The Beat of a Different Dromm

Daniel Dromm did not start the LGBT movement in Queens, but his insurgent election as a New York City Council member was the culmination of a long history of struggle in the borough for LGBT rights that was on proud display January 10 at the Queens Theater in Flushing Meadow Park as he was sworn in before a packed house as diverse as the Jackson Heights-based 25th District he now represents.

After acknowledging his mother and biggest fan, Audrey Gallagher, and the incumbent he defeated, Helen Sears, Dromm, a veteran fourth grade teacher until taking his seat on the Council, said it was his “community organizing” going back 20 years that led him to elective office. He cited the 1990 Jackson Heights anti-gay murder of Julio Rivera as a pivotal moment in his awakening as an activist, recalling how the case was given “to a detective who was on vacation for two weeks,” and also how activists, led by Ed Sedarbaum of Queens Gays and Lesbians United, who joined him on stage, kept the pressure on to have the case treated seriously.

Council member’s inaugural a milestone in Queens’ LGBT history

Dromm himself came to public prominence in 1992 when Mary Cummins, the right-wing chair of the infamous Queens District 24 local school board, galvanized resistance to a second-grade curriculum, “Children of the Rainbow,” because it provided guidelines for teachers dealing with gay-led families. In order to counter the negative gay stereotypes Cummins was promoting, Dromm came out very publicly in the media as a gay teacher. Last year, the Kiwanis of Sunnyside named him Educator of the Year.

Dromm started the Queens Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade 15 years ago and co-founded the PFLAG chapter in the borough as well as a range of social service groups. He also provided leadership after the murder of Edgar Garzon outside a Jackson Heights bar in 2001. Rivera’s relatives and Garzon’s mother were on hand to cheer Dromm at his inaugural.

The ceremony was emceed by Assemblyman José Peralta, a declared primary challenger to Senator Hiram Monserrate, who last month went back on his long-standing pledge to support marriage equality and was also sentenced in a domestic violence conviction involving his girlfriend. Several of those who spoke, including out lesbian Council Speaker Christine Quinn, referred to Peralta, who has the backing of the Queens Democratic establishment, as “Senator.”

Neither Quinn nor the Queens County leader, Congressman Joe Crowley, supported Dromm’s primary challenge to Sears, but in a spirit of unity they were two of the principal speakers. Crowley said, “I matured politically because of my relationship with Danny Dromm.” Quinn recalled their long nights together leafleting Queens gay bars in the wake of anti-gay attacks.

US Senator Charles Schumer called him “one of our very best” and City Comptroller John Liu, until recently a Queens Council member himself, said, “I’ve learned a great deal from him.” Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, an early supporter, said in a feisty speech, “We are going to advocate for progressive politics in the City Council,” a theme Dromm sounded on election night and replayed in a video at his inauguration.

Dromm noted that he and his fellow freshman Queens Councilman, Jimmy Van Bramer, are “half of the LGBT caucus” in the Council, with Manhattanites Rosie Mendez and Quinn. He also reveled in the fact that “three-fifths of the Irish caucus” — Quinn, Van Bramer, and himself are gay. Democrat Elizabeth Crowley and newly-elected Republican Dan Halloran, both of Queens, make up the rest of the Eire contingent.

Judge Rudy Grecco led three of his colleagues in administering the oath to Dromm, quipping, “How many Queens judges does it take to swear in a Council member?”

The entertainment was every bit as multicultural as Dromm’s district. In addition to four rousing drag acts, there was the unique spectacle of Randy Jones, an original member of the Village People, leading the Keltic Dreams Irish Dancers from PS 59 in the Bronx — mostly African American and Latino kids and charming as hell — in a chorus of “YMCA,” with Dromm and Joe Crowley dancing to the beat onstage. Try deconstructing that.

“I’m really pleased that the body politic of New York City has reached the point where gayness doesn’t matter,” said Sedarbaum, who now lives happily married in rural Massachusetts with his husband, cartoonist Howard Cruse.

In fact, Dromm’s afternoon sent the unmistakable signal that his gayness is not incidental to his success as a politician, but a big plus worthy of celebration.

“God made us good,” Dromm told the crowd in an emotional part of his address. “Gay is good. Embrace your sexuality and love who you are.”