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Drag Queens in public schools prompts Council infighting

Queens Councilwoman Vickie Paladino continues to draw criticism from local elected officials over a series of opinionated tweets directed against the “Drag Queen Story Hour” program. The new program, which according to a story published by The New York Post reportedly cost taxpayers more than $200,000 to fund, invites cross-dressing performers to read to local school children in New York City.

In her comments online, the Councilwoman refers to the program as an act of “child grooming” and “sexualization” in the schools. Paladino would later clarify her statement by claiming that it is part of the “political, social, and cultural indoctrination of impressionable young children, often without parental consent,” calling it both “unacceptable and inappropriate.”

In response, several members of the city council fired back calling her commentary “homophobic” and “hateful.”

In a recent interview with Pix11 News, City Councilman Erik Bottcher said that her comparison was completely off base. “A groomer is a child molester,” Bottcher explains. “To compare my community to child molesters is totally unacceptable.”

Paladino, however, argued that her commentary was intended to shed light on the spending priorities of the city administration, however, due to how it was presented online, was viewed by colleagues as a personal attack.

As a result, Paladino found herself in hot water, while several Democratic city officials fired back with statements of their own, condemning her over “bigoted comments” regarding the program—-which is intended to promote the acceptance of queer youth in schools—-and calling for her to be formally censored and stripped of her committee assignments.

“This type of hatred shouldn’t be tolerated from anyone, especially another elected official,” Councilwoman Lynn Schulman tweeted in response. “As a proud lesbian member of the New York City Council from Queens and a funder of Drag Queens Story Hour I am saddened and angry that a colleague would be threatened by the teaching of tolerance in our schools.”

Openly gay City Councilman Chi Ossé also fired back on Twitter, stating that as chairman of the Committee on Cultural affairs he condemns the bigoted remarks made in regards to the nonprofit program which teaches acceptance to the City’s youth.

“NYC is a safe haven where our queer community is welcomed and loved,” Ossé said in his response.

Co-chairs of the LGBTQIA+ Caucus Councilwoman Crystal Hudson and Councilwoman Tiffany Cabán also admonished the statements made by Paladino, reiterating that the program is a “wonderful, wholesome, and vital program” that invites children to see themselves as unique individuals with the right to be whoever they want. “It shows queer youth and their peers alike that each of our existence is valid — that we all belong.”

In response to the outpour of complaints against her, Paladino issued a statement on Friday, reaffirming that her stance was strictly in opposition to the use of taxpayer dollars and that her statements were not intended as a personal attack or accusation against anyone.

“At a time when there has been a dramatic increase in the crime rate in New York City and a large number of New Yorkers are struggling to make ends meet by living paycheck to paycheck, I would like to make one thing very clear: I am NOT apologizing or retracting my statement against using taxpayer dollars to fund Drag Queen Story Hour in our public schools,” Paladino said in an official statement.

Paladino maintained that her stance was made on behalf of her constituents in Queens, several of whom she said are concerned over the propagation of gender confusion and adult entertainment in public schools.

Paladino added that she was appalled by the reaction of her colleagues considering the vast number of issues currently facing our city, including homelessness, housing, mental health, public safety, and food shortages.

“Let me be clear – I fully support adults making their own free decision about who they are and how to express themselves… but I do NOT condone exposing little children to inappropriate narratives that encourage gender radicalism,” Paladino said in her statement.

While this is a new program for public schools, Drag Queen Story Hour has been featured at public libraries since 2017.

Councilwoman Julie Won recently attended one of the many Drag Story Hour events at the Queens Public Library in Woodside as a show of support to the LGBTQ+ community.

“This is a wonderful program that teaches children about inclusion and the history of the LGBTQ community,” Won said in her tweet. “As long as I am in council, I will continue to support programs like DSH to build communities that are inclusive and loving to all forms of self expression.”

Paladino still feels there is still much to be discussed. In her statement, she concludes by extending the opportunity for open dialogue with any of her fellow Council members who wish to take her up on the offer.

Entertainment: Local drag scene celebrates Pride Month

By Stephanie Meditz
[email protected]

With Pride Month well underway, Brooklyn’s drag performances are more lively and glittery than ever before.

Three queens, Purss’ophonie, Piper, and Adra Quartz, shared their experiences in the Brooklyn and Queens drag scenes as well as their own stories of self-acceptance and expression.

All three queens revealed that, although drag allows them to transform both physically and mentally, their drag personas give them feelings of freedom and confidence that remain even after they remove their makeup.

