If you’re not from New York City, Ms. Colombia, aka Oswaldo Gomez, may never have caught your eye. But rest assured, that’s exactly what she did. She floated through space, sometimes seemingly through time, and commanded your attention.
Ms. Colombia, an icon of New York City’s gay community and a cornerstone of the Jackson Heights, Queens queer community, was found dead in the waters off Jacob Riis Park, AKA New York City’s gay beach, in the early hours of Wednesday morning, Gothamist reports. Though they suspect no foul play, police are investigating.
Ms. Colombia’s cheeks were not rosy — they were a halcyon pink, usually standing in contrast to her dyed beard, usually green or sometimes gold. One of my favorite things about Ms. Colombia was that she always forced someone who encountered her to contemplate the possibilities of queerness. She practiced a queer liberatory aesthetic in the way she lived. I saw her as regal and free.
In an interview for a documentary about her life, Ms. Colombia said she was a lawyer who moved to New York from Medellín, Colombia in the 1970s. She was diagnosed with HIV in 1988 and that diagnosis allowed her to live “day by day” as she wanted.
“Happiness is the best way, and that’s why I’m still alive,” she said. “I love New York because of this freedom, I can do my own style, nobody bothering me.”
Many people paid tribute to her on social media upon news of her passing.
— José Martínez (@JoseMartiNews) October 4, 2018
“She was beloved by all who saw her in the streets, at parades, and in the neighborhood wearing her colorful outfits and a bird on her shoulder,” New York City Council Member Daniel Dromm said in a statement. “Her cheerfulness and ability to bring a smile to the faces of all who met her will be missed by all New Yorkers…While life did not always treat Ms. Colombia with all the respect she was due, New Yorkers will remember Ms. Colombia as a hero to everyone.”
So sad about the death of La Paisa, #MsColombia (a.k.a. Osvaldo Gomez). Ms. Colombia was not only at all parades in #JacksonHeights & a beloved figure. About 15 years ago I was at a @Mets game at #SheaStadium & there was Ms. Colombia walking around defiant & proud! #QueensValues pic.twitter.com/KaworbTIZk
— Jimmy Van Bramer (@JimmyVanBramer) October 4, 2018
My heart is BROKEN. Ms. Colombia was a saint and the soul of Jackson Heights and beyond. She will be greatly missed. See you all at the vigil, being organized now. 'Beloved Queens LGBT icon "Ms. Colombia" found dead at Rockaway Beach' https://t.co/7zGIum4G84
— You people are donkey (@bani_amor) October 4, 2018
RIP Ms. Colombia: one of the most quintessential New York characters that embodied the freedom and liberty, and beauty that this city offers.
— Samy Nemir-Olivares (@Samynemir) October 4, 2018
— Adam Nelson (@workhousepr) October 4, 2018
— John M. Blasco 白斯高 (@JBlascoNYC) October 4, 2018
Rest in power, Ms. Colombia.
Photo credit: Twitter/ @air11Bert