Where Diversity Is Tradition

As cold winter winds whipped, snow fell, and the sun attempted to break through clouds, activists, politicians, and revelers gathered on Sunday, March 4 for the Eighth Annual St. Pats for All Parade in Sunnyside, Queens. This year attendance at the city's only inclusive St. Patrick's Day parade was bigger than ever, giving many hope that this gathering will soon reach its goal of fundamentally integrating LGBT people into New York's vast Irish-American community.

Parade organizer Brendan Fay enthusiastically noted, “We've got young and old from all over the city, Mexican community groups, the boys and girls from P.S. 59 in the Bronx, the Keltic Dreamers and their teacher who we're honoring, we've got LGBT community groups… and lots of others who simply don't feel welcome in other parades or Fifth Avenue.”

The Ancient Order of Hibernians, organizers of the massive St. Patrick's Day Parade in Manhattan, have for more than a decade refused to allow a contingent of openly gay Irish-Americans.

“We welcome Protestants as well as Catholics as well as Jewish Irish, and as opposed to other parades, we really celebrate all of the Irish diaspora,” said Fay's husband Tom Moulton. He noted that Mexican dancers from the group Cinco de Mayo celebrating San Patricio and members of the NAACP representing Frederick Douglass's trip to Ireland were on hand.

As Grand Marshal Caroline Duggan lined up her troupe of Keltic Dreamers dancers in anticipation of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's arrival, she noted her pride not only at being honored, but also in being able to share her Irish culture with her students, African-American and Latino children from a low-income area of the Bronx.

Queens elected officials appeared just as pleased with the outcome of this year's event, with City Councilman Eric Gioia saying, “What makes this neighborhood great is that for 100 years, people have come from all around the world just to be who they are – to celebrate God the way they choose, to be who God made them, and I'm proud to march with my neighbors, my gay and lesbian friends, and all my friends in this parade. Every parade in New York City should be as free and open as this parade.”

Queens Democratic District Leader Daniel Dromm, also a parade organizer, agreed, saying, “I'm Irish, and I don't have a parade that I can march in as an openly gay man. This is the parade that I can march in and be openly gay and a teacher and a district leader and be proud of all the things that I do in the community.”

Dromm's students from P.S. 199 supported him by marching in the parade.

Openly lesbian City Council Speaker Christine Quinn told Gay City News, “I think this parade is a terrific day in New York. It's the only inclusive St. Patrick's Day parade in New York, and that really sends a message about how we want all of the parades to be, and I just applaud Brendan and Danny and everyone who keeps us going every year.”

When elected officials mounted the dais, Queens Congressman Joseph Crowley took an opportunity to share his views on the inclusive event.

“I think St. Patrick's Day's for everyone, and it's an opportunity for the Irish -not only here in New York, but everywhere – to look back on their roots,” he said.

Shortly after a Native American blessing from a Choctaw Indian chief, Bloomberg arrived to share his comments, as he does every year.

“This is a great day, and another chance for the city to pull together, show its diversity … and I'm just honored Brendan that you've invited me each year,” he said. “I've got a few years as mayor, and after that, if you invite me, I'll still come! Erin go bragh!”

Quinn followed, expressing her pleasure that this year, she would have the opportunity to march in not one inclusive St. Patrick's Day Parade, but two, having been invited by the Irish government to march in the parade in Dublin.

“And for those who don't know, the Dublin St. Patrick's Day Parade has always been inclusive and open to everyone who wants to march,” she told the crowd. “I want to thank them for their role and say how excited we are to have two great opportunities to celebrate all the members of the Irish community, including openly LGBT Irish people.”

Comptroller William Thompson also praised the prevailing diversity of the day, saying, “I do think that the inclusive nature is what makes it special. It gives everyone an opportunity to participate, to march under their banner, to say who they are, and I think that's great.”

Among the many groups marching this year were Stonewall Democrats NYC, Marriage Equality New York, the All City High Marching Band, the Irish American Unity Conference, the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, Metropolitan Community Church of New York, Dignity New York and Brooklyn, and the Quetzcoat Dancers in festive costumes. Riding on a flatbed truck with the band Djembe was Carmen Machado, a New Jersey leader of the marriage equality movement. According to Fay, she and her longtime partner will celebrate their civil union later this week.

“You know, it's cold this morning, we've marched in rain, snow and sleet-already this morning I think we've had a bit of everything,” Fay said. “The Mayor comes, and this parade grows every year, but I look forward to the day when there will be no [separate] parade, and all of us will be welcome.”

The parade marched through Sunnyside to Woodside and culminated in a celebration at the Irish pub Saints and Sinners, an annual tradition.