Jackson Heights bursted with pride during the 20th annual Queens Pride Parade & Multicultural Festival, hosted by the Queens Lesbian and Gay Pride Committee. Allies and members of the gay community came out for the borough’s biggest pride event on Sunday, June 3.
Openly gay Councilmembers Daniel Dromm and Jimmy Van Bramer and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn welcomed everyone to the joyous occasion. Quinn, who recently married her long-time partner, and Van Bramer, who is set to marry next month, both agreed that events such as this helped successfully achieve marriage equality in New York.
The current cast of “Wicked,” cheerleaders from Cheer New York and members from the Queens Pride Lions Club danced and waved to the crowd as they shuffled down 47th Avenue, cruising past the scene of the grisly Jackson Heights murder of Julio Rivera – a gay Latino man whose death in July of 1990 sparked the event.
The festival, which once saw protesters, now draws a crowd of thousands and garners an immensely positive response from the community. Many area businesses hung rainbow flags in their storefronts, demonstrating their support.
“The parade is the essence of what Jackson Heights has been to me for the last 40 years,” said Dromm. “It’s a multicultural community that you can’t find anywhere else. The parade has become another part of the area’s tremendous diversity, including nationality, ethnicity and sexual orientation.”
Dromm believes the festival is the most important part of the gay rights movement in Queens, mainly for its ability to put a face on the borough’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. He added that the parade and celebration serve as a coming-out vehicle for many people.
Rafiel Rosario has attended the festival since coming out to his friends and family four years ago. Along with two pals and his boyfriend, Louis, the 21-year-old Long Islander watched the various acts as they performed and made their way down the street.
“[The Queens Pride Parade & Multicultural Festival] is about liberation and equality,” said Rosario. “Throughout the years, it’s become easier for gay people to come out to the community. Things like this make it easier.”
Aaron Waltzer, a volunteer from Queens Pride, helped run the organization’s booth during the street fair section of the festival. The Queens native, who said he’s been gay as long as he’s lived in Queens, added that while the festival is a wonderful community event, it does a lot for him as an individual.
“It means a lot to me to come out and show what it means to be a Queens resident and a gay man,” said Waltzer.