metropolitan area — to promote pride and visibility in the borough.
Each year, the parade has passed by the corner of 37th Avenue and 78th Street named in Rivera’s honor.
Out gay City Councilmembers Daniel Dromm of Jackson Heights and Jimmy Van Bramer of Sunnyside and Democratic Congressmember Joseph Crowley, also from Jackson Heights, were among the many elected officials in attendance.
Dromm, who chairs the Council’s LGBT Caucus and was a founder of the parade, also expressed outrage about Sunday night’s attack.
“It is horrific that a member of the LGBTQ community experienced such violence after Queens Pride, a celebration of who we are,” said Dromm. “While the fight for equality and justice for LGBTQ people in Queens has come a long way… sadly, attacks like these still occur. They are in no way representative of Jackson Heights or our borough, and we will continue to resist attempts like these, which seek to force us back into the closet.”
Jessica Ramos, a Jackson Heights resident who is opposing Peralta in September’s Democratic primary and was recently endorsed by the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, a gay political group, marched in Queens Pride, pledging to fight for LGBTQ equality and faulting her opponent for his membership in the Independent Democratic Conference.
“New York is the birthplace of the gay rights movement, and we have come so far since then — but there’s more work to do to reach true LGBTQ equality,” said Ramos. “For too long, LGBTQ priorities have been left to the wayside by Republicans in the State Senate and the Independent Democratic Conference senators who voted for Republican leadership.”
Ramos’ LGBTQ agenda includes a ban on so-called conversion therapy for minors; increased funding for LGBTQ homeless youth and seniors; the end of gay and trans panic defenses in criminal cases; the Child-Parent Security Act that would end New York’s ban on gestational surrogacy; the long-stalled Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which has never received a floor vote in the Senate; and the expansion of minority and women-owned business enterprise (MWBE) contracting opportunities to transgender entrepreneurs.
In a written statement, Crowley, who is the Democratic county leader in Queens, said that although there has been “incredible progress in the march toward equality,” there’s still a long way to go to ensure the full rights of LGBTQ Americans, especially communities of color.
The day after Queens Pride, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a landmark proposal to make birth certificates more inclusive for all gender identities. New York City birth certificates will now include designations for male, female, and a new, third category of “X” to reflect non-binary gender identity, the mayor’s office said.
“Pride Month is a time to celebrate how far we’ve come in the fight for equality, and reaffirm our commitment to protecting all New Yorkers from discrimination,” the mayor said in a written statement. “This proposal will allow transgender and gender non-conforming New Yorkers to live with the dignity and respect they deserve, and make our city fairer.”
Participants, both LGBTQ and allied, at Queens Pride noted the progress the LGBTQ community has made but pointed to the ongoing challenges of discrimination facing gay and transgender individuals, particularly the continued controversy about transgender access to bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.
Sharon John, 62, of Harlem, who described herself as a “free spirit,” could easily be singled out in the crowd for her stand-out attire. She was wearing a red hat that said “Pride” with a big colorful bow attached and a long Pride Flag as a cape, while standing on a corner with her black cart filled with Pride Flags, necklaces, and other accessories for sale.
“I have a nephew that’s gay and some friends that are bisexual,” said John. “I’m here to show support, and there needs to be a realization that people are people and we shouldn’t judge anyone. I raised my children to be the same way, and I’m happy to be here today.”
Nelson Silverio, 30, of Corona, who works at the Latino Commission on AIDS’ Oasis Wellness Center, said it was his seventh year participating in the Queens Pride Parade and Festival.
“I’m from the Dominican Republic, so I don’t have the opportunity there to say ‘I’m gay’ in the open,” Silverio said. “Here in the United States, I have the freedom to just be me and celebrate. Pride Month is not just for the LGBTQ community, it’s for all communities, and I invite everyone to come out and celebrate with us.”