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Thriving multicultural LGBTQ+ community finds a home in Jackson Heights

Multicultural, queer community thrives in Jackson Heights
Multicultural, queer community thrives in Jackson Heights 02:47

NEW YORK - With its rainbow of languages and foods, to explore Jackson Heights is to travel the world.

At this crossroads of cultures, a thriving LGBTQ community has found a home.

Eddie Valentin co-owns Friends Tavern, one of the area's oldest gay bars.

"For many people who came from Latin America, they were running away from persecution," he said.

In the 1980s, he says, Friends Tavern was a sanctuary.

"When you're first-generation Latino, and you come to a place, first of all, you don't know English. Second of all, you're not hearing the music you're used to listening to back home," he said. "You want to be in a new country, but you also want to feel at home in the new country."

The bar embraced these locals with Spanish-speaking staff and Latin music, and over time, the customer base expanded.

"We're getting a mixture of second-generation Latino. We are getting Asians coming to the bar. We are getting Subcontinent Asians coming to the bar, and it's becoming more and more mixed," he said.

He wants all visitors to feel accepted.

"Besides serving libations, we serve love. So, when customers come in, we want to hear about your problems. We want to hear what's happening back home. We want to hear how's your family, whether it's in Latin America or whether it's in Europe," he said. "We have inclusivity here because this place has become a refuge, and this is a place where everybody can feel safe."

In this way, Friends Tavern is quintessentially Jackson Heights.

Queens Pride:

"The values of this neighborhood set an example for the rest of the nation," Shekar Krishnan said.

The first Indian American to be elected to the New York City Council, he is honored to be one of this year's Grand Marshals for the Queens Pride Parade.

"In Jackson Heights and Elmhurst alone, there are over 167 languages spoken. This has been a community where so many immigrant communities have gotten their start," he said.

About 60% of Jackson Heights residents were born outside the U.S. Krishnan says the inclusive neighborhood is fertile soil for the queer community to grow, too.

"We show how, across our cultures, our languages, across who we are, our gender identities, no matter any of those things, that we all come together as one neighborhood," he said.

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