Inclusion the ‘Rage’ in Queens, But St. Pat’s Discriminates Elsewhere

St. Pat’s For All grand marshals Aidan Connolly and Pauline Turley from the Irish Arts Center. | GRCC

St. Pat’s For All grand marshals Aidan Connolly and Pauline Turley from the Irish Arts Center. | GRCC

The St. Pat’s for All Parade through Sunnyside and Woodside, Queens brought together Irish and non-Irish, gay and straight, young and old, Democrat and Republican, and Catholic and Muslim — not to mention a long line of Brownie troops — in the 14th edition of this “inclusive” event. The March 3 parade started as an answer to St. Patrick’s parades around the city — particularly the monster event on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue — that continue to forbid the participation of Irish groups that identify as LGBT.

The Fifth Avenue parade, set for March 16 (since St. Patrick’s Day itself falls on a Sunday), is maintaining its policy of excluding Irish LGBT groups and will once again be boycotted by political leaders — mostly Democrats — who object to the ban.

Sunnyside parade draws leading pols, but Fifth Avenue, city-supported Staten Island events exclude gays

The Staten Island St. Pat’s Parade on March 17 will also be boycotted by most pro-gay leaders, though it continues to receive public funding from the City Council through a member-item allocation from Councilwoman Debbie Rose, a Democrat from that borough. That allocation is made in spite of Council rules that state, “All public funds, however awarded, must be used for a city purpose” and must support an activity “open to members of the public, regardless of race, creed, gender, religious affiliation, etc., without restriction, and which does not promote a particular religion.”

Gay City News asked City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to explain the funding of the private, religious, exclusionary event and got an email from her press spokesman, Jamie McShane, that read, “The Council allows Members to sponsor funding for local initiatives that have a public purpose and comply with all federal, state, and local laws. Courts have held that parade organizers can control their own messages. Each allocation in the Council’s discretionary budget is not a reflection of the Council’s views as a whole.”

McShane did not respond to a follow-up question about how the Staten Island event was in compliance with the Council rule that events funded not discriminate.

Speaking at St. Pat’s for All, City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, an out gay Sunnyside Democrat, said, “I don’t believe the city should support exclusionary parades at all.”

Members of the Gay Officers Action League show their colors. | GRCC

Members of the Gay Officers Action League show their colors. | GRCC

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Republican mayoral hopeful Joe Lhota, a former Giuliani deputy mayor, made the scene at the inclusive parade, saying they wish the big one in Manhattan were open to gay contingents as well, but would nevertheless march in Manhattan.

“I’ll do everything I can to convince everybody that they should be able to march,” Lhota said.

Councilman Daniel Dromm, a Jackson Heights Democrat and longtime gay activist, said that gay inclusion on Fifth Avenue was “a far way off. I’m sending a letter to my colleagues reminding them why I don’t march.”

He, too, opposes Council funding for the Staten Island event. Corey Johnson, a candidate for the Council from Chelsea who turned out for the Sunnyside event, echoed the views of Dromm and Van Bramer.

There will once again be a protest of the Manhattan parade’s exclusionary policy on March 16 at 10:30 a.m. on the west side of Fifth Avenue between 56th and 57th Streets. It will be run by an ad hoc group of demonstrators led by Ed Pass, who has protested the parade for decades.

“A parade intended to honor Ireland and Irish culture has succeeded in becoming an embarrassment, a relic tainted by bigotry and shunned by most New York politicians and Irish leaders,” Pass wrote in an email.

Emmaia Gelman of Irish Queers, which has led the protest for many years, wrote in an email, “This year, Irish Queers is handing off the parade protest to some of the committed protesters who have stood alongside IQ for many years. While spectators on the sidelines are vastly more supportive now than [when we] started out 22 years ago, the parade organizers and the Catholic Church are intransigent in their bigotry. We still believe it's illegal for the NYPD to march in the parade in their uniformed, official capacity. The fact that they do march underlines how deeply anti-queer bias is entrenched — it's the same unenlightened police department that terrorizes communities of color with stop and frisk.”

