The mood was joyful at the Queens Pride House in Jackson Heights, where over 50 members gathered to celebrate the organizations success and honor its helpers last Thursday. Despite recent financial difficulties, QPH pulled through, thanks to volunteers like 18-year-old George Zafiriadis of Astoria and Queens College student Jhuan Marrero.
The young men both decided to help the organization after participating in a leadership training program with them.
“I wanted to start off my little journey to change the world,” said Zafiriadis, a former Bryant High School student.
In high school, Zafiriadis was teased for being different. “You are talked about behind your back. It hurt me at first really, but I had spoken to one of my close friends and she told me there was nothing to worry about,” he said. “Homophobic slurs, they crash you down at first but you have to look through it, you can’t really care.”
Zafiriadis exited high school with a bang. In his senior year, he took the stage in a talent show as Lady Gaga. “The whole auditorium was filled with people and it was great. I had the crowd roaring,” he said.
The experience of acceptance was powerful for him. “When I left the stage, I cried tears of joy for a good 5 to 10 minutes,” Zafiriadis said, “I just couldn’t stop.”
“Not that you have to go up onstage, but just the idea of being true to you, it’s an amazing feeling. I don’t think I could recapture that feeling,” he said.
With the support of QPH, Zafiriadis came out to his younger brother and his father. His brother was accepting, but his father is still adjusting to the idea. “I think he thinks it limits what I can possibly do, but I disagree. I don’t see it as a limitation, I see it as a blessing. It puts me out of the norm,” he said.
Marrero is an undocumented immigrant. He was brought to the United States by his parents. Currently estranged from his family, he has applied to the United States for political asylum. “If I get deported, the chances of me surviving are not that high,” he said, thinking of the violence endured by gay men in his native Venezuela. If Marrero is not granted asylum or if the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act is not passed, he will be deported, but he doesn’t want to think about that possibility. Right now, Marrero is focused on his education and helping out at QPH.