It was a time for celebration filled with music and colorful costumes as the 2009 Queens Gay Pride Parade marched down 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights, but it was also a time to talk about issues affecting the LGBT community, such as marriage equality and discrimination.
“We are here to get all the elected officials in support of our issues, including marriage equality, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act and the Dignity for All Students Act,” said Sebastian Maguire, the march committee chair of the Queens Lesbian and Gay Pride Committee, the organizers of the parade. “I’m fighting for same sex marriage. I think families deserve to be treated equally, period.”
The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act is a transgender civil rights bill that would make it illegal to fire, evict or deny credit to people just because they are transgender. Similarly, the Dignity for All Students Act is a measure that would protect students from harassment and discrimination. Both bills have passed the state Assembly but must be passed by the Senate before becoming law.
Josh Meltzer, a member of the Empire State Pride Agenda who supports GENDA and same sex marriage, said, “There are 1,324 rights and protections that come with a marriage license, and there are hundreds or even thousands of LGBT families in Queens that are raising kids and deserve the same rights that everyone else has.”
Betsy Malcolm, a civil rights lawyer from Manhattan, is not homosexual and doesn’t live in Queens, but she said she will never forget an incident that happened to her here in the city’s most diverse borough.
“In Queens, about two years ago, I was spit at by somebody who assumed I was gay because I was working for gay rights,” she said. “I can’t imagine what it feels like to be gay or to be transsexual and get that kind of treatment on a constant basis.”
Lewis Tanner, a resident of Jackson Heights, is fighting against a different kind of discrimination. Tanner is a member of DignityUSA, a group of LGBT Catholics who are seeking inclusion in the Catholic Church.
“It has been a struggle,” he said. “The people in the pews are very supportive of their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters. It’s the hierarchy who has come out time and time again for exclusionary measures. That’s the issue.”
Barbara Mohr, a resident of Jamaica, who is also a member of DignityUSA, held a sign that read “Another Straight New Yorker For Marriage Equality.”
“We are all God’s children, and love is love,” she said. “There has been a lot more acceptance of the gay community than there was, but I’m sure there will be protesters along the line of march who will say vicious things.” Despite Mohr’s prediction, Sunday’s parade went off smoothly, with little or no interference from those opposing the views the GLBT community promotes.
Politicians from Queens turned out in droves to celebrate gay pride on Sunday.
“I think it’s very important for us to be here today because what we do is … make gay people visible, and visibility is very important,” said Daniel Dromm, a candidate for City Council in District 25 who is gay. “People need to understand that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are their family, friends and neighbors.”
Dromm vowed, if elected, to continue to be an advocate for marriage equality.
City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who is running for mayor, also marched to show his support for same-sex marriage.
“I think it’s a matter of discrimination that the LGBT community can’t get married,” he said. “Everyone should be treated fairly in this country. That’s what democracy is all about.”
Last month, the state Assembly passed a marriage equality bill by a vote of 89 to 52. Now it will be up to the Senate to decide if New York will join Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and Maine in allowing gay marriage.