Hilary Beirne, an officer of the Fifth Avenue parade, told the Wall Street Journal this month that allowing gay Irish groups to march with any signifiers such as a banner or sash would be “contrary to what the parade stands for,” which she said was “a celebration of Irish faith, Irish heritage, and Irish culture.”

The boycott and protest of the Manhattan parade began as a result of the Irish Gay and Lesbian Organization (ILGO) being denied a place in the line of march with their banner in 1991. That year, Mayor David Dinkins worked out a compromise where ILGO marched with him within Division 7 of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), a chapter of the group that runs the parade. He and the gay marchers were met with jeers and tossed beer cans, and parade organizers made sure ILGO would have no visible presence in the parade again.

In the early 1990s, thousands of LGBT people and allies turned out for massive protests of the parade, with many notables getting arrested including Quinn, former State Senator Tom Duane, and Brendan Fay, who went on to be a co-founder of the St. Pat’s for All Parade.

Quinn, who enjoys a wide lead in the polls in the race for the Democratic mayoral nomination this year, will continue to boycott the Manhattan parade along with all the other Democratic contenders — Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Comptroller John Liu, former Comptroller Bill Thompson, and former City Councilman Sal Albanese. It was Albanese on the Council in 1984 who was the first to propose that the city adopt the MacBride Principles by divesting of investments in Northern Ireland until persecution of the Catholic minority there ended.

State Senator Tony Avella, a Democratic candidate for Queens Borough President, and Councilwoman Tish James, a Brooklyn Democrat running for Public Advocate, also marched in the inclusive Queens event and will boycott the Fifth Avenue march.

All of the Republican candidates for mayor plan to march in the Fifth Avenue parade — Lhota, publisher Tom Allon, George McDonald of the Doe Fund, and John Catsimatidis, the owner of Gristedes and Red Apple supermarkets. Independence Party candidate Adolfo Carrion, a former Obama administration official who previously served as Bronx borough president, will also march on March 16.

Marchers carry a banner in memory of Father Mychal Judge, the gay Fire Department chaplain killed on 9/11. | GRCC

Marchers carry a banner in memory of Father Mychal Judge, the gay Fire Department chaplain killed on 9/11. | GRCC

The inclusive St. Pat’s for All Parade got a boost this year from the New York Times with a story that ran the day before titled, “Parade Started for Outcasts is Now All the Rage.” Fay was quoted saying the participation of the New York Fire Department’s Emerald Society Pipes and Drums Corps meant “the tide has turned for us.” The Emerald Society has typically supported keeping gay groups out of the Fifth Avenue event, referring to them as “perverts” years ago.

For the third year in a row, St. Pat’s for All was fêted at a reception at the home of Irish Consul General Noel Kilkenny and his wife, Hanora O’Dea Kilkenny, on February 19. The event honored this year’s grand marshals — Pauline Turley and Aidan Connolly from the Irish Arts Center, a cultural center that celebrates both the traditions and the dynamic character of the home county. The crowd was treated to a serenade from Irish legend Malachy McCourt, the writer, actor, and raconteur.

Fay, who co-chairs the parade with Kathleen Walsh D’Arcy, noted the inclusion of a Turkish group in their parade this year, based on the aid Turkey gave to Ireland in the famine of the 1850s. “They say they love the diversity,” he explained.

Kilkenny was also on hand on March 3 at the Queens parade. He told Gay City News, “In Ireland, there is no exclusion whatsoever” in St. Patrick’s Day parades. Responding to that fact, an official of the Fifth Avenue parade once told me, “In Ireland? They’re liberals!”

Quinn, Liu, and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, a candidate for city comptroller, agreed that change will come to Fifth Avenue.

“The world is changing. You can’t stop progress,” Stringer said.

But it seems as if it will take the luck of the Irish to get anywhere with the organizers of the Manhattan parade.