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 Antonio 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 (@JBlascoNYC) October 4, 2018
View this post on Instagram
Rest In Power Ms. Colombia 🇨🇴. From GLC board member @esoto101: ‘’Life was not always kind to Ms. Colombia, but she gave so much of herself and brought so much joy to the community. We love you Ms. Colombia. I hope you are in a better place. Thank you for being in my life and for showing us what happiness looks and feels like. We will miss you.’’ More from @queerart 🌺 More than 30 years ago Ms. Colombia found out she was HIV positive, which prompted her to begin dressing wildly and having fun. 🌺 The doctor told her she had only a year left to live, and it was then she realized the importance of each day, she said. ‘’Past is past,’’ she said. ‘’Present is the gift from the gods. Use the present, because you no have tomorrow.’’ || #mscolombia #jacksonheights #queens #nyc #pride🌈 #instagay
View this post on Instagram
#RIP #MsColombia 😢 🇨🇴 💃🏻”You have to live day by day.” ——— Ms. Colombia was a #NewYorker, #Queer and #Latinx #street star that embodied the freedom and liberty, and beauty that this city offers. Someone who live bold, breaking down gender norms and inspiring others with joy, color and beauty. Ms. Colombia moved to Queens from Colombia in 1975. In the ’80s she was diagnosed with #HIV and began living her life “day by day.” Osvaldo Gomez, known as the colorful Ms. #Colombia to many New Yorkers, was found dead in the ocean off of Jacob Riis Beach in #Queens. “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,” Council Member Daniel Dromm told the Jackson Heights Post. “Her cheerfulness and ability to bring a smile to the faces of all who met her will be missed by all New Yorkers.” “You have to live day to live. Past is the past. Use the present because you don’t have tomorrow. Nobody has tomorrow. Tomorrow is from the gods,” Ms. Colombia says in the short. “I like to be free… They ask me, are you homo? Are you gay, are you lesbian? And I say, no, I am human being from another planet,” she explains. VIGIL Friday 5PM in Post Office of #JacksonHeights Queens NYC. More details DM @william2nd
Rest in power, Ms. Colombia.
Photo credit: Twitter/ @air11Bert