On Sunday, the city’s only gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Lions club will get a big pat on the back for making big headway in a short amount of time.
The Queens Pride Lions Club, based out of East Elmhurst, formed less than two years ago. The 24 members are all long-time volunteers. But before joining this Lions club, an international volunteer organization, they felt like they couldn’t volunteer as themselves.
“I could never volunteer as a LGBT person,” said Ralph Gonzalez, a member and QPLC president Jacob Berelowitz’s partner. “You couldn’t go to a dance with your spouse or even think about being out.”
But with QPLC, the members proudly marched behind a rainbow striped Lions flag in the Jackson Heights Pride Parade. For a fundraiser, they manufactured cloth jar-openers with the Lions emblem printed in purple instead of the traditional Lion’s yellow.
“It’s a little gayer,” Gonzalez said with a laugh.
And on March 3, at the award ceremony at Russo’s On The Bay in Howard Beach, if QPLC members want to hold hands or embrace their partners they can.
“To us it feels like the heterosexual community is saying, ‘You’re one of us,’” Gonzalez said.
Two years ago, Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) worked with the president of the Corona Lions Club to put together the LGBT group. The Corona Lions club then sponsored the new group, because members cannot join without an invitation and a club cannot start without a sponsor, and once Corona signed on, the International Lions organization gave its seal of approval.
There are only three LGBT Lions clubs nationwide. The other two are in San Francisco.
The group then got to work on several projects, not just within the LGBT community.
Like many Lions clubs, the group focused on hearing and vision correction by donating hundreds of glasses and taking 100 visually and hearing-impaired children to the circus.
“We wanted to show that we help the general public,” Gonzalez said. “We are LGBT but we help; it doesn’t matter whatever you are.”
Club members also brought Lions Quest, an anti-bullying, self-esteem and tolerance curriculum, to New York City. Previously, the program, created by the international Lions chapter, only existed in two schools in New York — one upstate and one in Long Island. Through connections of their own, QPLC members had the program taught to 80 NYC teachers in October. Also, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, QPLC jumped in and helped.
In addition to these several programs, the group donated clothes to Positive Health Project and Fashion on Gender, a group that helps transgender individuals transitioning from one sex to the other, gather new clothing specific to the new gender.