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Dispute Over 34th Avenue Open Street in Jackson Heights Leads to Accusations of Homophopia, Racism

A heated dispute has erupted between opposing sides of the 34th Avenue Open Street program in Jackson Heights — with the initiative’s co-founder saying he was the victim of homophobic slurs leveled at him by members of an opposition group. A rally was held Monday to condemn the statements. Pictured at the rally in the front row from left to right: Councilmember Shekar Krishnan, Jim Burke, co-founder of the 34th Avenue Open Streets Coalition, David Kilmnick, president and founder of the New York LGBT Network, and former Councilmember Danny Dromm (Photo: Shekar Krishnan via Twitter)

Sept. 14, 2022 By Michael Dorgan

A heated dispute has erupted between opposing sides of the 34th Avenue Open Street program in Jackson Heights — with the initiative’s co-founder saying he was the victim of homophobic slurs leveled at him by members of an opposition group.

Jim Burke, a well-known LGBT activist and co-founder of the 34th Avenue Open Streets Coalition, says a dispute surrounding the use of 34th Avenue led to him being verbally abused.

The 34th Avenue Open Street Coalition have been staunch advocates for the corridor to be made a permanent open street, while a rival group, the Jackson Heights Coop Alliance, opposes the concept, arguing that is unfair to drivers who need to park their cars and that it makes it tough for emergency vehicles to traverse.

Burke, in an interview with the Queens Post Tuesday, said he was called a “c**k-sucking f****t,” by an SUV driver who he believes is a member of the Jackson Heights Coop Alliance. However, Burke said that he wasn’t 100 percent sure that the driver is a member of the Alliance since he doesn’t know all the people that are part of the group.

Ricardo Pacheco, the leader of the Jackson Heights Coops Alliance, was critical of Burke for making the accusations and is demanding Burke provide further evidence. He said the accusations are slanderous and are just a means to undermine his group.

Pacheco also criticized local leaders, such as Councilmember Shekar Krishnan, who held a press conference Monday accusing the alliance of bigotry. He said Krishnan did not investigate the allegations and his actions were malicious.

Burke also said there have been various instances where passers-by on the street have uttered racist epithets at volunteers. He said that his partner Oscar Escobar, whose first language is Spanish and speaks English with an accent, was asked by two opponents to show his “papers.”

Burke, however, said he doesn’t know for sure if the racist comments were made by members of the Jackson Heights Coop Alliance, although he assumes so.

Burke said he has been targeted because of his role with the 34th Avenue Open Street program. His group advocates for making the 34th Avenue Open Street program – which runs 26 blocks from Junction Boulevard to 69th Street along 34th Avenue – a permanent fixture in the neighborhood.

The strip — which is currently closed off to traffic from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Mondays through Sundays under the program — is being converted into a series of pedestrian plazas and traffic-restricted zones, in accordance with a plan released by the Department of Transportation in October.

Advocates for the open streets plan, known as Paseo Park, argue that the open streets initiative has been a huge success since it creates much-needed public space in the neighborhood.

Opponents of the plan, however, say the plan eliminates much-needed parking and makes it harder for emergency vehicles to access local residents.

34th Avenue Open Street June 2022 (Photo: Queens Post)

Burke said the troubling incidents occurred after he took exception to an email forwarded by Community Board 3 to its members last month about a rally that was about to take place on Aug. 16 that was in opposition to the Paseo Park plan. The rally was organized by the Jackson Heights Coops Alliance, which sent the initial e-mail to the board.

Burke then penned a letter to Queens Borough President Donovan Richards two days later criticizing the dissemination of the e-mail, arguing that it indicated that the board supported the position of the Jackson Heights Coop Alliance. The letter was first published by Streetsblog.

Burke wrote that the e-mail led to unnecessary strife in the neighborhood by directing hate toward the volunteers of the 34th Avenue Open Streets Coalition.

“Purported members of this group have used homophobic, xenophobic, and racist slurs against our volunteers and program participants, sometimes in the presence of children and community members,” Burke wrote. The letter did not go into specifics about the alleged hate-filled incidents.

He called on Richards to investigate the Board’s leadership for sending out the email.

On Monday, the LGBT Network, a group advocating for LGBT people in Queens and Long Island, held a press conference along the 34th Avenue Open Street to bring attention to the alleged incidents against members of the Coalition and called for an end to hate in the neighborhood.

Burke attended the press conference and was joined by Councilmember Shekar Krishnan, former Councilmember Danny Dromm, and David Kilmnick, president and founder of the New York LGBT Network.

Krishnan stood with Burke and the activists to condemn the alleged bigotry.

