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Remembering Julio Rivera, whose murder gave rise to Queens Pride Parade to increase visibility in Jackson Heights

Remembering Julio Rivera, whose murder gave rise to Queens Pride Parade
Remembering Julio Rivera, whose murder gave rise to Queens Pride Parade 03:25

NEW YORK -- To many people in the LGBTQ community, Julio Rivera is known as the man whose murder galvanized the neighborhood of Jackson Heights, Queens, to fight for equality and acceptance.

But for Patricia Dunlea, her cousin was so much more.

"He was polite, he was well-spoken, he was intelligent," Dunlea told CBS2. "He was handsome, really handsome. When he walked into a room, he had beautiful glassy brown eyes."

Rivera was a gay, New York-born Puerto Rican from the Bronx who lived in Jackson Heights and worked as a bartender. 

Dunlea said their family grew up poor but was rich in acceptance.

"We would have parties. We would have birthday parties and Christmases and Thanksgivings and Halloween parties. Many times, there was a man dressed as a woman and that was cool ... and it didn't even cross our minds that that might be a problem - until it was," she said. 

Queens Pride:

On July 2, 1990, at the young age of 29, Rivera was brutally murdered at a schoolyard in Jackson Heights. 

"They killed him with a 40-ounce bottle of beer -- the glass shards -- a hammer," said Dunlea.

Police initially dismissed the idea of a hate crime, chalking up Rivera's death to a drug deal gone bad. Outrage quickly spread among the LGBTQ community, leading to the first hate crime conviction in New York City. 

"Why do you think Julio's death galvanized the community as effectively as it did?" CBS2's Jessica Moore asked Dunlea. 

"They were just done with dying," she replied. "Here he was so young and so loved and so beautiful, and it just wasn't something that we -- we were sort of aghast."

In the aftermath of Rivera's murder, longtime Queens City Councilman Daniel Dromm started the Queens Pride Parade, which is the city's second largest pride parade.

"They went out hunting for a homosexual to kill, can you imagine?" Dromm said. "Julio Rivera's murder was actually our Stonewall."

The openly gay lawmaker and former teacher had long fought for equality in the neighborhood, introducing an inclusive curriculum called Children of the Rainbow, which he said was swiftly shot down as "homosexual propaganda."

Dromm said Rivera's murder made the quietly pervasive undercurrent of hate undeniable.

"What I decided to do was put a face on the tens of thousands of LGBTQ people who live in the borough of Queens because people needed to get to know who we are," he said. "We're your family, your friends and your neighbors. Maybe you don't know that we're gay, but we're there."

"The joy of it is what we really need. We need to be able to say, 'Everybody's different, and here we are, and we're going to be happy about it.' Why not?" said Dunlea. "I can just see him just parading around and dancing and joyful... He would have really, really loved it."

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