Emilio Moreno, known by their drag name, “Purss’ophonie,” never felt inclined towards drag until they hit a rough patch in their life, rediscovered RuPaul’s Drag Race, and felt represented by the queens on the show, specifically Bob the Drag Queen.

The 29-year old’s drag persona is influenced by the Black and Brown communities that raised them.

The name is a reference to Persephone, the Greek goddess of the Underworld, but it’s also a literal reference to a phony purse as a nod to their roots.

“It’s basically an homage to when the culture gets stolen or we can’t afford it and we have to get our own bags,” they said. “So instead of coming from the underworld, I come from the sewer with my fake bags. No spring.”

Moreno’s performances are usually dance routines to Black, Brown, female, or queer artists, such as Doechii, Azealia Banks, Beyoncé, and Alex Newell.

Pedro Suarez similarly crafted his drag persona, “Adra Quartz,” after a difficult time in his life.

Doing drag was only a thought in the back of his mind until a friend gave him the opportunity to try it out using her makeup.

Suarez got his start after a New York City queen, Iodine Quartz, adopted him as her “drag child,” meaning she took him under her wing, taught him how to do drag makeup, and introduced him to other queens.

He gave his first drag performance on his 22nd birthday at a competition in Philadelphia, which he won.

Adra Quartz struts her stuff in one of her favorite outfits.

Suarez earned a BFA in dance from The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and graduated from Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Astoria in 2017. His performances reflect his background as a dancer and artist.

“I think of myself more as a choreography queen,” he said. “Like I’d rather pull out an 8-count than do a little split. And I feel like you’re just showcasing a little bit more talent. You just made this up, whether it be on the spot or prepared in your head.”

Audrey Long, a performer under the drag name, “Piper,” also has roots as a competitive dancer.

Originally from Fort Worth, Texas, the 23-year-old discovered drag through RuPaul’s Drag Race and regularly attended drag shows in college before trying it out themself.

They see drag as an outlet for the performer in them, and their performances typically include high kicks, splits, audience interaction, and high-energy movement inspired by early 2000s pop divas like Britney Spears.

Long is a graduate student in social work at New York University to become a gender therapist.

“I think, being a queer kid in a small southern town, New York was always the epitome of really making it,” Long said. “Like getting out of the small town and moving to the big city was always something I had thought about but never really thought that it was possible.”

The Brooklyn drag scene, which described by Suarez as “disgusting in the best way,” is characterized by unpredictable, often shocking performances and a strong sense of community.

“There are no limits to the drag in Brooklyn,” Moreno said. “Meaning I’ve heard stories of people doing crazy stuff onstage and actually getting physical reactions from the audience.”

They described one performance in which a queen acted as a human wrecking ball during a crowded barbecue at The Metropolitan in Williamsburg.

The scene’s openness to a variety of unconventional performances, however, is a testament to its diverse members and the unconditional support between them.

“Where everyone comes from, they bring a little bit of themselves,” Moreno said, referencing the personal and cultural relevance behind many drag performances. “And I feel like Brooklyn is a place where they’re celebrated rather than tolerated.”

Long shares the sentiment that Brooklyn is a hotspot for some of the strangest drag performances, but they also see it as a land of opportunity for newcomers to drag and a safe place for performers to showcase their art without fear of judgment.

“In Brooklyn, you can do anything and people will still live for it,” Long said. “You can literally stand there to cricket noises for four minutes and the crowd will go wild and you’d probably make lots of money. It’s the silly, fun things like that that really make me love Brooklyn as a borough and as a community scene.”

Piper’s look is completely self-styled.

As a nonbinary drag performer, Long expressed that although many drag spaces are centered around cisgender men, they have never felt excluded from the Brooklyn scene.

They see drag as an outlet for expressing the femininity that they don’t always present, and performing as Piper has boosted their overall confidence.

“Piper has taught Audrey a lot,” they said. “I feel more comfortable in myself. Having Piper be able to wear the frilly costumes and put on all the makeup, it makes me feel like I have more of a balance in my day-to-day identity.”

Suarez, who is masculine-presenting outside of drag, also uses drag to express another aspect of his identity that often goes unseen.

“My drag is a different side of who I am,” he said. “Once the wig and the lashes go on, then you definitely see that personality switch.”

Such self-acceptance and expression are major components of Pride Month in the drag scene.