“I am appalled at the homophobic harassment that 34th Avenue volunteers like Jim Burke and many others have had to experience by members of the so-called Jackson Heights Coops Alliance,” Krishnan said.

“No matter how their members may feel about 34th Avenue, there is no excuse to engage in hate. Jackson Heights Coops Alliance must condemn its members’ actions now.”

The press conference sparked an almost immediate response from the Jackson Heights Coop Alliance, which released a statement late Monday condemning the media event.

“The malicious accusation directed at us by Councilmember Shekar Krishnan and the 34th Avenue volunteer Jim Burke without concrete evidence is disturbing, if not pure slander,” the statement, written by Pacheco reads.

“We demand any evidence that supports this claim.”

Furthermore, Pacheco, who is an LGBT activist, alleges that his group was not contacted about Burke’s claims before the press conference was held.

On Tuesday, Pacheco wrote an open letter to Krishnan, labeling the councilmember’s actions as “malicious and libelous.”

“Without a shred of evidence, nor even a preliminary investigation, you proceeded to make malicious, baseless, unfounded, unverified and hateful allegations against the Jackson Heights Coops Alliance,” the letter reads.

“This was nothing less than a precalculated attempt to embarrass, discredit and defame our name as a community organization and attempted to portray me as being a homophobic bigot.”

“As the president and a gay man myself who has a long history and proven track record of advocating for the civil rights of LGBTQ+ community, I would never tolerate such bigotry from our alliance or from anyone else.”

Pacheco also called on Krishnan to make a public apology for his actions.

Krishnan responded to Pacheco’s open letter on Wednesday with a brief statement to the Queens Post.

“We take every instance of hate speech brought to us very seriously,” Krishnan said.

“It’s shocking that when a victim comes forward, the response by some is to discredit and vilify rather than condemn the harassment.”

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19 Comments

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Gay in jh

As a gay man living in JH, I take umbrage at Mr Burke further dividing the neighborhood by using one incident against him and escalating it to gain traction for his 34 street plan. He ruined the peaceful neighborhood and created traffic jams, and oh heavens, someone insulted him. Grow up.

Look behind the press photo and notice that no one is using the street. Whenever I go past 34 street during the week there are fewer than 5 people in the street.

Mr Burke, you won. Learn to take yes for an answer.

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Anonymous

Pretty sure the JH COOP Alliance told its members to post here their anti open streets comments. All six of them posted. Clearly the open street is a huge win, just look how busy it is everyday and its super obvious its an amazing addition to the neighborhood. Stop making tax payers pay for your private vehicles. Go use the subway or bus, you do live in a city you know??

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Javier

Ummmmm excuse me, taxpayers don’t pay for private vehicles to park, our inspection fees, registration fees, tolls, and all fines and summons pay for that, plus having a personal vehicle means I don’t have to sit in smelly, filthy subway and bus cars, praying I don’t get stabbed, mugged or shot by some kook due to no Police presence. Next time they raise the fares, don’t complain about it, and remember your statement. You’re anonymous for a reason.

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jackson

tax payers pay for private vehicles? someone people lacking education with completely utopian views are at power, which is why we are where we are.

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JL

When the reprehensible De’ Blasio first did this back in 2020, I never thought it will progress to where entire square block are close and nearly 100+ public parking spaces are gone with zero warning and community consultation.
Arguably, a compromise could be reach where this 34th Avenue closure could happen during weekends for 8-12 week – summer to fall. However, I don’t think these activist are looking to compromise. This is just progressive/leftist power play and if this don’t revert back, they’ll just close more streets and/or neighborhoods.

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Javier

STOP making everything about the Left or the Right! I’m a Democrat and I disagree with many Democratic policies, including the Open Streets program and I don’t run around blaming everything on Republicans. I disagree with it because this city is TOO crowded to force cars into One SINGLE lane because all it does is create MORE traffic, accidents, AND Road Rage.

