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Passionate anger, raw emotion, and fervent solidarity filled the air as neighbors, friends, activists and politicians gathered together Wednesday evening for a candlelit vigil to honor the life of Julio Ramirez, who died after leaving a Hell’s Kitchen bar on April 21.
“We can no longer have our queer community not be safe. We have to protect one another — especially now with this sweet person’s life taken, as well as the rights of the queer community being rolled back. This is the time for us to band together as a community so we uplift Julio, his life and his family,” said activist and drag artist Marti Gould Cummings at the emotional rally in Times Square.
“I didn’t know Julio, but I am a neighbor — and anything bad that happens in this neighborhood bothers me,” said organizer Catie Savage as she gathered community members on the steps in front of the Ritz Bar and Lounge for a moment of silence. “So to hear about this and repeatedly see what’s going on, and know that this happened in April — it’s taking so long to finally get some answers,” she added. “I want to make sure that the Hell’s Kitchen community is aware of what happened, because it’s PRIDE month. We’re going to have a lot of people coming out here from all over the city, all over the state, all over the country and the world who may have never been in New York City and don’t know the things to look out for, and make sure they and their friends are safe during this time.”
New York State senator Brad Hoylman and City Council member Erik Bottcher joined nearly 100 mourners as they marched from Restaurant Row — where Julio was last seen alive — to the center of Times Square for a rally to demand progress in the case.
As the crowd reached the stage, Karinina Quimpo spoke of her friend Julio, and her eyes filled with tears as she recounted his love for Hell’s Kitchen. “I was so proud of him for being so confident, making so many friends out here — he was just blooming into the person that he became. I heard wonderful things about the nightlife in Hell’s Kitchen. What happened to Julio is a great shame. It’s a shame that nothing is being done about this, that we need to talk about this. I’m hoping that we’re able to find answers,” Quimpo said.
“What occurred around the block from my childhood home is unacceptable,” said Hell’s Kitchen native and Manhattan Community Board member Chris LeBron. “What has happened over the last two and a half years is unacceptable. When we speak about Hell’s Kitchen, we speak about it as our home. Every visitor, every resident, every patron at one of our establishments are our neighbors, friends, and loved ones. This is PRIDE month, and we have to be absolutely aware of our surroundings and we need to treat each other like family. We need to speak up and say something when individuals are most vulnerable — whether you’re in a club, a bar or walking on the sidewalk, you matter,” he added.
Several speakers emphasized a continued need for vigilance and solidarity in the queer community in the wake of little movement in the investigation by investigators. “Who keeps us safe? We keep us safe!” shouted activist Jason Rosenberg, adding: “I say that because we have a load of policemen over there. And I want to say it loud and clear to them because they do not keep us safe. I did not know you Julio, but do know the countless, the queer and trans bodies that have been long neglected by the state.” Zara Nasir, Deputy Director of Community Organizing and Public Advocacy at the New York City Anti-Violence Project handed out help hotline cards to the crowd and implored them to reach out for harm reduction and safety resources.
As the crowd chanted for justice, Gould Cummings said: “When you go to the club, look out for your friends, make sure they’re being taken care of, and hold each other — because while the rest of the world wants to come after us, it’s us instead that is going to be there to protect one another!”