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Pride Parade to celebrate sexual acceptance in boro

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"Although the event is centered around Jackson Heights," said parade committee co-chairman Stewart Kessler, "the participants come from all over the borough."

Marchers in the Queens Pride Parade will wend their way through the neighborhood starting at noon.

Kessler said the parade, which culminates with an afternoon festival featuring four band stages, more than 400 vendors and entertainers of all stripes, seeks to create a comfortable atmosphere for everyone.

"People go to Manhattan parade to look for the shock values, the oddities," he said. "Nothing is done in our parade that we wouldn't do in front of our grandparents."

The idea is to show the borough's gay community in its true form: a multi-faceted group that defies stereotypical classifications, said Eddie Valentin, co-owner of a trio of local gay establishments and a longtime parade sponsor.

"We want to bring unity to the gay community and we want to create awareness in the community that gay people are your neighbors," Valentin said. "We can be anything in the world ... It breaks from the stereotype of what being gay is."

Valentin's Roosevelt Avenue nightspot, Club Atlantis, will set up its traditional stage at 77th Street and 37th Road. As in years past, Valentin and club founder Casimiro Villa are footing the bill for the sound system, lighting and entertainment on the stage.

Among the other stages, Kessler said, is a youth stage organized by the Queens Rainbow Community Center. And the main stage will occupy its traditional spot at 75th Street and 37th Road.

The parade sprang up in Jackson Heights about a dozen years ago because, Kessler said, the neighborhood was the most welcoming.

This year paradegoers - gay and straight - will circle up at 89th Street and 37th Avenue starting at 11 a.m. From there, the group will head toward 75th Street, where they will take a left into the festival's main area on 37th Road. The festival runs from noon to 7 p.m.

Marchers will observe a moment of silence as the parade winds past PS 69 in memory of Julio Rivera. Rivera, a gay man, was lured into the schoolyard at 77-02 37th Avenue and killed by skinheads more than 15 years ago, Kessler said.

"That was one of the sparks of the modern gay movement in Queens," said Kessler, who chairs the parade committee along with Maritza Martinez. "That was the big spark that woke everybody up again. Everyone was sort of complacent."

This year's grand marshals are: state Sen. John Sabini (D-Jackson Heights), longtime gay rights activist Alan Roskoff and Carmen Vasquez of the Empire State Pride Agenda, an advocacy group.

"It's our way of honoring long-term activists and people that have been involved," Kessler said.

In addition to private contributions, Kessler said parade organizers have received support from local legislators, including John Liu (D-Flushing), Hiram Monserrate (D-Corona), Helen Sears (D-Jackson Heights) and Council Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan).

Valentin described the event as something akin to Mardi Gras: drag queens, bands, food and "it brings the entire community there."

As part of the weekend's events, an AIDS memorial will be held at the Community United Methodist Church at 81st Street and 35th Avenue on Wednesday, June 5.

The parade helps bring unity and pride to the borough's gay and lesbian community, Valentin said.

"You don't just have to live in Manhattan to be gay," he said. "You can live in the outer boroughs and be gay and be proud of being gay."

Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

Posted 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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