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Pols hail pro-gay residents

Gay rights have been making international headlines over the last three weeks, but a trio of lawmakers held an event to honor the unsung heroes of the Queens LGBT community at Borough Hall.

Borough President Helen Marshall and City Councilmen Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) and Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) hosted Queens Pride in a packed conference room June 29 at 120-55 Queens Blvd.

“I think it’s appropriate at least once a year to take a step back, honor folks and thank them for the work that they’re doing,” Van Bramer said.

Many of the honorees live quiet lives around the borough, like Chad Gilkison and Scott Parish, a couple for 16 years who are raising twin boys.

The Sunnyside fathers do seemingly ordinary things, like take their boys to the park and volunteer at events, but their actions have profound effects on the community, according to Van Bramer.

“Simply by being open about being a gay couple and integrating their lives, family and children into everything they do, they are changing hearts and minds,” he said. “I think there is great courage that is displayed every day in very quiet ways.”

Van Bramer had special respect for the Bryant High School Gay Straight Alliance, which was honored, since he was once a student at the school in the 1980s.

The students in the alliance publicly speak about their lives as gay teens, which Van Bramer said would have been impossible when he walked the halls.

“I was closeted. I was terrified to tell anyone that I was gay, and even more terrified that anyone would think I was gay,” Van Bramer said, recounting his teen years. “To see the change from when I was 17 years old at Bryant high school to what I see there today really fills you with a great deal of hope.”

Others who received accolades have provided sanctuary to the gay community for years.

DJ Sparrow runs a Jackson Heights gay bar that has been the first stage in establishing a gay identity for many LGBT residents.

“Bar life remains important for LGBT people. It is the first place they come out,” Dromm said. “And a lot of organizing also goes on in the bar.”

Other honorees included Chris Wisniewski, director of education for the Museum of the Moving Image, who runs an after-school program that gives some 50,000 children access to animation and film equipment as well as exposure to cinema.

“We tried to honor people who live and or work in the borough,” Dromm said. “I’m trying to encourage activism in Queens.”

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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