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Photos: Queens’s Radical Pride Parade Returns

“What’s different here is really the vibe.”

2:57 PM EDT on June 6, 2022

Trans rights activist Laura Martinez welcomes Queens back to Pride.

It's been three years since the last time the New Queens Pride Parade took place, years during which the Jackson Heights/Elmhurst community was under siege from COVID-19. So when marchers finally took to the streets for one of the city's most diverse and radical Pride parades along 37th Avenue on Sunday, it was a bit of a reunion, but also an assessment of what was lost.

Jocelyn and Adela, from Woodside, met at the parade ten years ago.

Jocelyn and Adela
Jocelyn and Adela

'We feel free, loved and included here," said Jocelyn. "We never missed a year. We missed it so much. The support you get here, the community. What's different here is really the vibe. We're all diverse here, and we love seeing each other. Seeing each other is so important."

Some marchers carried the photo of Lorena Borjas, a transgender pioneer and activist who helped other transgender people with care, support, and navigating police harassment. Borjas died in the early days of the pandemic, when Elmhurst Hospital, blocks from the parade, became a focal point of the destruction of the pandemic. According to the New York Times, 1,400 people died from COVID-19 in Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and Corona between March 2020 and July 2020.

Queens pays tribute to Lorena Borjas.
Queens pays tribute to Lorena Borjas.

While the Greenwich Village Pride Parade receives consistent criticism for being an event that has been co-opted by corporations (many of which, in turn, fund politicians who legislate against LGBTQ rights), the Queens Pride Parade is, for the most part, devoid of corporate floats, with most of the businesses represented being gay clubs on Roosevelt Avenue.

For the queer immigrant communities in Queens, the parade offers an opportunity to demonstrate the diversity of their own communities to the public. Tenzin, 28, was marching for the first time with fellow LGBTQ Tibetans. Their group, the Queer Tibetan Collective, first formed in 2017, but didn’t march until this year.

The Queer Tibetan Collective marches for the first time at the parade.
The Queer Tibetan Collective marches for the first time at the parade.

"We've begun to organize and be visible, but this is our first time marching as a group," Tenzin said. "There's a lot of Tibetans in Queens, so it feels extra special. The level of excitement we feel is tough to describe. We want to be visible. We want younger queer and trans Tibetans to know we're here, and we're creating space for ourselves to organize and have more representation."

While the local politicians and dignitaries take the lead in the parade, the true spirit of the march is found toward the back, where more radical groups, including transgender and drag performers and sex workers, parade down 37th Avenue.

One group, holding up empty heels, protested violence against sex workers in Queens.

Another group protested the civil confinement of queer and transgender immigrants in America's sprawling immigration detention network.

Laura Martinez is a Mexican-born transgender performer, mentor, and ordained minister, who has been active in the Queens community for eighteen years.

"Today is an important day to defend our rights," she told me in Spanish. "We're in a moment where transphobia and homophobia is rising. We're still looking for equality and our rights. That's why I’m here marching with my fellow luchadoras."

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