Crosswalks were painted in rainbow colors, large Rainbow Flags waved in the air, and LGBTQ residents in the Bronx were all smiles as they celebrated queer liberation on June 23 in the final borough-specific Pride event before the WorldPride March on June 30.
The annual Bronx Pride festivities commenced with a late-morning rally near the Bronx County Courthouse followed by a march and an afternoon festival at 149th Street at Third Avenue, with live entertainment and booths lined with food vendors, shops, and local LGBTQ and community groups.
The rally featured speeches by politicians including Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who spoke about the importance of fighting for LGBTQ rights but underscored the need for folks to allow queer people to lead on issues that most directly affect them.
“What does the LGBT fight mean in a post-marriage equality world?” Ocasio-Cortez asked. “It means making PrEP free for all people. It means tackling the homeless crisis of our LGBT youth. It means making sure no human and no trans person ever dies again in custody. It means no one is denied a job because of their gender identity.”
She added, “The only way we can do that is because of people like you on the front lines.”
Other elected officials in attendance included Senator Chuck Schumer, Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., State Senator Alessandra Biaggi, and Councilmembers Andrew Cohen, Helen Rosenthal, and Vanessa L. Gibson. Bronx Councilmember Ritchie Torres, the first openly LGBTQ official in the borough’s history, did not attend.
The borough president, while walking around the festival greeting attendees, stressed that Pride holds unique significance this year because of WorldPride and Stonewall 50. But even in celebration, he added that Pride serves as a reminder to the wider population — especially in the Bronx — that they must play a role as allies in advancing rights for the LGBTQ community.
“We need to continue to educate the general public, but even our own family members,” said Diaz, whose father, Bronx Councilmember Ruben Diaz Sr., has repeatedly come under fire for his opposition to LGBTQ rights and for homophobic rhetoric. “We all still have family members who need to be open minded and accepting of the fact that love is love. We should not only do that of informing the general population, but have those conversations locally and at home.”
Diaz explained that government must also continue to do its part in standing up for queer rights and he said he was pleased to see that the State Legislature finally passed a ban on the gay and trans panic defense years after he introduced a version of the same bill during his time in the State Assembly. But in light of the recent death of Layleen Polanco, a trans woman of color, in custody of the Department of Correction, he also said, “We need to better protect those who are detained or detainees.”
“The reason why we have to do events like this is because we know that while so much progress has been made over the last 50 years, we’re still not perfect,” Diaz said. “There is still so much that needs to be done.”
LGBTQ groups were visible at the booths sprawled out across the streets where the festival took place. The Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City, a citywide LGBTQ political group, spent the day registering voters and spreading the word about queer causes facing voters in upcoming elections.
“Stonewall has been a part of Bronx Pride for several years now and what is happening here is not only bringing people in the borough together but it’s helping them find ways to organize within their community,” said Stonewall’s president, Rod Townsend. “We’re trying to help by showing them pathways in the community that exist and also help to make sure everybody has their voter registration up to date.”
Performers of all ages expressed themselves on stage and drew wide applause from onlookers draped with Rainbow Flags and colorful attire. Performers included Honey Davenport of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” actor and model Chavis Aron, R&B/ pop artist Deborah Cox, La Insuperable, DJ Nesto, the House of Mugler, Nico Gonzalez, Kris Rox Republic, and others.
Sayief Leshaw, who works as a program manager with Stonewall Community Development Corporation, was walking around the festival after tabling throughout the day when he explained why he enjoys attending Pride celebrations.
“Visibility is important for the community, so I try to make it to as many events as I can,” Leshaw said. He also voiced his take on WorldPride and the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, saying that it has been great to see “the acknowledgement internationally of where this contemporary LGBT civil rights movement started.”
He added, “It’s been also really nice to see the recognition given to the trans women of color who have played such a big role in this movement.”
Another attendee, Michael, who opted not to share his last name, said it was his second time attending Bronx Pride and he has noticed it grow over the years.
“I’m very happy that we’re having this celebration in the Boogie Down,” he said. “There are still so many things happening around the world, but the fact that we can still come together in the Bronx and the five boroughs to support LGBTQ people is so important.”
In perhaps a sign of the borough’s historically conservative nature — a borough still represented by some homophobic lawmakers who also hold leadership roles in conservative churches — the size of Bronx Pride was noticeably smaller in comparison to the much larger Queens and Brooklyn Pride events produced annually in nearby borough. The Bronx, of course, has a much smaller population than either Queens or Brooklyn, but Councilmember Torres, in a May interview with Gay City News, drilled down on the point that the borough is “widely seen as the most conservative” in the city.
Still, the growing crowd, the introduction of two rainbow crosswalks on 149th Street, and the positive vibes of people in attendance all were good signs for the future — and an indication that queer people in the Bronx are as comfortable as they’ve ever been in expressing themselves openly and proudly.