Two years after organizers of the Fifth Avenue St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Manhattan ended their resistance of a quarter century to participation by openly LGBTQ Irish contingents, leaders of a far smaller St. Patrick’s Day event in Staten Island continue in their refusal to even consider allowing that borough’s queer community center to march.
According to Carol Bullock, executive director of the Pride Center of Staten Island, she and longtime Irish-American gay activist Brendan Fay were rebuffed in their effort to even file an application for the March 4 event when they visited the parade’s registration site at Blessed Sacrament Roman Catholic Church on Manor Road on February 18. Fay, the founder of the LGBTQ Irish group Lavender and Green Alliance, was among the earliest advocates of opening up the Fifth Avenue parade and later launched the inclusive St. Pat’s For All Parade that traverses a route from Sunnyside to Jackson Heights in Queens.
In a written release, Bullock and Fay said that once at the registration site, they were told by Larry Cummings, president of the Staten Island parade, “It’s in our rules we don’t allow that marching here because it’s not compatible with the Church and the Catholic tenets.”
Borough’s Pride Center denied the chance to apply for St. Pat’s Parade
According to the two, Cummings also asserted that by an “overwhelming” vote last year, the Staten Island organizers rejected participation by any group “promoting sexual identification or political agendas.”
Bullock and Fay said they emphasized that the proposed contingent would be made up of Pride Center members and allies and would espouse “no advocacy or political agenda.”
“All we asked was for our Pride Center to march like every other community group — with our banner which has the Pride Center logo and reads Pride Center of Staten Island,” Bullock said. “Our First Amendment, free-speech rights, as well as our desire to march as Irish members of the LBGTQ community, are once again denied. The Ancient Order of Hibernians official motto is Friendship, Unity, and Christian Charity, none of which seem to apply to the LBGTQ community. They are in fact, creating a culture of segregation and division. Members of the LBGTQ community work, live, worship, and contribute to the Staten Island community. Staten Island should have a culture of inclusion and unification.”
Because Cummings would not even accept the Pride Center’s application, the organization will receive no written explanation for the denial of their participation.
According to their release, Fay reminded Cummings that Cardinal Timothy Dolan raised no objections to the integration of the Fifth Avenue parade in 2016 and noted that the Church does not sponsor the event and it is not a “religious activity.”
Fay also pointed to the widespread acceptance of LGBTQ groups in St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Ireland, which now has an out gay prime minister, Leo Varadkar. According to Bullock and Fay, were the prime minister to find himself in Staten Island this coming Sunday he would be allowed to march but not identify himself as gay, Cummings said.
“The exclusion of the Pride Center of Staten Island from the St Patrick’s Parade is wrong,” said Fay, who continues to organize the annual inclusive Queens event, which is also happening on March 4. “Irish people are known for our spirit of hospitality. A cultural event in honor of the Irish and St. Patrick himself, a refugee and immigrant, ought to be welcoming and inclusive. I honestly believed we crossed the threshold on this issue when I marched with Lavender and Green Alliance [in Manhattan] in 2016. In 2018 our work continues. We need to make our cultural gatherings more welcoming and inclusive.”
State Assemblymember Matt Titone, an out gay Democrat who has represented part of the borough since 2007, told Gay City News, “Nowhere in New York State, or anywhere else that I am aware of, are LGBT groups prohibited from celebrating Irish culture and heritage by marching in a parade. It’s sad that a small band of a few Hibernians would keep Staten Island from being in step with the rest of the world and more particularly with the leadership and teachings of the Archdiocese.”
In the years since Irish LGBTQ groups launched the push to march on Fifth Avenue, activists have skirmished over numerous parades around the city, including for a number of years an event in the Throggs Neck section of the Bronx that received City Council funding. One person familiar with the situation in Staten Island said they don’t believe public funding is involved there, but none of the borough’s three councilmembers responded to Gay City News’ question on that point. Cummings did not respond to a text message seeking comment and an answer about that.
Cummings’ comments to the Irish Voice on the question of the Pride Center’s participation tracked what Bullock and Fay said he told them.
“Our parade is not for sexual identification agendas,” the Voice quoted him saying, though the newspaper reported that he claimed the vote on LGBTQ participation happened several years ago, not last year. He also maintained that the Pride Center “applied and was turned down,” while Bullock and Fay said Cummings refused to take their paperwork.
Bullock told Gay City News that the Pride Center will instead march this Sunday in Fay’s St. Pat’s For All Parade in Queens, but vowed to keep applying each year until the Staten Island organizers relent.
“We continue to work for the day when we can celebrate Irish culture and heritage on Staten Island,” she said.
The Queens event kicks off from 43rd Street and Skillman Avenue in Sunnyside at 1 p.m. on Sunday and ends at 58th Street and Woodside Avenue. A concert and reception will be held two evenings earlier, on March 2 at 6 p.m. at the Irish Arts Center at 553 West 51st Street in Manhattan. Tickets are $60. Complete information on the parade and concert are at stpatsforall.org.