St. Pat’s for All celebrates 25 years of inclusion in Queens

The St. Pat's for All banner, led by a Rainbow Flag, barrels along the parade route.
The St. Pat’s for All banner, led by a Rainbow Flag, barrels along the parade route.
Donna Aceto

St. Pat’s for All (SPFA), the inclusive march in Sunnyside and Woodside, Queens, celebrated its 25th anniversary this weekend, leading off the St. Patrick’s season on Sunday, March 3.

The weather cooperated, unlike previous years, which have featured rain, snow and freezing cold, with the people of Sunnyside able to sit on the sunny side of the street this year. 

Temperatures reached 70-degree mark as pubs and restaurants opened their front windows for people to brunch and parade-watch. The streets were crowded as neighbors (and their dogs) gathered on their front steps, appareled in St. Patrick’s gear.

“Oh, my goddess! Brigid sent the sun!” said co-chair Kathleen Walsh D’arcy, citing the former saint, whose feast day heralds the coming of spring.

Two-and-a-half decades into SPFA, it’s become a cherished city tradition. But even as the organizers celebrated, they made sure to remind people that the parade was founded because queer people were turned away, and arrested, for trying to participate in the Manhattan St. Patrick’s Day parade, run by the Ancient Order of Hibernians, for years. 

The times they are a changing: SPFA founder and former City Council Member Danny Dromm, who was once arrested for protesting the Fifth Avenue parade, is now the CFO of the event. 

One of the last holdouts of the “no gay” parades in the area, on Staten Island, also marched on Sunday, knowing that the island will hold its first inclusive parade on March 17. 

The St Pats for All-Stars entertained before the march. Brian Fleming, the Irish drummer who has coordinated music and concerts for the parade and concert for 24 years, led the group, which included a platform for members of the Niall O Leary School of Irish Dance to perform. This year’s All-Stars included Gerry Arias, Chris Murphy, Aifric Prunty, Dylan James, Daphne Faulkner, and Rick Faulkner.

The crowd watched as the corner of 43rd St. and Skillman Avenue was honored as “St. Pat’s for All Way.” Council Member Julie Won of Queens sponsored and helped unveil the new street sign, which she said “celebrates the LGBTQIA+ and Irish leaders, organizers, and activists who created an inclusive space for our neighbors right here in Queens.”

Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez next to the sign marking the newly-renamed street in honor of St. Pat's for All.
Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez next to the sign marking the newly-renamed street in honor of St. Pat’s for All.Donna Aceto

Then it was time for the speeches, on a stage provided by Council Member Shrekar Krishnan of Queens, an ally who has been the target of violence and vandalism for supporting LGBTQ+ people. Krishnan brought his young son to the parade.

Dromm acted as MC, bringing on the parade’s co-chairs, special guests, grand marshals, and elected leaders.

It was a point of pride for some to say they’d marched for years, with some 25-year veterans. The first major politician to march in 1999 was then-First Lady Hillary Clinton. Since then, it’s become an important event for elected officials and candidates from US senators and representatives, state officials, and more. Nearly every mayor has marched, except for current Mayor Eric Adams, who attended prior to becoming mayor.

This year’s grand marshals were Northern Irish actress Geraldine Hughes and Dennis Brownlee, founder and president of the African American Irish Diaspora Network (AAIDN).

“I was thinking they meant some other Geraldine Hughes,” the actress joked before the parade. “What I love abut it is the unity, the joy, the sense of community in this celebration.” Hughes, who has appeared in dozens of films and tv shows, also wrote and performed a solo play, “Belfast Blues,” about growing up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

Brownlee said he was introduced to the Irish culture and heritage by friends and began to research the intersecting history of Black and Irish people and started his organization to deepen the ties and broaden business and cultural exchange. Brownlee also discovered he has some Irish heritage, with a DNA test revealing he’s 3% Irish.

