Twenty years ago, I founded the Queens Lesbian and Gay Pride Committee, with the simple purpose of letting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community define itself at a time when bigots were defining us.
In those 20 years, Queens Pride has grown to become one of the city’s leading LGBT organizations. The progress around LGBT rights, including the election of LGBT and LGBT-friendly officials in Queens, is a testament to the community members over the past 20 years who have organized, marched, and advocated. Queens Pride has truly transformed hearts and minds in Queens, throughout New York, and beyond.
Despite the progress we have seen over the past two decades, the need for our families, friends, and neighbors to come out and celebrate Pride remains as strong now as ever.
We are battling to maintain funding for programs critical to people living with HIV/AIDS. Transgender individuals are still not explicitly protected from discrimination in our state’s human rights law. Queer youth, many of whom are coming out of the closet at a younger age, face harassment and abuse in their homes and schools.
While the movement for LGBT rights is growing across the world, so are officially sanctioned homophobia and transphobia in countries like Uganda, Russia, and China.
As the founder of Queens Pride and now the chair of the City Council’s Immigration Committee, I have consciously worked to highlight the linkages between our city’s immigrant and LGBT communities.
With its distinctly international flavor, Queens Pride plays a special role among the city’s Pride celebrations as a local event whose impact is felt globally. Recent immigrants, many from countries where LGBT individuals are actively persecuted, fill the streets and line the parade route.
For the LGBT individuals in the crowd, Queens Pride is a much-needed affirmation of their value as equal members of this society. For the others, the sight of an out, proud, and diverse LGBT community in the middle of Queens is a much-needed reminder that discrimination and bigotry have no place in a free and open society.
June is my favorite month since it is a time when many of the wonderful people I have met in my life come out on the streets to celebrate the journey we have made. You can see me every year dancing down 37th Avenue to the latest dance tune surrounded by people from all walks of life - gay and straight, young and old, immigrant and longtime residents - all rejoicing in the immortal words of Lady Gaga: “Baby, I was born this way.”
I hope you will join me on June 3 in Jackson Heights!