Queens, NY
United States
Astoria, 34th St between Broadway & 34th Ave Stanley, Kathleen & Robert Rygor Way since 2 May 2022
one name
Astoria Street To Bear Name Of Pioneering LGBT Activist Family
The Astoria block where Stanley and Kathleen Rygor lived for 67 years and became unlikely activists will be named for them and their son.

ASTORIA, QUEENS — The Rygor family no longer lives in the small house just off Broadway where they raised five children, became beloved Astoria figures, and got active in the LGBT rights movement following the untimely death of their son. But on Saturday, the block of 34th Street that Stanley and Kathleen Rygor called home for 67 years will be co-named for them and their son Robert, following a grassroots push from those who knew them.

Stanley, who died in 2019 at age 93, had lived in Astoria since childhood, while Kathleen, who died at 91 last April, hailed from County Offaly, Ireland. In 1951, shortly after she arrived in New York and a few years after Stanley returned from World War II, the two met at an Irish dance in Manhattan. "The first time I saw her, I thought she was beautiful beyond belief," Stanley told the neighborhood blog Astoria Characters in 2009. "I thought he was handsome, too," Kathleen added. They married the following year and soon moved to the 34th Street home, where they brought up their five kids — including Robert, born in 1953. As Kathleen stayed at home, Stanley worked his way up the Wall Street communications firm Doremus, where he began as a mailroom worker and ended up a vice president.

In the 1960s, the Rygors were swept up in the Civil Rights Movement, hosted meetings for the Queens NAACP and hung a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. on their living room wall, according to a dossier compiled by friends and family in support of the street co-naming. When Robert, their eldest son, came out as gay, "they gave him full love and support," neighbor Lauran Epstein Ballinger wrote.

Starting in the 1970s, Robert Rygor joined the city's burgeoning LGBT activism scene, protesting the city's Saint Patrick's Day Parade for excluding gay marchers and becoming the first openly gay man to run for a seat in the New York state legislature in 1980, according to a history by CUNY Queens College. Rygor became a prominent community activist, pushing for the restoration of Washington Square Park and organizing for sex education in schools and diversification of the city's educational curriculum, according to the Queens College biography.

In 1990, Rygor was diagnosed with AIDS during the epidemic's peak in New York City. He devoted himself to the cause, soon joining the famed activist group ACT UP as their workspace manager, urging the Democratic Party to include AIDS awareness and funding in their platform, and traveling to Cameroon in 1992 for the International Conference on AIDS in Africa.
In 1994, just five days before his death, Rygor wrote to ACT UP's internal newsletter, saying he could not wait to be released from the hospital where he was being treated. "That day I will feel more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound," he wrote, according to the CUNY history. "I will be back with my friends I love and can't wait to hold you in my arms."

His grieving parents adopted the cause as their own, advocating for AIDS awareness, same-sex marriage and LGBT rights. Stanley became a regular at the inclusive St. Pat's for All parade in Sunnyside, and would travel around the city with the nonprofit Irish AIDS Outreach to tell his son's story. "Their advocacy was key to changing minds and hearts in Queens," Fay wrote, describing the Rygors' presence at a 2009 Astoria rally for marriage equality.

The campaign to co-name the block "Stanley, Kathleen & Robert Rygor Way" was spearheaded by Brendan Fay, an Astoria-based LGBT activist, and shepherded by former Queens City Councilmember Danny Dromm.
Those in attendance for Saturday's 2 p.m. ceremony outside The Trestle restaurant will include Rygor family members, City Comptroller Brad Lander, City Councilmember Tiffany Cabán and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, among others.

Photos © Nick Garber Patch
(1) A street sign on the corner of Broadway and 34th Street, which will be unveiled Saturday as "Stanley, Kathleen & Robert Rygor Way."
(2) The Astoria home where Stanley and Kathleen Rygor lived for 67 years, and where they raised their five children.
Photo © Nancy A. Ruhling (AstoriaCharacters.com)
(3) Kathleen and Stanley Rygor, pictured in 2009 at their home on 34th Street.

29 April 2022
Nick Garber, New York City