AIDS Activist’s Elmhurst Corner Added To LGBT History Map
By: Danielle Woodward
ELMHURST, QUEENS — Locals are reminded of Guillermo Vasquez’s role in LGBT history every time they walk past the Elmhurst street corner bearing his name.
The intersection of 77th Street and Broadway has, for years, been home to the street sign honoring the late Jackson Heights activist who helped organize the first Queens Pride Parade. Now, that corner – and Vasquez’s name – will go from a neighborhood reminder to a historic spot in New York City’s LGBT history.
The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project’s latest map documenting historic places in the city’s LBTQ history will now include the Guillermo Vasquez Corner in Elmhurst, organizers announced Wednesday. The ever-evolving digital interactive map features places across the city’s five boroughs that have shaped the LGBT community’s history and impact on the city.
Vasquez, a Colombian-born immigrant, came to New York City to study international law and political science and found his lifetime home after in Queens, where he became a leading activist for AIDS, gay rights and the borough’s Latino community.
He was a founding member of the Queens Hispanic Coalition and Queens Gays and Lesbians United, where he pushed for visibility of the LGBT community and raised awareness about the AIDS epidemic. He also advocated for LGBT rites with city and statewide organizations such as the Anti-Violence Project and the Empire State Pride Agenda.
But Vasquez is perhaps most remembered for his role in organizing the first Queens Pride Parade in 1993 and serving as a translator for Spanish-speaking participants. The LGBT parade, which began as a vigil for Julio Rivera after the 29-year-old was murdered for being gay, is now recognized as the second largest in the city with upwards of 40,000 attendees each year.
Vasquez, who died of AIDS-related complications in 1996, was recognized for his work years later by local leaders, who co-named the intersection of 77th Street and Broadway in his honor in 2013. The corner was right outside Love Boat, a former Latino bar where Vasquez educated the community about HIV/AIDS.
“If it wasn’t for Julio, the Queens LGBT movement would not have gotten as far as it has gotten,” said Queens City Councilman Daniel Dromm.
“Julio did not die in vain. He changed people’s lives.”
A spokesperson for the LGBT Historic Sites Project said at a time where historic spots across NYC are being demolished, it’s important for the group to honor early activists like Vasquez who carved out the community’s space in the city.
“It is more important than ever to remember the determination of LGBT equal rights pioneers and the physical sites which place key people and events in history,” the group said in a statement.
Vasquez’s street corner marks the ninth Queens site on the digital interactive map, but organizers said several more in the borough are being vetted for publication in the late summer and early fall.
Other Queens sites on the historic map include:
- Bum Bum Bar in Woodside
- West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills
- Frank Kameny Residence in South Richmond Hill
- Kitty Genovese Residence in Kew Gardens
- Julio Rivera Corner in Jackson Heights
- New York State Pavilion in Corona
- Riis Park Beach in the Rockaways
- Manford Family Residence in Murray Hill
Image: NYC Council Member Daniel Dromm and Nayibe Nunez-Berger, president of the Latin American Cultural Center of Queens, hold the Guillermo Vasquez Corner sign at the street co-naming ceremony. Photo by Ana Luisa Castaño/Queens Latino via the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project