Queens residents will join City Councilmember Daniel Dromm, a gay Jackson Heights Democrat, and LGBT activists for a candlelight vigil to mark the 25th anniversary of Julio Rivera’s anti-gay murder.
The crowd will gather on July 1 at 6 p.m. at the southwest corner of 78th Street and 37th Avenue, the very spot where the 29-year-old gay bartender was brutally killed by a three-man “hunting party” in the early morning of July 2, 1990.
Following police and media inaction, the gay and lesbian community in Jackson Heights organized rallies against hate crimes and held vigils for Rivera. His murder was the spark that ignited the Queens LGBT movement and in time led to the creation of the Queens LGBT Pride Parade.
Three young men who called themselves the Doc Marten Skinheads –– Esat Bici, Erik Brown, and Daniel Doyle –– were eventually arrested in the murder. Doyle, accepting a plea deal in return for an eight to 25-year sentence, testified against Bici and Brown, who were convicted in 1991 and sentenced to 25 years to life. Those convictions were overturned by an appeals court in 1996. Brown, facing retrial, in turn agreed to a 15-year sentence and to testify against Bici, but prior to his trial Bici was released on bail. He fled, and his family lost the $350,000 bail, including his grandmother’s house. Bici was found dead at age 30 in Tijuana, Mexico in October 2002 in what authorities believed was a drug-related shooting.
This week, the community will remember the galvanizing impact Rivera's death had on what was then considered a socially conservative borough.
“Julio’s case was the beginning of the change that we saw in Queens,” Dromm said. “We’ve come a long way since then, but we still have far to go. Changing laws is one thing, but changing hearts and minds is another.” –– Additional reporting by Paul Schindler