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Centrist Democrat

This is bullshit. So Jim Burke ‘believes’ that the person was a member of the Jackson Heights Alliance [whose President is a gay man and supporter of LGBTQ issues obviously] and then all of these people hold a press conference based on an unfounded rumor that this might be an Alliance member? These council people and Burke should be ashamed of themselves for trying to paint an entire organization as homophobic. If I could add a picture here I would be if you want to see the statement from the JH COOP alliance President it’s here: https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=10229833464127694&set=basw.AboLLrk1t5kc8xYlIYc_TKS4rE3gJMJB7XqgUAqwu8_ebgc6TGyKFohieu-8JtOBkV0Unr53TAdChFzwnkEAlxaTadrpDfNhQud4YkftrjYr5CSemy1oMmVxF1tl7PjtTu5fABf5jWKGC7fVlPl0VcTdGjoZLz3OFd3qZFpIxzhLtA&opaqueCursor=AboWsPwUc0lOR5BGnO77SdVBU6vnxXE7xxU4wkh93iB7x1PNwRl_V9uQfrNp2qQR_AAjiKoRe9uA35y7u6caUHqJ1ArxG15a3lL1ruCtcAyAGQsqKhICKHjeT6q9-87qnWupAuHdNylZ0zCJoEv14qgFVsPVJYLjZEOl6BC4V3PIuiYdVma0apL5ran_CNoER-_L2d9tC3za7SHl38Q8pNwpbrxfONbSsq96NaSK3GQwPuQHU41YnvM0VLm6AQvPtSBdoH8qql8P6IZn9FfUklUpef9WyecO2u0bEIzL2p5mtlWJEX_5UxwTBrJJj1FjPmu76PdVKMMNrK88BjJv4suAI-Ac6oXP_3EmTLS4zhAtRoAEN0pAFRDPaIi9SVFP_Yl_jnjxfgrSA6EPEAnWjRpEVS9pQArR9i7O2hrMzWD_6wnLqetrhMZKFomUIA4GFZTL2BvLBQgj4wK7OzY7Aq7YalqTCTwVLAy2-dsosGMmsIMKRQ9qq9Zst5aLGTWBXYtWDx5Yj7A3PqBBzPahyabck7ezxWrSM1p2XqErfvF48DiQ5euXyNf4a5bGwuNT9GHsK2Dt2YpAr5Nk-_5sZLCeWNmhX_0HqVaB-txXGW2YjKv9cFB1xXxDVuvWf-81VWCwOXBKWfa0U_WDoNz9vy7qeqXqFiIIiyn4rBjt27TOYdB5wolalJ3ZWlYpV9D9bD-Rh9qbbLJYcWPDPHXsjB5Cz1nlHXfP2jMzAlTqyK3IGljd29HtJXj_Q3_246RbXy0lunEVqNE0GrcXB6BokQ-vaTZPkvou-rTMV0sY9kSWDfJcw1Yl5NhKFIk9InV521w

Slandering people as homophobic is a low blow. Where’s the proof, these pompous Progressives are getting really annoying.

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resident

I’m sick of open street, all the bickering, calling this decrepit street a “park”, all those unheard of markings and lanes that look like someone got a hefty bribe to make it happen, i bet the bill for painting all those wavy lines is in millions too. I go to flushing meadows for park, though it’s falling apart too.
reopen the street, social distancing is long over, and go to the park if you need the park.

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Concerned JH resident

JH COOP Alliance is not about the lack of parking they are fighting for the decrease of quality of life. And if any of the supporters or reporters that constantly write about the anti-OS groups, did any small research they would see that it’s about the decrease of quality of life for the residents of 34th Ave.

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Centrist Democrat

bullcrap.. How did it improve life for the disabled? How does it help the seniors? Large families?

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paul

My senior sister lives in that zone and every few weeks I deliver much needed supplies to her from Costco. To be honest, although it is a bit of an inconvenience I have more trouble when the gay pride parade, hispanic parade, miracle mile run, etc. are held. It is total chaos and many times she goes without the costco goods. I try to find out when the events are held and I am not always successful because they are not promoted.

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Patrick Green

I am sick and tired of the LGBT community always using Homophopia and Racism to get their way. They are changing the focus of the issue and that is the closing of the streets in Jackson Heights. It is a selfish act and inconsiderate for not considering the residents who live in the community who depend on streets parking and emergency vehicles getting to their love ones who are in need of emergency assistant

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Mystery

The behavior of people in general is shameful. Zero understanding of reality as we’re all the same. Same blood, same lungs, same eyes, same hearts.

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Javier

Jackson heights is too over populated to warrant the closing of a whole Avenue permanently. This was done thru politics and no vote was put up by anyone. Im sure more people oppose than are for. Lets see whats going to happen if someone in my family dies due to FDNY or Ambulance not being able to get here in time. I’ll be suing NYC and all those involved be sure of that.

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Get off my avenue

34th Avenue needs to become a regular avenue ASAP. Go to a regular park like the rest of the world does if you want to walk around or bike. This is ridiculous.

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Gary

The 34th Avenue promenade would be fine if it were truly limited to pedestrians and slow moving bicycles. Instead it is frequented by fast moving electric bikes, motor scooters, motorcycles and electric scooters. They are silent and give no warning of their approach. It is unpatroled and uncontrolled. The sidewalk is much safer. Might as well give the avenue back to the cars.

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