“To me, I think Pride is almost like renewing your wedding vows,” Long said. “Just that reaffirming of how grateful I am to be queer and be able to live my authentic self with the people that I love.”

However, Pride is still fundamentally a call for action and political change.

In addition to performing at bars, parties, and parades, many New York City queens participate in political activism or community-based events like those in public libraries.

“Pride month is definitely still a resistance movement and there’s a lot of work to be done in our society as well as our own community in terms of misogyny, transphobia, racism, classism, and a lot of gatekeeping,” Moreno said. “We have come a very long way so we do get the privilege to celebrate where we’re at, but it’s always a reminder that there are people that are still marginalized.”

For Moreno, the very act of doing drag is a political statement, especially given the beginning of the gay liberation movement.

“There are people that don’t even have rights in this world the same way that we do,” Moreno said. “And we have to fight as best as we can to just make sure that we’re bringing everybody up… It was one brick thrown at Stonewall, but fifty drag queens behind it.”

Thousands turn out for Queens Pride

Thousands filled the streets in Jackson Heights on Sunday to celebrate the 30th annual Queens Pride Parade and Festival. Having been absent for the last two years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s festivities took the event to a whole new level.

Lasting over two hours, this year’s Queens Pride Parade featured more than 100 different groups, including local activists, LGBTQIA+ organizations, and elected officials.

Mayor Eric Adams helped lead the parade along with Grand Marshalls Adrienne Adams, speaker of the New York City Council, and former City Councilman and parade co-founder, Daniel Dromm.

The event also included representatives from nonprofit organizations such as Colectivo Intercultural TRANSgrediendo, the Caribbean Equality Project, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the CUNY LGBTQIA+ Consortium, End Trans Detention, and many more.

It also included several performances by Fogo Azul, The Lesbian and Gay Big Apple Corps, Gotham Cheer, CitySoul NYC, and City Cheer.

The Queens Pride Parade was founded by Dromm and gay rights activist Maritza Martinez in 1993 to improve the visibility of the LGBTQ community following the death of Julio Rivera, a 29-year-old gay Puerto Rican man who was viciously attacked by three skinheads at the schoolyard near 78th Street and 37th Avenue.

His would become the first gay hate crime to be tried in New York State. The street corner where the attack took place was later renamed “Julio Rivera Corner” as a symbolic gesture honoring his life and memory.

Jackson Heights has been home to one of the largest LGBT communities in the entire City since the 1920s, but when the attack took place in ‘93, activism was largely non-existent in what was at the time a socially conservative borough.

“If it wasn’t for Julio the Queens LGBT movement would not have gotten as far as it has gotten,” Dromm said back in 2015. “Julio did not die in vain. He changed people’s lives.”

Every year, the parade—which spans over a dozen city blocks—concludes the festivities at this historic corner. But Pride doesn’t stop there. The festivities continued long into the night with live music, presentations, food, drinks, and more.

Some of the many colorful costumes worn during the 2022 Pride Parade and Festival.

Looking regal. The Imperial Court of New York participates in the 2022 Queens Pride Parade.

Fogo Azul NYC drummers get the crowd moving in the streets during the parade.

Participants with Apicha Community Health Center enjoying the annual Pride Festival.

 

30th annual Queens Pride Parade and Festival

Tens of thousands of New Yorkers will flock to Jackson Heights on Sunday, June 5, to celebrate the 30th Annual Queens Pride Parade and festival–one of the City’s largest celebrations of LGBT rights and advocacy.

The parade’s Grand Marshals include New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, who will headline the festivities, as well as the nonprofit organizations Colectivo Intercultural TRANSgrediendo, and the Caribbean Equality Project.

In addition, this year’s parade will pay special tribute to Julio Rivera, a gay Queens resident who was brutally murdered in 1990 and helped spark the LGBT movement in Queens. Rivera was the first crime against a member of the LGBT community tried as a hate crime in New York State.

Joining in the festivities are the founders, organizers, and marchers from the first parade 30 years ago, including Queens Pride Parade co-founder and former New York City Councilman Daniel Dromm.

Dromm will join LGBT Network President/CEO David Kilmnick and the Grand Marshals at 12 p.m. for the ceremonial step-off of the parade–signifying three decades of advocacy and progress in Queens.

“I am thrilled to announce our Grand Marshals for the 30th Anniversary of Queens Pride,” Kilmnick said in a statement. “Speaker Adrienne Adams has been a longtime champion for the rights of the LGBT community and her advocacy has been unmatched. We are proud to commemorate three decades of activism in the borough, which emerged out of a tragedy, and has now become a symbol for pride in the City, State, and nation.”

