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New gay Dem club offers another voice in boro

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The Guillermo Vazquez Independent Democratic Club of Queens,...

By Dustin Brown

Billing themselves a voice for the disenfranchised, a group of borough Democrats announced Monday the creation of a new gay Democratic club designed to reflect the full diversity of Queens.

The Guillermo Vazquez Independent Democratic Club of Queens, named for a late activist from Jackson Heights, targets minorities and other members of the gay community who have typically been shut out of the political process, the organization’s founders said.

“We are basically being formed to provide a voice to the many people in Queens who are LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered] who do not actually have a voice,” said club president Phil Velez at a news conference Monday morning in front of Borough Hall.

Velez described Queens as the “second home to the LGBT community outside Manhattan” and estimated that as many as 200,000 lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered individuals live in the borough.

The group is the second boroughwide political club formed to represent the gay community, offering an alternative to the Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club that was founded in 1994 by Daniel Dromm.

Dromm, who is running for district leader in the 39th Assembly District on a slate that includes state committee candidate Jimmy Van Bramer — one of the new club’s two vice presidents — said he was surprised to learn that a second group had been formed.

“We have a small community and I would have assumed that people would work with the existing Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club in the borough, not to try to splinter it,” Dromm said in a phone interview Monday night.

Still, Dromm added that he supports the new endeavor.

“We could always use more,” he said. “It adds to the spice and to the diversity of the borough.”

Velez said the new club is not meant to oppose the existing organization but rather is intended to offer another opportunity for the community’s voices to be heard.

“We feel that the community is so large and diverse that it deserves and can handle more points of views,” Velez said. “We just feel that we have more issues to discuss and more topics to touch on that maybe have not been touched on as of yet.”

The founding roster of officers features a number of prominent names from the borough’s gay community, most notably Van Bramer, who last year became Queens’ first openly gay candidate for City Council, and his co-vice president, Pauline Park, an activist who championed a civil rights measure protecting transgendered people and signed by the mayor in April.

The club’s founders are striving to involve members of the LGBT community who typically do not participate in politics, particularly minorities but also women, the handicapped and transgendered people — those who identify with a gender different from their anatomical sex.

Park said the club poses an alternative avenue for individuals “who feel marginalized within the LGBT community, who feel multiple oppressions.”

City Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-Jackson Heights), who was on hand for Monday’s announcement, said the club will “ensure that the disenfranchised have a voice” and bring “a new sense of inclusion” to borough politics.

Among the club’s primary activities, the officers said they intend to make endorsements in political races across the borough while advocating for LGBT-inclusive legislation and sponsoring voter-registration drives.

Van Bramer said the officers seek to make the club a boroughwide presence, most notably in southeast Queens, an area that typically has not had much of a voice in the borough’s gay community.

Vazquez, the club’s namesake, was an openly gay Colombian immigrant who lived in Jackson Heights until his death in 1996. He was a founding member of the Latino Commission on AIDS, the Colombia-US AIDS Foundation and the Latin American Cultural Center.

“His spirit will embody this club,” Velez said.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 7:13 pm, October 10, 2011
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