Representatives of the Irish government were present, as they have been for many years. Helena Nolan is the latest Consul-General to march in the parade, and she was joined at the podium by Jerry Buttimer, the first openly gay Cathaoirleach (leader of the Irish Senate), who spoke movingly of Irish and other immigrants who “came to this great city to be who they are.” 

Buttimer pointed out that 25 years ago, he could have lost his job in Ireland as a teacher for being gay, and praised the strides made in Ireland, including their enshrining marriage equality in their Constitution.

Dromm introduced most of the elected officials for a word, including State Comptroller Thomas di Napoli, who has invested NY State Pension funds in Northern Ireland; Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who wondered why the city issues permits for event that discriminate against LGBTQ people (the Staten Island parade); and City Council Member Keith Powers (D-Manhattan), chair of the Irish Caucus of the City Council.

Grand Marshals Dennis Brownlee and Geraldine Hughes with co-chair Kathleen Walsh D'Archy and Daniel Dromm.
Grand Marshals Dennis Brownlee and Geraldine Hughes with co-chair Kathleen Walsh D’Archy and Daniel Dromm.Donna Aceto

Councilmember Won said New York is a city of immigrants which welcomes immigrants. Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez of the Bronx and Queens gave a rousing speech, calling for “gloves off for the working class to stand in support of one another.” 

New York State Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens proudly said he’s marched in all the St. Pat’s for All Parades “since it was controversial, until today, when we are still fighting for the great issues.”

Out lesbian Councilmember Lynn Schulman of Queens has also marched every year, and remembered how much her late partner, Adelaide Connaughton, loved it.

Longtime Congresswoman Nydia Vazquez, who became a Queens rep in the last redistricting, called the parade “one of the most beautiful parades in New York City, where the workers send the clear message that immigrants make America, America!”

David Weprin is another member of the “25 years club,” marching in the parade as a councilmember, then as a New York State assemblymember.

New York Attorney General Letitia James got perhaps the largest hand from the crowd when she spoke, saying it was “an honor and a privilege” to march in the parade again. As always, she joked that her St. Patrick’s name is Tish O’Jameson. When the parade began, James marched with Gays Against Guns

Gays Against Guns with Attorney General Letitia James.
Gays Against Guns with Attorney General Letitia James.Donna Aceto

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams promised that the “historic women majority Council is fighting for the rights of all,” and wished the parade “another 25 years and more.”

Political speech has long been a part of the parade, and some of the speakers called for a ceasefire in Gaza, and several groups marched in support of the Palestinians, including Saoirse Palestine, which is a longtime participant in the parade.

This year’s parade was led by a roaring contingent from the Sirens NYC Women’s Motorcycle Club, followed by The FDNY Emerald Society Pipe and Drum band.

The organizers and grand marshals and special guests followed with the parade banner, and dozens more groups lined up to represent. A parade-goer sprayed clouds of rainbow bubbles into the air.

The parade proceeded up Skillman Avenue, greeted by cheers and occasional heckling (it is New York City, after all)!

The first wave of the parade was led by elected officials, who were also spaced throughout, including Queens District ATtorney Melinda Katz, along with State Senator Kristen Gonzalez of Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan; State Senator Jessica Ramos of Queens; New York City Comptroller Brad Lander; and Assemblymember Juan Ardila of Queens, who is running for re-election despite calls for him to step down after sexual assault accusations last year.

The County Cork Pipe & Drums (est. 1936) followed, pipes skirling and drums beating.

Bagpipers!Donna Aceto

A horse-drawn carriage filled with local children followed. Its annual appearance represents a dynamic tension between activists who don’t think horses should pull carriages in the city, and Irish-Americans, for whom carriage driving is a historic and respected career.

Disability Pride marched next, followed by the Shannon Gaels, the Irish sports association, which offers Irish football, hurling and camogie (another stick-and-ball game) bringing its rolling soccer goal to Skillman Ave. with members enthusiastically kicking balls all over the street.