“I am deeply honored to serve as a Grand Marshal for the 30th anniversary celebration of Queens Pride,” Adams said. “Our beautiful and diverse LGBTQ community deserves to be supported, uplifted, and celebrated. For the last three decades, the Queens Pride Parade has provided a safe space for authentic expression of pride, visibility, acceptance, and empowerment. I congratulate my fellow Grand Marshals, Colectivo Intercultural TRANSgrediendo and the Caribbean Equality Project, and the LGBT Network and I look forward to celebrating Queens Pride with all New Yorkers on June 5th!”

Dromm said that Council Speaker Adams, along with Colectivo TRANSgrediendo and Caribbean Equality Project, have continued to be committed to serving the LGBTQIA community in Queens and are helping to provide a strong representation of the diversity of the movement.

“Their work to make the world more accepting is truly commendable,” Dromm said. “It’s a good reminder that LGBTQIA people are everywhere. We are your family, friends, and neighbors. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone on June 5, 2022, on 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights when Queens Pride returns.”

For more information or to register for the New Queens Pride parade and multicultural festival, visit www.NewQueensPride.org

Pol Position: In a Florida State of Mind

GOP electeds in Florida have passed a controversial new law prohibiting public school teachers from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom.

Since it was introduced back in February, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill has been criticized by numerous human rights, free speech, and Gay rights advocates due to the homophobic nature of the law, which attempts to censor speech regarding LGBTQ+ identities.

News of the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation reached a breaking point in March when it made national headlines, after employees with the Walt Disney Company staged a walkout protesting the legislation and demanding the company cease from making political donations and commit to a plan that would protect the rights of its staff.

Since the protest, the company has vowed to donate $5 million to organizations like the Human Rights campaign and others dedicated to protecting the rights of LGBTQ+ employees, and have started discussing ways it could better serve this community in the future.

Yet, despite widespread opposition, the legislation was signed into law by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who said that passing the legislation “will make sure that parents can send their kids to school to get an education, not an indoctrination.”

This didn’t sit right with New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who referred to the law as “political posturing,” citing that its divisive agenda aims to “demonize” members of the LGBTQ+ community.

In response to the “Don’t Say Gay” law, Adams announced that he would be posting up billboards around several major cities across the “Sunshine State,” including Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa, and West Palm Beach, to remind Florida residents that NYC does not discriminate.

Of course, Gov. DeSantis fired back with false claims that the billboards were spent on the taxpayer’s dime. However, these were proven untrue as Adams stated that the campaign was funded through private donations.

“This is the city of Stonewall,” Adams said during a recent press conference. “This is the city where we are proud to talk about how you can live in a comfortable setting and not be harassed, not be abused.”

DeSantis has repeatedly defended the legislation, zeroing in on the restriction over what can be taught to children in Kindergarten through 3rd grade, and shifting attention away from what many believe to be intentionally vague language restrictions on the instruction of topics not deemed “age appropriate.”

He responded to Adams attacks with over-the-top remarks about free speech and the mask mandates in schools–a topic which he was so personally vehement about that he issued an executive order banning them from schools. DeSantis had even gone so far as to threaten to strip funding from schools in Democratic counties that defied him.

“They’re saying you can say whatever you want, but they’re the ones who will force a mask on your face and muzzle you in public,” DeSantis said, directing his attention at Adams.

“I like rivalries with other states,” Adams remarked. “Florida can bring it on.”

But the real question we’re left asking ourselves is who really loses from the passing of this law? It’s certainly not any of the cis-gender lawmakers. It’s the teachers and students who are impacted by it.

Needless to say, Mayor Adams has a solid point… such a proposal would never fly in the state of New York. There are countless teacher’s unions and pro-Gay activism groups that would have swiftly put a stop to it before it even reached the floor.

And although Hizzoner didn’t spend any taxpayer money to put up these signs, he certainly has spent a lot of his time and attention directing his focus towards Florida’s hateful agenda by furthering this contest of wits with DeSantis.

Meanwhile, Adams has himself been under scrutiny from the LGBTQ+ community over decisions to appoint three people to office who have previously expressed homophobic remarks.

One activist went so far as to tell ABC News that he was “very disappointed and outraged” by the Mayor’s appointments, but ultimately decided it was best to move onward, finding there was a lot more they could do by working together.

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