Sunday, March 12 was a day to celebrate in the Throggs Neck section of the Bronx after years of patient and persistent work of hope and hospitality – from exclusion to a warm welcome for the Lavender and Green Alliance in the St. Patrick’s Day parade.
The day started with Mass at St. Benedict’s on Otis Avenue in The Bronx, New York. It was good to be back to the place where we were excluded and arrested 25 years ago!
At the Mass wearing the Lavender and Green Alliance sash, I remembered Stanley Rygor and Barbara Mohr (who always wore her "straight not narrow" button) and their years of advocacy to change a few hearts and minds. 25 years ago, Tom Duane and Christine Quinn were also arrested.
That was 1999. But we turned the experience around. It was the arrests in the Bronx and Brooklyn and Fifth Avenue that led me to begin a new project called St. Pat’s for All.
After Mass, I ran downstairs to extend a thank you to the parade organizers and congratulate the parade honorees. The pipers at the bar/restaurant said, “Brendan I thought you looked familiar. Our pipers back then were not excited about supporting Irish gay inclusion.” I said we all grow and stretch the heart to be more welcoming.
We headed for the parade lineup. A woman looking fabulous in green ran to welcome our banner. “I'm Maya – transgender – so happy to learn that you would be marching today in Throggs Neck, my neighborhood,” she said.
The band from the girls' Catholic school was in front. They wanted photographs. They were excited to see our Lavender and Green Alliance, Muintir Aerach nahEireann banner.
I was reminded of the teenage girls of the Mary Louis Academy years ago supporting their gay religion teacher, me. Youth are underestimated. They are often ahead of their teachers!
A mother came by. She read our banner. Stepped in for a photo to send her gay son and son-in-law!
Everyone has a story. I told her of my beloved friend Jeśus Lebron and the Bronx Christmas Eve welcome from his mother and family extended to me all those years ago that changed my life.
Along the parade route, many cheered. Most looked on in wonder – waves and thumbs up – with a few begrudgers who weren't so sure.
Steven Payne from the Bronx Historical Society brought some flyers for the Have a Heart exhibit (about Jesús’ life of activism) currently at the Bronx Belmont Library.
Renowned community organizer Jennifer Hadlock joined us – it was all grassroots – in a neighborhood parade that was welcoming to our Irish LGBT group and banner. Later we were joined by the Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark.
It was a bit of an adventure getting the banner and the eight-foot painter’s extension pole back to Astoria.
Hospitality is good for the heart. The Bronx welcome was a wonder!
Life is short really. We can show up on the avenue for each other with pride and love!
On Sunday, we were a small group with big hearts and a message of why welcome matters.
It was a big difference from the previous Sunday’s exclusion from the Staten Island St. Patrick’s Day parade.
Back in March 1993 when excluded from the New York City St. Patrick's parade a few of us were invited by Jim Smith, Chris Bauer and other lesbian and gay organizers from Staten Island. Back then we had no idea how long it would take before our Irish parades would extend the welcome to our LGBT groups. We have all been transformed by the experience.
Recalling the welcome and support extended through the years to our Irish LGBT immigrants group I feel a special bond of affection for the community in Staten Island. I brought a rainbow banner designed and signed by Gilbert Baker. The banner has been unfurled as a symbol of hope and solidarity in Poland, Ireland, and Mexico, and now in Staten Island.
I said as LGBTQ persons we take nothing for granted. We show up. We rise.
Next stop, Fifth Avenue on Friday, March 17.
*This column first appeared in the March 15 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.