The music reverberated through the streets of Jackson Heights, Rainbow and Transgender Flags waved at every corner, and a huge, diverse crowd celebrated Pride in a big way on a warm Sunday afternoon in Queens.
The annual Queens Pride festivities on June 2 kicked off at around noon when a wide variety of groups ranging from advocacy and neighborhood organizations to religious groups and politicians marched from 89th Street to 75th Street along 37th Avenue.
Out gay Queens Councilmember Daniel Dromm, who founded Queens Pride nearly three decades ago and formerly served as a public school teacher, stopped at the end of the parade route to reflect on the origins of the annual celebration. The event is rooted in a series of events during the years leading up to its 1993 launch, including the 1990 murder of Julio Rivera, a Puerto Rican gay man who died after suffering a vicious hate-driven attack at the hands of three white men, as well as the subsequent battle over the Children of the Rainbow, which was a proposed LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum staunchly opposed by some Queens neighborhood officials.
“The idea [of the first Queens Pride Parade] was to show people that we are your family, your friends, and your neighbors and we live in Queens,” Dromm told Gay City News. “Because during the Rainbow Curriculum they were trying to portray us as those people who live in Greenwich Village.”
Fast-forward to 2019, Queens Pride is among the most successful and well-attended events of its kind in the city — but Dromm wants to make sure locals remember that the fight for LGBTQ rights is far from over.
“In the beginning it was really about visibility, but today it remains about visibility,” Dromm said. “When we let people know that we are your family, friends, and neighbors marching in the borough of Queens and they recognize us, I think it breaks down barriers. That’s why it’s so important to continue to have Pride celebrations like this, whether it’s here, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, or wherever.”
He added, “What I like about Queens Pride is that anybody can just jump into the parade route and march with us. Queens Pride is very community-based. In many ways, we got everything we want right here in Jackson Heights.”
Following the parade, Pride-goers flocked to a street festival featuring food, tents, and live entertainment hosted by “Pose” star Dominique Jackson.
Numerous politicians were on hand, including out gay Queens Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, US Senator Chuck Schumer, New York Attorney General Letitia James, Queens Borough President and district attorney (DA) candidate Melinda Katz, City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, State Senators Jessica Ramos and Michael Gianaris, and Assemblymember Catalina Cruz. Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez initially tweeted she was feeling under the weather, but she ultimately showed up at the post-parade festival.
Brooklyn Councilmember Brad Lander and Queens Councilmembers Donovan Richards and Rory Lancman, who is also running for DA, were also in attendance.
But among all politicians present, out queer Queens DA candidate Tiffany Cabán dominated the scene, making the biggest splash of all by drawing a massive crowd of supporters who marched with her in the parade. Countless Pride-goers were also seen donning Cabán shirts at the festival, while flyers supporting her campaign were seen throughout the area and plastered on nearby storefronts.
Ocasio-Cortez, who recently endorsed Cabán, reiterated her support for the candidate when she arrived.
“If you don’t know, now you know — Tiffany Cabán is going to be our next Queens district attorney,” Ocasio-Cortez said to a crowd of fans at her team’s booth, before pointing that the candidate has pledged to end cash bail and stop prosecuting people for marijuana-related offenses.
The atmosphere in Queens was lively and jubilant as the temperatures climbed into the 80s and the sun beamed down on a crowd that seemed to grow as the afternoon progressed. Jeremy Arena and Ric Orias, from Brooklyn and Manhattan, respectively, sat on a sidewalk in the shade as they enjoyed Pride.
“It’s the first Pride of all the boroughs this month, and it’s a good way to begin Pride,” said Arenas, who explained that the diverse nature of Queens Pride is what makes the borough’s event so special.
Another attendee, Naomi Chalfin, was enjoying some food with her boyfriend after the parade. Coming from Briarwood, Queens, Chalfin said she wanted to stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ community.
“I’m here today to show my support,” Chalfin said.
Crowds especially gathered near the multiple stages featuring performers such as Kristine W and others who kept people entertained throughout the afternoon. Even as clouds rolled in and a light rain gave way to a brief, but intense downpour, attendees braved the conditions and continued celebrating.
The sun eventually came back out and the Pride celebration continued in full force, marking a successful kick-off to a month-long slate of events surrounding the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots as well as WorldPride coming to New York City.