LGBT Latinos Raise Their Voice at Queens Parade

An estimated 40,000 spectators attended the Queens Pride Parade. (Photo via El Diario)

An estimated 40,000 spectators attended the Queens Pride Parade (Photo via El Diario)

For many people, being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) is a challenge. If the person is also an immigrant, they have an even higher chance of suffering discrimination. In order to continue raising awareness of the difficulties they endure every day, the Latino LGBT community gathered on Sunday to celebrate the 24th Queens Pride Parade and Festival in Jackson Heights.

“There is a Latino gay community and a white gay community, and in some ways their stories differ,” said Queens-based LGBT activist Andrés Duque.

Duque came to New York City from Colombia in the early ’90s when he was 23 years old. He settled in Jackson Heights, where some of his relatives lived, not knowing that an LGBT community resided in the area. “I heard a Donna Summer song in one of the bars, went in, and it happened to be a gay bar. That’s when I started to discover the gay life,” said Duque, now 48.

He explained that, for many immigrants seeking to escape the discrimination they suffer inside their own families, these local bars create “a network and a family away from their homelands.”

The activist added that many LGBT immigrants in Queens come to New York to have a more open lifestyle, free from the fear of being rejected by their relatives or friends for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Still, even though they find a more progressive community in the city, they do not completely escape violence and discrimination.

That is the case for Bianey García, who left Mexico when she was 15 after her parents refused to accept her sexual orientation. García said that her arrival in New York was like a movie. During her journey crossing the border, she and her companion were robbed, and she lost the phone number to her New York City contact. For four days, the pair lived on the streets of Manhattan, until a church offered them shelter. They eventually were able to reach their contact. García’s first job in the city was as a dishwasher.

When she was 18, she began her transition to become a woman, which made her confront new difficulties. “Once you start transitioning and taking hormones, you must face the transition at your workplace,” said García, who is now 26.

A poll by Make the Road New York (MRNY) found that 90 percent of the transgender people interviewed reported having experienced harassment, mistreatment or discrimination on the job or having taken measures such as hiding their real identity in order to avoid it.

Bianey García, organizer for the LGBTQ Justice Project of Make the Road New York, at her office in Queens. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Bianey García, organizer for the LGBTQ Justice Project of Make the Road New York, at her office in Queens (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Undocumented people have it worse

Labor discrimination is only one of the injustices that transgender individuals encounter. García said that because she does not speak English, she was arrested four times during the Bloomberg administration “just for being a trans woman of color.”

“That is the reality of undocumented trans Latinas in New York State,” said García.

Today, she is an organizer for MRNY’s LGBT project in Queens and leads a weekly support group for trans women in Jackson Heights. In Sunday’s parade, she marched alongside the MRNY group, who carried signs demanding housing access for the LGBT community.

“The [work of the] Jackson Heights Latina trans group has been one of the most effective in changing the laws,” said Council member Daniel Dromm, who represents the area, referring to the MRNY survey. The poll also showed that undocumented immigrants are twice as likely to be evicted from their homes because of their gender identity (21 percent).

The activism carried out by García and MRNY has succeeded in obtaining access to Medicaid for trans people, as well as police reform that includes suspending the notion that carrying condoms is proof of prostitution. Recently, the activist testified in front of Mayor Bill de Blasio to demand that discrimination against transgender people is not allowed in the city’s public bathrooms.

A Queens pioneer

Council member Dromm was one of the organizers of the first pride parades in 1990, when the community rose up after the murder of Julio Rivera. At the time, Dromm, then a fourth grade teacher, was one of the first people to “come out” in public to the media.

“In many ways, the Queens Pride Parade is the Latino gay parade,” said the elected official. Figures say that 75 percent of the participants are Latino. Dromm gave credit for his political career to the connections he created with the Latino LGBT community in the early ’90s.

However, while the parade has always been a success, attitudes toward homosexuality have not completely changed.

“One thing is to see the parade, and another one is to have an LGBT child and accept him or her,” said Dromm.

The Queens Pride Parade and Festival marched along 37th Avenue from 89th Street to 75th Street. It is the second largest event of its type held during the LGBT Pride Month in New York City, with an estimated 40,000 spectators.

This year’s grand marshal role was shared by two people and one organization: Council member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, Executive Director of OutRight Action International Jessica Stern and the AIDS Center of Queens County.

“This is a celebration of our civil rights. It represents our cohesion as a community, and sends a clear message that all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals have a place to live and love here,” said Ferreras-Copeland.

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Another Latino pride event, the first LGBT Puerto Rican Diaspora Summit  ̶  also known as “El Encuentro” (The Meeting)  ̶  will be held at the Hunter College Silberman School of Social Work from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. An agenda for the future of a growing LGBT community in New York State will be discussed.

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