Sunset Park holds first annual Pride in the Park
Sunset Park neighbors came together for Pride in the Park, a twilight picnic in the area to celebrate gay pride.
The event, held on Friday, June 29 at 44th Street and Sixth Avenue in the park, embraced members of the LGBTQ community for a gathering of love, peace and tolerance.
One of the organizers, Melissa Del Valle Ortiz, was inspired by longtime Sunset Parker Lynn Tondrick, who has lived with her wife in Sunset Park for over 20 years.
“Lynn in fact had posted some pictures on Facebook about the fact that it was her first time having gay pride flags in front of her house and she hadn’t done it in the past because she thought the community wouldn’t be embracing of it,” she said.
However, Tondrick’s neighbors gave her inspiration to display her pride.
“The way it started was my neighbors who are heterosexual put up gay pride flags,” said Tondrick. “I had never put them up in my house because I’m not sure I felt comfortable doing that and then I thought if my neighbor was doing that, it’s ridiculous that I don’t. And with the current political environment, it felt more important than ever to be out and expressing who we are so I put them up.”
Once Tondrick put the photos on Facebook, Ortiz realized that more could be done to celebrate the occasion.
“One thing led to another and it turned into a community gathering,” she said. “We’ve had several LGBTQ community board members and there’s never been anything in the community to celebrate them and welcome them. I thought it was important as a community resident that we have something. It was a group of us that initiated this through a conversation on Facebook. It wasn’t just me.”
Ortiz and Tondrick, along with Julio Peña II, organized an intimate but powerful picnic attended by over 60 people.
“It was lovely,” Tondrick said. Normally, she explained, “We leave the community to celebrate gay pride or we do it in a house with people we already know, but this was just an open event and it was open to anyone who wanted to come. It didn’t matter your orientation. We reached out to everyone in the community. It was held in a public space in the park and it as lovely. We met so many people.”
For Ortiz, it was important that the event not be sponsored by an organization, and instead emanate from the heart of the neighborhood.
“We thought about that initially, but we felt that it was important that this effort come from the community and not be supported in any way by politicians or organizations,” she said. “It needed to have neighborhood involvement.”
Ortiz was also unsure of the reception the celebration would receive, given that it was the first event of its kind in Sunset.
“I was a little nervous and I reached out to [the precinct’s] community affairs just because Lynn had mentioned she was afraid of retaliation initially when she came into the neighborhood to just hang flags,” she said. “We had Officer Gerber Fernandez there and we had no incidents. We had a group of young teenagers and he was talking to about 10 or 12 of them. They broke break with us. We let them know what it was about and if they wanted to stay they were welcome to, and they did. Everyone was very receptive.”
Tondrick was also surprised about the support the event received.
“I’m 56, so my experiences are born of watching things change in the world around me,” she explained. “Twenty year olds view the world differently. It was awesome, and the response from folks that aren’t gay was awesome. They were out there saying we support you guys and everything. It was very touching for me.”
“One thing that was great about the whole event was that there was a woman that came with her toddler who didn’t know we were hosting this. Her wife wasn’t able to attend but because she was in the area, she came up to us,” added Ortiz. “ Just having that event in the park kind of gave people the open door to step up to us and introduce themselves. It did turn into a great community gathering and introduction to the neighborhood.”
They are planning a bigger event for next year.
“I was surprised that no one had done that before. It was overdue,” added Ortiz. “These are populations within Sunset Park that haven’t been recognized and needed to be put on a pedestal like everybody else.”
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