A Play Explores the Aftermath of a Gay Man’s Murder in Queens
By BETH HARPAZ
One summer night 29 years ago, a gay Puerto Rican bartender named Julio Rivera was murdered in a schoolyard in Jackson Heights, Queens. He was beaten with a hammer and a beer bottle, and fatally stabbed with a knife. At first, police said the attack was drug-related. But after pressure from family, friends, and the gay community — including a protest attended by hundreds of people — the murder was classified as a bias crime. Prosecutors said three men connected to a skinhead gang targeted Rivera because he was gay. The response to the crime helped catalyze LGBTQ activism in Queens, which paved the way for the borough’s annual Pride parade and the eventual election of two gay City Council members.
A new play by Queensborough Community College Professor C. Julian Jimenez explores the aftermath and impact of Rivera’s murder. The play, Julio Down by the School Yard, runs June 27, 28, and 29, at Manhattan’s Intar Theatre (500 W. 52nd St., 7 p.m., $10).
The play unfolds the day after the murder. “The community reacts and is taken on a journey of self-discovery by a fabulously unapologetic queen personifying the beauty and brutality of Jackson Heights,” Jimenez said in an email interview. The show examines “the political and societal environment of Jackson Heights,” along with the fear and outrage that led to the borough’s first public demonstration against homophobia.” But it “does not follow a traditional narrative,” echoing the “non-traditional lives” that many “LGBTQIA+ people are often forced to follow.” The story also explores “how marginalized communities deal with grief.”
Jimenez said Rivera’s murder is significant because “it was the first hate crime tried in New York State.” He added that “Queer People of color are … now being threatened by the current administration. The play is a reminder of where we came from and how much further we have to go.”
Rivera’s murder also inspired a 2016 documentary, Julio of Jackson Heights.