Puerto Rican and LGBT activists say a Queens car shop refused to drive them along the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade route on Sunday bearing rainbow versions of their national flag.
"One of them saw my rainbow flag, and they said that they didn't want their vehicles associated," LGBT and human rights activist Pedro Julio Serrano told DNAInfo this week. Astoria-based The Custom Shop reportedly told Serrano and the others that they could ride without the flags. The group refused, choosing to walk the parade's Fifth Avenue route instead.
Ululy Martinez, vice chair of operations for the parade, told the news outlet that he believed the owner of the company took issue. According to Martinez, the man said that rainbow flags would "undermine the image of his business." The company had initially volunteered five of its Jeeps to participate in the parade.
Reached by phone, an employee of The Custom Shop referred us to his attorney, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Posting on the company's Yelp page this week, one person who claims to know The Custom Shop's owner, Brett, alleged that he didn't want the rainbow flags to cover his shop logo, and "accepts everybody for who they are":
Addressing the whole Puerto Rican day parade incident ; I know the owner of the shop is NOT a homophobe at all . He accepts everybody for who they are ! Brett, the owner of TheCustomShop , just didn't want your logo on top of their logo because they wanted to represent THECUSTOMSHOP. Why would you want to put your logo over theirs ?! Like that doesn't make any sense . If I was Brett , I wouldn't want nobody to put their logos over my logos neither . He never once said that he didn't want you guys in the car because your LGBT , he just didn't want the flags over their logo - that was all . This whole thing about them being gay has nothing to do with it .
This Serrano guy is doing the most & blowing everything out of proportion honestly . I love the LGBT family , I respect them as well since I have a few in my family . But when it's like when you don't get something you want , the first thing that comes to mind is , " because I'm gay " - when in Brett's case , that wasn't it . All Brett wanted to do was represent his Company & he even wanted to donate 5 jeeps. He didn't deny them a car ride , he just wanted to represent THE CUSTOM SHOP & Serrano just wanted drape the whole car with their flags , which I don't think is fair to the custom shop.
Serrano, who is openly HIV+ and directs the social justice group Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, has since posted an impassioned video to Facebook, denouncing the alleged homophobic act in the wake of such staggering tragedy.
"Do you see this flag?" he says. "This flag represents the Boricua LGBT people. And the people who were supposed to honor me, and the other honorees of the LGBT community, they decided to get out of here because they didn't want to carry gay people."
"This is homophobia when on the day before... 48 people were killed in a club in Orlando. Where 45 people were injured because they are gay. They are discriminating against us in our own parade when this parade is being dedicated to the LGBT community."
He did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the allegations outlined in the Yelp review.
Parade organizers posted a tribute to the Pulse victims on Facebook this week, noting the size and strength of the Puerto Rican community in Orlando:
In #Orlando, a city with over 600,000 Puerto Ricans and a community that we also paid tribute in 2016, we lost many members of our own community because of an act of hatred. Now, more than ever, these acts of hate will fuel the Parade Board to continue spreading the message that #FamiliaEsFamilia ( #FamilyIsFamily) and #AmorEsAmor ( #LoveIsLove).
LGBT activists marching in the Puerto Rican Day Parade on Sunday (via Facebook).
Towards the end of his video, Serrano reiterates his commitment to the rainbow Puerto Rican flag. "You know what, this flag and what I stand for will always be here and we are not going to be silenced, we are not going to be shunned, we are not going to ostracized," he says. "We are part of this community. We are human beings. We are Puerto Ricans. And we are not going to let this go."