BY JAMES FARRELL, TRONE DOWD and NATHAN DUKE
Celebrating a quarter-century in the borough, the 25th annual Queens LGBT Pride Parade will march through Jackson Heights on June 4, kicking off LBGT Pride Month across the five boroughs.
The parade was founded in 1992 by Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights)—who, at the time, was an openly gay public school teacher—in response to School District 24 President Mary Cummins’ refusal to adopt Board of Education curriculum that encouraged students to be accepting of LGBT people. But Dromm said that the march was also inspired by the death of Julio Rivera, a 29-year-old gay man who was murdered by white supremacists in Jackson Heights in 1990.
Dromm said that the parade was also meant to “put a face” on the tens of thousands of LGBT people who lived in the borough in an attempt to show residents that gay people were their family, friends and neighbors.
“As always, Jackson Heights stepped up to the plate and welcomed us,” he said of the inaugural parade. “That first year, we had police on the rooftops of all the building along the parade route and we had a helicopter escort because we didn’t know what was going to happen. Safety was our utmost concern. Today, it has really just become this wonderful community parade. It’s really embraced by the community.”
In the years since the parade first wound its way through the community, it has grown to become the second largest LGBT pride parade in the city, drawing approximately 40,000 people annually.
Dromm said that this year’s march—in the wake of President Donald Trump’s election—could have a greater sense of urgency.
“I think that you’re going to see a large segment of parade marchers urging people to resist the Trump agenda, which excludes LGBT people,” he said. “And there’ve been so many examples of it—from the people with whom Trump associates to the vice president, who believes in conversion therapy, and the removal of data collection in the United States census about LGBT people.
It’s just been one assault after another.”
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) said that he first marched in the parade as a gay student leader at St. John’s University and has taken part ever since.
“It’s impossible to overstate how important the parade has been in changing hearts and minds and I think it’s been a source of great pride for the LGBT community,” Van Bramer said. “I think it has encouraged a lot of people to come out of the closet—particularly in those early years, which were tough years, very tough years, for the LGBT community.”
Van Bramer said that one of the reasons why the parade is such a success in Jackson Heights is that it is community oriented.
“What I love about this parade is that it hasn’t changed very much,” he said. “The beauty of this parade is that it’s so local. It’s smaller than our grand, very special parade in Manhattan. This parade has always been about the local community.”
One local Queens group—Richmond Hill’s Caribbean Equality Project—is partnering for pride week with the Queens Museum, which is hosting an exhibit featuring organizations that have participated in the parade for the past 25 years.
“Queens is a very diverse borough,” said Mohamed Amin, the founder of the Caribbean Equality Project. “We want to make sure to recognize the diversity and inclusion of all ethnic groups. I think now, more than ever in our political climate, it’s important for LGBTQ people to rise up and have their voices heard. The parade is a great way to celebrate our visibility. For most of our Queens community, this is the platform for us to be visible, be present and show that we won’t be silenced.”
The festival will kick off at noon on Sunday at 37th Avenue and 89th Street in Jackson Heights. It will include food, informational booths, vendors and entertainers.
The parade’s grand marshals include state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, ShelteringArms NY and Make the Road New York’s Bianey Garcia-D la O. The headlining performer will be 1980s pop star Lisa Lisa, of “Head to Toe” and “Lost in Emotion” fame.