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Gay Pride Parade marches in Queens

From a drag queen in a Spanish-style dress with a parrot on his head to cheerleaders performing acrobatic moves to a roller-skating, semi-nude woman with pasties covering her breasts, gays of all stripes celebrated their culture Sunday during the 18th Queens Pride parade in Jackson Heights.

“We’re queers and we’re supporting and celebrating our queer community and our home,” said Jackson Heights lesbian Mel Ribas.

Ribas said she was proud she could live in a neighborhood that was accepting of her lifestyle.

The parade is “in my own community and it’s special that we can have that,” she said. “I love Jackson Heights and I love being a queer person in Jackson Heights. I really value the community here.”

The parade kicked off at noon Sunday and proceeded along 37th Avenue between 75th and 85th streets.

A vehicle blasting music by Madonna, Katy Perry and Ke$ha rode down the parade route along with an arch of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple balloons to constitute a rainbow — a symbol of gay pride.

A gay World War II veteran in a wheelchair marched in the parade, drawing applause from the crowd.

But with all the fanfare, the parade struck a serious tone as marchers reached 37th Avenue and 78th Street, an intersection co-named after Julio Rivera, a gay man who was murdered in Jackson Heights 20 years ago.

Marchers paid tribute to Rivera and Edward Garzon, who was also killed because of his sexual orientation.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), who is openly gay, said Rivera’s death “created the modern LGBT movement in Queens County.”

June is LGBT Pride Month.

“In the middle of our dancing and Lady Gaga and Madonna, we’re reminded that this month is fun, but it’s more important than that,” Quinn said, adding that hate crime bureaus would not be in the city’s district attorney offices today if not for the murders of Garzon and Rivera.

Councilmen Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) and Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), the first openly gay men to be elected to the Council from Queens, served as the parade’s grand marshals.

Dromm, a founder of the parade, said the event paved the way for his and Van Bramer’s elections.

A man dressed in drag and wearing fake silver eyelashes who asked to be identified as Assy Piles said he was disappointed that five blocks of the parade had been cut from last year’s celebration but said he enjoyed “the good humoredness” of the occasion.

John Miskell, a gay man from East Brunswick, N.J., said Sunday was the first time he had watched the Jackson Heights parade and he appreciated its diversity, including a group calling itself Latina Lesbians of NY, who marched down 37th Avenue with flags from Argentina, Ecuador, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Brazil and Honduras.

“It’s very nice,” Miskell said. “I got to see some of the girls dressed up and some of the political groups, so it’s nice.”

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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