Once again this year, the organizers of the Staten Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade are refusing to allow the Pride Center of Staten Island, the borough’s center for the LGBTQ community, to march with its banner.
According to Carol Bullock, the Pride Center’s executive director, she attended a registration event for the March 3 parade this past Sunday, where she was told that its organizers had held a vote and decided the Center’s visible participation would “go against the tenets of the Catholic Church.”
Bullock said that Larry Cummings, the event’s president, told her the Center was welcome to march without any identifying signs or dress. When she responded that the Center’s desire to march with its banner was not intended to raise a discussion about LGBTQ issues but rather to “celebrate our Irish identity,” Cummings, Bullock said, insisted that the banner “promoted homosexual lifestyles.”
Bullock told Cummings that he doesn’t seem to understand the Center’s mission and invited him to visit for a tour. She also said, “You know I’ll be back against next year, Larry.”
Regarding the hostility the Center has faced in its effort to join the parade, Bullock said, “It’s why we exist. It’s the kind of discrimination that people as individuals face every day.”
Bullock said, however, that she has been buoyed by the support the Pride Center has received from individuals and organizations in the borough.
James Oddo, Staten Island’s Republican borough president, in a February 15 tweet, wrote, “I look forward to marching next month, and time has long since passed that we include the @pridecenterSI. What a unifying moment it would be for our borough to reach an accord and have all of SI enjoying this happy day.”
Nearly 30 groups — including religious congregations and coalitions, labor unions, cultural institutions, and political clubs — signed on to a letter urging the parade organizers to allow the Pride Center to participate.
In a written statement, out gay City Council Speaker Corey Johnson voiced his “outrage,” saying, “This ban sends the message that being LGBTQ is something you should hide. The overwhelming majority of Irish citizens who made history in 2015 when they voted to legalize same-sex marriage certainly didn’t think the LGBTQ community had anything to hide. Let’s take their lead and bring the same spirit of inclusiveness here.”
Even in criticizing the ban on her group, however, Bullock struck a conciliatory tone. The parade, she wrote in an email message, “is an important event on Staten Island for the community and Irish who live here. It’s a great day, so we are not looking to ruin that, and that is why we want to march.”
The Pride Center is not calling for a boycott of the parade because of its exclusion, and Bullock said she and others from her group will be on hand to watch. Bullock has been invited to a VIP breakfast prior to the parade, which is hosted by Staten Island officials separate from the parade organizers.
Last year, the Pride Center skipped the Staten Island event, choosing instead to march the same day in the inclusive St. Pat’s For All Parade in Queens, which was originally launched as an alternative to Manhattan’s massive St. Patrick’s Day Parade that until several years ago also excluded LGBTQ groups carrying any self-identifying signs.
“It’s such a great event,” Bullock said of the Staten Island parade in explaining why she remained enthusiastic about an event that continues to exclude open LGBTQ participation.
The Pride Center’s letter to the parade organizers identifies the Ancient Order of Hibernians — the group that long resisted LGBTQ participation in the Manhattan parade, until it surrendered control of that event — as the organizers of the Staten Island parade. Jack King, a leader of one of the borough’s AOH divisions, will be the grand marshal on March 3 and he did immediately not respond to a request for comment.
The event’s Facebook page links to the Staten Island Cultural Center and Irish Fair. That group also did not respond to a request for comment and its phone number does not take messages.