Julio Rivera (1961-1990), a 29-year-old Puerto Rican man from the Bronx, had recently moved to Jackson Heights from Manhattan when on July 2, 1990 three men brutally attacked him in the schoolyard of P.S. 69 because he was gay. He later died at Elmhurst Hospital. In his memory, this “Julio Rivera Corner” street sign was installed in 2000 just outside the school property at the southwest corner of 37th Avenue and 78th Street. Annual vigils are held here.
For decades, Jackson Heights has been home to one of the largest LGBT communities in New York City, but at the time of the attack LGBT activist and community groups had not yet formed in then-socially conservative Queens. That changed beginning with Rivera’s murder, which current City Council Member Daniel Dromm has called part of “Queens’s Stonewall.”
“If it wasn’t for Julio the Queens LGBT movement would not have gotten as far as it has gotten. Julio did not die in vain. He changed people’s lives.”
Outraged that the police labeled the murder as drug-related and assigned the case to an out-of-town detective, Rivera’s loved ones, the Latino community, groups such as Queer Nation and the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project (now the Anti-Violence Project), and hundreds of LGBT New Yorkers held a candlelight vigil in the neighborhood. This and other advocacy efforts ultimately made Rivera’s case the first gay hate crime to be tried in New York State.
Reaction to his death also led to the formation of several important organizations, some of which include Queens Gays and Lesbians United, the Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens, and Queens Pride House. In 1993, Council Member Dromm (then a local schoolteacher) and activist Maritza Martinez co-founded the Queens Pride Parade; marchers to this day hold a moment of silence when they reach Julio Rivera Corner.