Activist Drag Queen Fights for LGBT Pride in the Bronx

The 2012 Bronx Pride festival took place this past Saturday despite the shutting down of host Bronx Community Pride Center after alleged embezzlement by its former executive director. Organizers and participants committed themselves to ensuring that the show would go on. El Diario/La Prensa‘s Carolina Ledezma introduced us to one of them, local celebrity Appolonia Cruz, a drag queen with Puerto Rican roots who went from Selena impersonator to LGBT activist. The translation below from Spanish was published on July 20, the day before the parade.

Appolonia Cruz with City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn (right), who attended Bronx Pride in 2010. (Photo via El Diario/La Prensa)

Although Appolonia Cruz moved from the Bronx to Miami 20 years ago, the Puerto Rican “drag queen” never lost her ties to her neighborhood. A decade later, having returned to New York and becoming a celebrity, Cruz’s connection with her neighborhood is more alive than ever when it comes to saving the Bronx’s gay pride festival.

This Saturday, when the event will kick off in Corona Park, the first part of her mission will be complete.

For 16 years, Bronx Pride was a regular event for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender individuals in the borough, and was organized by the recently shut down Bronx Community Pride Center.

Less than a month ago, the center closed and its director was arrested on corruption charges. Despite that, Peter C. Frank, Cruz, and other members of the LGBT community made efforts to save the event, while simultaneously working to create an alternative center in the same neighborhood.

From the stage to activism

Born in a matriarchal family of six children, Appolonia Cruz recalled that her rise to fame “was almost a joke” back on a Halloween night in 1991. Dressed as the Tex-Mex singer Selena, she drove her fans wild at a well-known club in Miami. Cruz has been sewing and designing her own clothing since she was 6 years old, something that has been her hallmark from the start.

“I not only set out to become an artist, but to advocate for my community,” she said.

She started to build her spirit of activism by protesting in demonstrations against AIDS and by fighting for gay rights, while at night, she was a star at mansions and clubs that catered to the transgender community.

Her brother, the well-known DJ Eddie Cruz, made her return home.

“He told me he would make me a star, although I already had made a name for myself,” Cruz recalled gracefully. Ever the lady, Cruz will not reveal her age.

“I came here to make a change in my life, and it was then that I started to participate in local LGBT groups and to host Brooklyn Pride, Queens Pride, and Bronx Pride,” she said.

One of these events, which highlighted her struggle for human rights, was the 7th Annual NYC Wedding March in 2010, where countless individuals marched in favor of gay marriage.

“I fought for that right when I was based in Miami, but nobody there took it seriously,” Cruz said, clarifying that she hasn’t had a partner for a decade.

Unlike in Miami, the [New York] demonstration was crucial for legalizing gay marriage in the state.

“I do it for my friends that died, whose families took everything without leaving anything for their partners,” she said.

Cruz has dedicated her time to Bronx Pride for years. This year, she will share the stage with her friend Tyra Allure. She will also produce and put together the cast for the show; appearances will include Dominican Barbie Crawford and Amadis, a salsa singer from New Jersey.

“I used to have nothing to do with the Bronx Community Pride Center, but now I’m going to be more involved with the new organization so that it can function the way we all want it to,” she said, promising to clear up any misunderstandings.

Appolonia Cruz, in Bronx Pride 2011, dressed as a bride. (Photo via El Diario/La Prensa)

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