If 30 years ago someone had told Ken Nugai that thousands of gays and lesbians and their supporters would flock to the streets of Jackson Heights in a celebration of community pride, he never would have believed it.
Im glad that weve come to this station in life that we can do this sort of thing, he said. Years ago it would be unheard of. It was so closety when I came out of high school.
On Sunday all closets will be left wide open as members of the gay community gather for the ninth annual Queens Gay Pride Parade, which will feature floats, music and a celebration of gay culture.
For Nugai, a 66-year-old gay man who has lived all his life in Manhattan and Queens, the ability of gays to gather so openly is a sign of the vast changes that have occurred since he grew up in the 1940s and 50s.
Id never dream of the things they can do today, he said. Gays can adopt children. In Vermont, I think they can get married or something very similar to it.
The parades theme, Generations of Pride, will focus attention on the monumental social changes that have boosted the gay community over the past generation.
The grand marshals of the parade include SAGE/Queens an organization for lesbian and gay senior citizens as well as two programs for local gay youth run by the AIDS Center of Queens County and the Queens Lesbian and Gay Pride Committee. The only individual grand marshal is Mel Cheren, an AIDS activist and disco entrepreneur.
Hank Krumholz, the media co-chairman for the Queens Lesbian and Gay Pride Committee, which organizes the parade, said the purpose of the event is to increase the visibility of gays and lesbians in the community.
If were invisible, then were subject to discrimination, Krumholz said. But when people see that lesbians and gays are your friends and your neighbors and youre visible, it breaks down the barriers of discrimination.
For years, however, the only way gays and lesbians could avoid discrimination was to remain invisible, a condition Nugai remembers clearly from his youth.
I know what it was like when I was younger, Nugai said. You were always on your guard if anyone was in the street and suspected you were gay.
The developments of the past three decades have enabled gay life to emerge from the underground, allowing youth to meet openly for community activities as opposed to exclusively gathering in bars and nightclubs. It has also led to huge advances in job security, with many gay employees receiving benefits for their domestic partners instead of fearing the loss of their jobs as Nugai did decades ago.
We have 14-year-olds coming to our group with their boyfriends, so thats obviously something different from what the seniors had to deal with, said Larry Menzie, the coordinator of Generation Q, the gay youth group organized by the pride committee. But on the other hand, because theyre coming out earlier it also puts them at risk for things like bashing.
Menzie said the parade will provide gay youth with an opportunity to celebrate their culture in a supportive way. Those who are not yet out of the closet will be able to gain strength from the example set by their peers participating in the parade.
Theyll see these youth marching on the streets, theyll say, OK, there are other youth going through this, theyre surviving it and maybe I can, too, Menzie said.
The parade will start at 12:30 p.m. Sunday at 89th Street and 37th Avenue. It will proceed along 37th Avenue to 75th Street, where it will disperse into a festival that goes on from noon until 7 p.m. on 37th Road between 73rd and 77th Streets.
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.
©2001 Community News Group
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