BY MELISSA SKLARZ
Every June as the country takes a moment to celebrate the LGBTQ community, tens of thousands take to the streets to participate in the Queens Pride march, the second-largest pride celebration in New York City.
Even now, 25 years after our first march in Queens, I am surprised by how many people ask me, “Why is the parade necessary?” Pride is necessary because despite the visibility of the LGBTQ community, we still do not have full access and equality under the law and we are constantly under attack from our government. As a longtime civil rights activist in New York, I have been a passionate voice for the LGBTQ community in Queens and Albany. And I can tell you that the parade is not only necessary; it is vital to our fight for equality and justice.
Those who are longtime residents of Queens might recall that the first march was held in response to the beating death of Julio Rivera in Jackson Heights in 1990. Along with the leadership of Councilman Danny Dromm, then a public-school teacher, the Queens Lesbian Gay Pride Committee, Inc. was founded in 1992, and the group held its first march in 1993. The organizers hoped to signal to residents that the LGBTQ community was just like any other community in Queens. As a resident of Woodside throughout the 1980s, I can tell you that Queens Pride made it clear that to be open about who you are, you didn’t have to travel to Manhattan.
Over the years, I have personally seen the march in Queens grow into an event that now attracts more than 40,000 spectators. Queens Pride continues to promote the visibility and accomplishments of the LGBTQ community and foster acceptance in our borough. As an out transgender woman, I can ponder the years when we made baby steps of growth and acceptance. Today, I am in awe that our borough has emerged as a safe space and beacon of hope for transgender women across the city and around the world.
As we kick off Queens Pride on June 3, the reality is that even in 2018, we live in a world where people are still rejected and attacked for being who they are. For those who wonder why “we” need a parade, the answer is simple—the parade brings visibility and a sense of belonging to people who have experienced an act of hate just because of who they are. When the LGBTQ community has been under attack, in Queens or across the country, from the AIDS epidemic to the Pulse [nightclub] tragedy, we have proven that as a community, we are enormously powerful if we work together, and that is what we must continue to do.
This June, we will march against the forces that have tried to push back against the LGBTQ community. As recently as three months ago, President Donald Trump’s administration tried to reinstate a ban on transgender people in the military. This administration has also nominated people to the courts and elsewhere who have anti-LGBTQ records, directed federal agencies to scrub information on LGBTQ communities from their website and even refused to recognize Pride Month.
If you are committed to LGBTQ equality and justice, then you should believe that we must continue to take to the streets and fight. As my friends at ACT-UP know from their work in the trenches of the AIDS epidemic, we cannot be silent when we are under attack. I hope to see many of my fellow Queens residents on 37th Avenue for Queens Pride on June 3.
Melissa Sklarz was the first trans person elected to office in New York in 1999, when she won a seat as a judicial delegate in Manhattan’s 66th Assembly District. She is currently running for the Democratic nomination in the 30th Assembly District, representing Maspeth, Woodside and surrounding communities.