Out And Proud
Astoria’s Gay Community Steps Out
BY JAMES J. PARZIALE
Astoria’s identity is shifting from hearty spanakopita and frothy ales to delicate sushi and fine wine – and the population is changing as well.
Queens is the most diverse county in the Unites States, and one of its formerly most traditional sectors is morphing with each passing day. Astoria, known for decades as a Greek stronghold, is emerging as a Little Chelsea in many ways. The populace is shifting to a younger crowd that parties later (or earlier depending on your vantage) in a flourishing nightlife.
New subcultures are sprouting, including an influx of social groups. One such cluster, dubbed OUT Astoria, is trying to pull together the booming gay crowd in Astoria. Dirk McCall, an amiable 38-year-old and one of the group’s founders, beamed while discussing its potential.
Out And Proud
Currently, McCall said, there are close to 500 people on the e-mail listserv who get information about OUT Astoria. The group, which was founded in January 2006, hosts monthly brunches and luncheons at local area restaurants. McCall said the turnouts have been encouraging and he expects them to grow with time.
He recruited others to serve on the service committee, which runs and plans OUT Astoria’s events. McCall recruited Joe Moran to join the OUT Astoria steering committee as he had some ideas about developing an online identity for the organization.
“We’re very excited because there are a lot of new restaurants coming into the neighborhood and we hope to establish some relationships with them,” he said. “We send out blasts about LGBT events in Astoria. It gives a sense of community. We’re trying to get the word out and the awareness out. We haven’t had anyone withdraw from the mailing list yet. It’s a good social networking situation.”
Moran has seen the group expand before his eyes. He said it is amazing how much it’s grown in a little over a year.
“I remember the first dinner at Mundo,” Moran said. “I was sitting with Dirk and just a handful of other guys. Astoria has a huge LGBT population that tends to be very disjointed. I think Astorians really welcome the opportunity to connect with other people living in their area.”
McCall, who moved to Manhattan in 1991 and then to Astoria three years later, even met his boyfriend through OUT Astoria. He enjoys the openness of the forum.
Members of OUT Astoria at a dinner event.
“I’m not shy,” he said with a toothy smile to support that claim. “I’ll walk up to people in C-Town and talk to them. Sometimes that goes over well, sometimes it doesn’t.”
A Growing Community
McCall has noticed that in recent years Astoria’s gay community has increased. “When I first moved out here it wasn’t that gay. A lot of the people who were working in the theater district started moving here and some of them turned out to be gay,” he said. “You have the entire gamut here now.”
Though the changing face of gay life has been uplifted with support from many local politicians, OUT Astoria is not politically aligned – McCall stressed that it is a social group that encourages membership.
“It’s not a political organization,” he said. “We want to make sure people understand that. We don’t do events, we don’t have politicians speak. It’s a social event. It’s come meet your neighbors.”
U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) has supported gay rights throughout his tenure. He has also noticed a change in the culture in Astoria and Jackson Heights.
“The world has become more enlightened and less close-minded in recognizing that the LGBT community is an important part of our shared, larger community,” he said. “Astoria is thriving community, but I would argue that Jackson Heights remains the most diverse and hottest spot in Queens. The food, the mixture of people, different cultures, and great accessibility make Jackson Heights the center of Queens in just about every way.”
McCall agrees, saying he’d like to see a gay bar open in Astoria in the near future. He explained that “Jackson Heights has more of the nightlife than Astoria, but it is a different nightlife compared to Manhattan.” He said that in addition to being primarily Latino, “it seems to be more couples. Astoria has more single people.”
OUT Astoria is also a support group. After Moran and his partner were victims of a hate crime last summer, “we were all really shaken up about it, but I was truly inspired by the overwhelming amount of support we received from the Astoria community,” he said. “I really wanted to take an active part in making Astoria a comfortable place for its LGBT community which is quickly growing”.
McCall urged anyone interested in joining or looking for information to check out www.outastoria.com. OUT Astoria is primarily made up of gay men, and McCall would like to see more women involved.
“Usually we have one table of lesbians and we try to get them to split up and meet more of the men but they want to meet each other,” he mused. “We are trying to get more women involved. We do have some bisexuals who show up who are active participants who come regularly.”
There are no membership fees and everything is organized via e-mail, which is an attractive aspect of OUT Astoria.
“You learn about different things – cards, comics, wine tasting,” McCall said. “It’s a social thing.”
Moran and McCall have set the bar high. Moran wants OUT Astoria to permeate into other communities, especially Jackson Heights.
“It would be great to see it expand even further – in other boroughs, etc.,” Moran said. “While we benefit from having a somewhat intimate crowd at times, I think we can really benefit from expanding our member base. The more people we have, the greater the possibilities.”
Source: Queens Tribune