When Audrey Gallagher died on January 4 at the age of 85, she left a hole in the heart of New York’s LGBTQ community, especially in her home borough of Queens. While she was perhaps best known as the mother and champion of out gay City Councilmember Daniel Dromm of Jackson Heights, she was also a co-founder in 1993 of the Queens chapter of PFLAG (then known as Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), where she was a mainstay as hospitality chairperson for many years, as well as a ubiquitous presence at everything from Queens Pride and the inclusive St. Pat’s for All Parade in Sunnyside to LGBTQ events throughout the city.
Gallagher died of a heart attack after an evening out for dinner with her son. At her wake in Jackson Heights, Dromm showed me a selfie of the two of them smiling only an hour before her passing.
“My beautiful mother was my Rose Kennedy,” Dromm said in a written release, referring to the mother of President John F. Kennedy and Senators Robert and Ted Kennedy — all of whom Mrs. Kennedy campaigned for. “My mother knocked on over 1,500 doors to get me elected, wrote a beautiful letter to seniors in the district, and was constantly seen campaigning with me. Everywhere I went people always asked me about my mother. I truly believe she was the main reason I won.”
A public school teacher like her son, Audrey Gallagher was ubiquitous ally in Queens, citywide
Dromm defeated incumbent Councilmember Helen Sears in 2009 in a hard-fought campaign in which scurrilous literature attacking Dromm’s sexuality was anonymously distributed. Having his Queens-born Irish Catholic mother at his side made an enormous difference in the race.
Bill Meehan, the business manager of Queens Pride, remembers Gallagher from Dromm’s 2009 campaign. “She worked as a pair with Deirdre Breslin, Jimmy’s sister, who she’d known since high school at Mary Louis Academy,” he said. “They had no trouble stopping and asking anyone and everyone to vote for Danny — and God help the person who spoke against him.”
On election night, Gallagher told the celebratory crowd, “One day a long time ago when his father said he was going to vote for Goldwater, he got mad at his father and said, ‘Oh, yeah? Well I’m not votin’ for no one!’ He was 10 years old. And he never stopped doing it [politics] from that time on… God, do I love this guy.” (Watch Gallagher’s remarks at vimeo.com/250334636.)
Professionally, Gallagher, like her son, worked as a teacher in the New York City public schools, then ran her own nursery school, directed day care centers and unionized them, and, after moving to Port Jefferson, Long Island, unionized paraprofessionals there.
Dromm came to prominence in 1992 when he came out while working as a grade school teacher to stand up to the anti-LGBTQ District 24 school board led by Mary Cummins, who opposed the “Children of the Rainbow” elementary school curriculum that integrated gay family issues into it. While he had been out to this mother since he was 17, the torrent of controversy involving her son “was quite shocking to her,” according to last week’s release from Dromm. But she threw herself into the LGBTQ movement — marching in 1993 in the first Queens LGBTQ Pride Parade, organized by her son, and then co-founding the PFLAG chapter.
“Audrey had a wonderful way of speaking with parents and children alike,” Anne Quashen, president of PFLAG/ Queens said in a written release. “They felt that they could really open up to her thanks to her warmth and kindness.”
PFLAG/ Queens outreach and media director Larry Nelson — who was also a co-founder of the chapter with Gallagher, Jeanne Manford, PFLAG’s founder, and Claire and Lenny Vogel — said, “From the get-go, Audrey was a very outspoken parent who wanted to show the world the unconditional love she had for her gay son.”
Having moved back to Flushing from Long Island in 1992, Gallagher resumed teaching at PS 234 in the South Bronx until her retirement in 2002, though she worked as a substitute teacher in Queens for several years thereafter.
Brendan Fay, co-founder of the Lavender and Green Alliance and, in 2000, the St. Pat’s for All Parade that welcomed LGBTQ groups for 15 years before the Fifth Avenue St. Patrick’s Day Parade ended its exclusionary policy in 2016, said, in referring to the Queens LGBTQ community, “We became her extended family.” Fay recalled that she defended St. Pat’s for All in the Queens newspapers when the inclusive parade was under attack early on.
In a written release, Fay said, “Her love of Irish music is reflected in her story of naming Danny after her favorite Irish ballad, ‘Danny Boy.’”
At Gallagher’s wake, out gay Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer told Gay City News that during Dromm’s annual St. Patrick’s brunch in Queens, “at the end Audrey would lead everyone in singing ‘Danny Boy’ in the most sweet and tender way that I’ve ever seen. To see her singing that to her son is my favorite memory of her in the 25 years that I’ve known her. She was always there with Danny. They were a team” — much as Van Bramer is with his mother and the new out gay speaker of the City Council, Corey Johnson, is with his.
Gallagher’s funeral at Blessed Sacrament Church in Jackson Heights on January 9 was attended by many in the LGBTQ community in Queens and throughout the city as well as by many of Dromm’s Council colleagues, including Johnson and former Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. (Dromm was just named chair of the powerful Council Finance Committee.)
Out gay former State Senator Tom Duane was there, too, and said, “Irish mothers are fierce in protecting their families. Her life became devoted to Danny and the people he loved.”
Bishop Pat Bumgardner of the Metropolitan Community Church of New York said that Gallagher “always came to our Easter Banquet on the Saturday before Easter,” seeing part of her duty as a PFLAG leader to be a presence at community events.
Mary Audrey Gallagher was born on September 6, 1932 in Brooklyn, grew up in Long Island City and Rego Park, and was a graduate of St. John’s University. In addition to Dromm, she had four other children, Lori, who died in 1988, Marybeth, John, and Joseph.
“She helped change the lives of generations of children who were lucky to have Ms. Gallagher as a teacher and those of us who loved her as a friend and mother of the LGBT movement in Queens,” Fay said.
Gallagher’s memory will be honored at the 25th anniversary of Winter Pride, a benefit for Queens Pride, at the Astoria World this coming Saturday, January 20. For more information, visit queenspride.org.