This Sunday, June 5, 2016, LGBTQ people, their friends, families and guests will march and dance down 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens for the 24th Annual Pride Parade.
Twenty-three years ago, on June 6, 1993, I participated in the very first parade as a photojournalist. Danny Dromm, the festival founder, recently reminded me that the first time we met was at the press conference they held a few days before the parade. I had always remembered (incorrectly) that we met at the parade and had only spoken on the phone prior to that. I asked Danny, how he remembered me from the press conference and he answered, “You were the only one who came!”
My own impressions of that first parade are vague. I remember arriving and not being sure what to photograph, how to approach people, as everyone was preparing to march. On one hand, this was a public event and clearly anyone participating was being “out,” but on the other hand I sensed that there were many people for whom this was a big decision, and maybe they weren’t comfortable with possibly being in a newspaper. This was not the big Manhattan parade; this was a small town parade down main street.
The first people I remember approaching were the Sirens Women’s Motorcycle Club of New York City.
I awkwardly approached holding my camera, starting to gesture to ask if I could photograph them, and one of the members said to me before I could get a word out, “We’re the Sirens. Just make sure not to write ‘Dykes on Bikes’ in the paper.” In fact, the picture I took of her an hour later leading the parade was the one published in the Daily News the next day.
Gliced Irrizary of the Sirens
(Many years later, at the 2011Heritage of Pride Parade, the year the Marriage Equality Act was passed, I stood next to her on Fifth Avenue, the sky between the buildings brilliant with rainbow arches of balloons, the air filled with the sounds of people applauding, cheering, hooting, motorcycle engines being revved, and I reminded her of the first time I met her. She looked up at the balloons and said, “Did you ever imagine we would see this day?” And I just started sobbing from my chest, and she gave me one of the kindest hugs I’ve ever received in my life.)
And I remember we started to march down 37th Avenue and I felt so proud of my neighborhood. I wondered if I should put my camera aside and join the march instead, wondered what was more important, but I remember sensing that this was my place, my role, though I think it took me a number of years to really understand what that meant.
Then I remember feeling more confident once the Parade was over and the Festival had started. I got up on the stage behind Danny and Maritza, photographing them as they gave their speeches, Maritza giving a big kiss to her girlfriend at the time on the stage before thousands of people.
As I look over the negatives of that first parade now, part of me wishes I had been more mature in my work, more knowledgeable about what was going on. I only took two rolls of black-and-white film and three of color to the parade because those were my first years as a photographer. By the third year of the parade I was regularly shooting about ten rolls of color and ten of black-and-white with two cameras and questioning my decision to photograph a subject less and less, going with feelings. But beyond any regrets, I know I was lucky that I was there, that I was able to be a part of it. There are lots of people and things I wish I had photographed: Alan Sack giving a speech to remember Julio, members of Queer Nation (some of whom are now friends), members of QGLU (who became friends over the next few years), the Rivera family. It amazed me a few years ago when I was looking at the negatives and realized that I had actually photographed Matt Foreman of AVP looking right into my camera with those blue eyes and a poster of Julio behind him.
In the past I would only show three or so of the black-and-white photos from that day because it wasn’t my best work, but being older and less self-centered in some ways, I have realized that the important thing is not my need to show what a good photographer I can be, but the need to share these images, to use them to reconnect and to remember.
Maritza Martinez (left), Daniel Dromm (center) and Brendan Fay