Bushwick, Brooklyn, may seem an unlikely venue for gay activism to some, but more than 60 local residents and activists bucked this notion on Saturday, July 16, as they marched through the heart of the North Brooklyn neighborhood in its second-annual LGBT Pride parade.
Organizers postponed the march by two weeks after the New York Police Department refused to issue them the proper permits. Gays & Lesbians of Bushwick Empowered founder Dee Perez, a life-long Bushwick resident, remained unfazed. She said the parade sends a powerful message to local residents.
"We have to let them know we call this our home," Perez said. "We are letting folks know June is Pride month and Bushwick should be proud too and stand up."
Make the Road by Walking, a Bushwick-based organization that advocates on behalf of the poor and immigrants, joined TransJustice and others as marchers passed through bustling Knickerbocker Avenue on their way to Maria Hernandez Park. Some shoppers along the bustling thoroughfare appeared a bit confused at the sight of a gay Pride march through their neighborhood.
"I want folks to see there is an LGBT community here," Perez said. "It’s important we have things like thismarches, centers and groupsnot just in Manhattan and in Park Slope."
Bushwick resident Manny Rodriguez agreed. He said he was proud of the diversity of the marcherslesbian mothers of color, transgender Latinas, gay men and white womenin the celebration.
"To have a march to show people we are here and we are not going anywhere is great," he said. "This shows things are getting better."
The predominantly Latino neighborhood has undergone significant gentrification in recent years as Manhattanitesand even Williamsburgershave been priced out of the East Village, the Lower East Side and other formerly bohemian neighborhoods. SCrime and urban blight ravaged Bushwick during the late-1960s and 1970s. Looters and arsonists also burned swaths of Broadway during the post-blackout of the 1977 riots.
Lofts, condos and other new developments have transformed Wyckoff Avenue and surrounding areas in recent years as the updated L-train has shortened the trek from Manhattan to Brooklyn. Ben Nelson moved into Bushwick earlier this year from Crown Heights. He has noticed that gay people have begun to move onto his Jefferson Street block. Nelson added he feels comfortable as a gay man in the neighborhood.
"There’s a very diverse crowd of bohemian artist types," he said. "The gay people here are more like the East Village type as opposed to Chelsea."
Rodriguez said gentrification continues to impact long-time residents as the overall cost-of-living rises.
"Five years ago, I could have rented this apartment across the street for $600," he said before the march began. "Now it’s $1,200, if that. A lot of people are struggling to pay rent and other bills."
She conceded more people will move into Bushwick with the lure of relatively affordable housing and the proximity to the city. Perez added her work in Bushwick will continue.
"You should feel safe in the community where you go home," she said.