The annual event was also sponsored by City Council members Daniel Dromm, founder of Queens Pride, and Jimmy Van Bramer, who both broadcast into the festivities from a stated meeting.
Acting Borough President Sharon Lee wished the borough a “Happy Pride,” as she kicked off the virtual celebration, which livestreamed on the office’s website.
“Pride month is a time that we celebrate all that we’ve been able to secure,” she noted, “but also we take stock of how much farther we need to go.”
Audiences enjoyed several performances by Miss LCA, a slideshow of past Pride events, and a recorded message from actor and Jackson Heights native John Leguizamo.
“Pride is a time of coming together to be yourself and be proud.” said Leguizamo. “We should also never forget the history. Pride wasn’t awarded, it was won.
“Much like today, there were riots and protests when the LGBT community fought back against police violence over 50 years ago,” he continued. “We said ‘enough is enough’ back in 1969, and we say it today.”
Following in the footsteps of an initiative started by her predecessor and current Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz last year, Lee commissioned the installation of Pride flags over the entranceway of Borough Hall on Queens Boulevard. In conjunction with the Office’s Pride Month celebration, the flags will fly through the month of June.
Katz delivered remarks as well, attending Thursday’s event for the first time in her new capacity. She spoke on the formation of a new Hate Crimes Unit, which is currently investigating 11 hate crimes that involve the LGBTQIA+ community, as well as a policy she enacted within the DA’s Office of not prosecuting cases under the state penal law that relates to “loitering for the purposes of engaging in a prostitution.”
Advocates say the legislation has long targeted transgender New Yorkers, and Katz is calling for a repeal of the law.
While she encouraged constituents to wear face masks and keep six feet apart in public, Katz also expressed that her office is not prosecuting social distancing violations, nor the unlawful assembly arrests generated by weeks of citywide protests against police brutality.
A panel of advocates and community leaders from Make the Road, Caribbean Equality Project, LGBT Network, Out Rockaway and Queens Pride brought attention to the impact of COVID-19 on the borough’s queer community, and spotlighted the resources their organizations have made available to LGBTQIA+ youth and seniors throughout the pandemic.
The panelists were a testament to the intersectionality that exists within the LGBTQIA+ community, and many made sure to emphasize the particularly poignant collision of Pride and the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020.
“Don’t forget that the month of Pride started as an act of civil unrest,” reminded Caribbean Equality Project activist Theo Brown. “Two women of color rose up in an effort to say ‘enough is enough’ and ‘we’re not going to live like this.’”
The women Brown was referring to are Marsha P. Johnson, who played a pivotal role at the Stonewall Uprising of 1969, and her good friend Sylvia Rivera, a pioneer gay liberation and transgender rights activist of the time.
“Let us not forget that we continue this fight for equality, rights, social justice, racial justice and healing in this nation,” Brown asserted. “Pride is an ongoing celebration. We continue to empower, educate, advocate and remain visible.”
Participants held a moment of silence for those Queens lost to COVID-19, with a special tribute paid to the integral trans-LatinX leader from Jackson Heights Lorena Borjas, who passed away on March 30 due to complications caused by the virus.
Hailing from Mexico City, Borjas was an unrelenting activist who drew on her own experiences as an immigrant transgender woman to helped women like her in Queens deal with issues of sex trafficking, police harassment, substance abuse and health care.
For those who needed a safe place for H.I.V. testing, Borjas turned her own home into a clinic. She bailed out transgender women charged with prostitution, and created the Lorena Borjas Community Fund to manage legal costs for those facing deportation after arrest.
“For many of us going through the process of our transitions, she was a mother that was always protecting and taking care of her daughters,” said Make the Road Justice Organizer Bianey Garcia.
Garcia, a trans woman from Veracruz, Mexico, came to the U.S. nearly 15 years ago. It was through the support of Borjas that the former sex worker was able to obtain documentation in this country.
“Let us remember Lorena as the warrior woman that she was,” Garcia appealed.
An 11-minute short film produced by QPTV in commemoration of Borjas’ life and legacy, as well as a recording of last week’s Pride Month event, is posted at queensbp.org/pride.