The Hungry March brought their brass and percussion from Brooklyn.

The Girl Scouts of Greater New York and Queens had perhaps the largest marching group, with dozens of troops from all over the city, Daisies on up, wearing their badge-bedecked vests and cleverly offering Girl Scout cookies for sale.

McManus Irish Dance & Jiggy Tots danced by next, followed by Cub Scouts and Scouts BSA.

PS 11, the Kathryn Phelan School, which is on the parade route, marched with students, parents, and (of course) dogs.

They were followed by Irish for Racial Justice and the young members of the Sunnyside Drum Corps, (since 1977) in their yellow and white uniforms.

St. Pat's for All volunteers decked out in orange and green.
St. Pat’s for All volunteers enjoy the festivities.Donna Aceto

Cumann Chaitlin agus Thomais Ui Chleirigh (Gaelic speakers) were followed by the Brehon Law Society, then the Asian Jade Society of the NYPD, and County Laois.

Parade stalwarts The Irish Rep Theater and Irish-American Writers and Artists came next, along with The New York Irish Center (Queens).

Queens-based Fogo Azul, the all-women, trans, and non-binary band of drummers, thundered their way down the street, followed by the O’Donnell Academy of Irish Dance.

Fogo Azul drums along.
Fogo Azul drums along.Donna Aceto

The Ethical Humanist Society of Queens led off a section that featured peace organizations, including the New York Campaign to Abolish Nuclear War, Queens against Nukes, Veterans for Peace and SWMA for Liberation. 

A colorful group, dressed up as fruits and vegetables, and other ingredients of compost, marched as the Compost Carnival.

Spectators cheered the Lavender & Green Alliance, the first LGBTQ+ group in the Manhattan Parade, which continues to march in both SPFA and on Fifth Avenue each year.

Another group of spectators that’s shown up for 25 years, waving homophobic signs, continued their strange mission at the corner of 49th St. and Skillman Ave. (or “the corner of hate and bigotry,” one spectator commented.)

Demonstrators wave signs on the sidelines.
Demonstrators wave signs on the sidelines.Donna Aceto

Next was the CUNY LGBTIA Consortium, followed by the Stonewall Democrats, the LGBTQ Network, and the Queens County Young Democrats.

The Queer Big Apple Corps (formerly the Lesbian & Gay Big Apple Corps) brought their musical stylings and purple uniforms.

They were followed by another 25-year group, Dignity NY, the organization for queer Catholics.

The Hillcrest High School Marching Band from Jamaica Hills and the Marching Cobras NYC drumline continued to bring the thunder, as well as the Rude Mechanical Orchestra.

A gaggle of beauty queens turned up, included Miss City of New York, Miss Five Boroughs, Miss Queens and Miss Subways ’23, followed by Cheer New York, the LGBTQ+ and ally cheer squad.

Woodside/Sunnyside Runners walked, not ran, followed by the Queensboro Dance Festival, featuring three different groups, including one dressed as parrots performing a Colombian dance.

Another group that’s marched many times, Transportation Alternatives, was followed by Open Streets Jackson Heights 34th Ave., a contingent from Community Board 2, and Woodside on the Move, which advocates for tenants, and provides community programs.

The marchers continued with the Kiwanis Club, Queens Training Club, and everyone’s favorite — the Sunnyside Urban Dog Society (SUDS Mutts), with dozens of festive dog and human marchers, ranging from tiny fluffballs to a Great Dane the size of a small car.

Attorney General Letitia James.
Attorney General Letitia James.Donna Aceto

The truck bearing the musicians and dancers, signaling the end of the parade (but not the festivities), reached the top of the slope of Skillman, heading into Woodside.

The party continued at bars and pubs in Sunnyside and Woodside, with people continuing to throng the streets after the parade was over.

And perhaps when they got home, they realized they’d acquired the season’s first sunburn!