Neither the mini-blizzard conditions nor the fifteen minute late mayor dented the spirit's of the St. Pat's For All inclusive parade marchers in Sunnyside and Woodside Queens on Sunday.
As it has since it debuted in 1999 the parade brought out the top tier of the cities Democratic leaders, many of whom have already announced they will not be marching in the Fifth Avenue parade again this year over the ongoing ban on Irish gay groups marching.
When asked if he would march in the Fifth Avenue parade after taking the unprecedented decision not to last year, Mayor De Blasio said at this point he's in discussion with the parade leaders and is not ready to make that commitment.
“I hope for some more progress with the parade in Manhattan, but there’s still time and we look forward to some additional discussion,” he said.
A single LGBT group marching in this years parade is a very narrow concession, Mayor De Blasio said, adding that he would like to see something more inclusive.
“A lot of people feel, and I think rightfully, that that is too small a change to merit a lot of us participating who have wanted to see an inclusive parade,” he said before dashing to the podium to greet the crowds.
Started in 1999 as an all-embracing answer to the ongoing ban on Irish gay groups marching in the main Fifth Avenue parade, St. Pat's for all has grown from a protest into to an expression of Irish heritage that brings out the local crowds.
This years grand marshals this year were Kerry Kennedy and Tony winning Irish actor Brian F. O'Byrne.
The daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, the longtime human rights activist told IrishCentral: “I remember as a child my grandmother Rose Kennedy bringing me up to the attic of her house where she had scrapbooks. She had cut out clips of newspaper help wanted ads from when she was a kid that said No Irish Need Apply.
“The people of Ireland were oppressed by the Brits for 500 years and when we came here to the United States to the land of the free we were met with more oppression. We of all people should be particularly sensitive to this issue of hatred.”
O'Byrne, best known known to the crowds for his turn in the groundbreaking Irish series Love/Hate, told IrishCentral: “The protests for inclusion started in the 90's and I was a part of those and I was arrested. I first met (parade organizer) Brendan Fay in jail. I was really taken by the issue, I can't believe that Irish people choose to discriminate. Anyone with an even cursory knowledge of our history would find Irish people choosing to discriminate laughable.”
Congressman Joe Crowley told the crowd he believed that gay Irish groups will eventually march in the Fifth Avenue parade: “Change will come, it will happen because of the efforts that you have all been a part of for so long. We in New York are at the epicenter of the world and we show the world how it should act. The Fifth Avenue parade needs to open up to all marchers.”
New York City Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito told the crowd: “We stand for equality which is why we march in the St. Pat's for All parade. Until the day comes when the bigger parade on Fifth Avenue stands for equality I will not march and the City Council will not march.”
Asked by IrishCentral if he would march in the Fifth Avenue parade City Comptroller Scott Stringer said: “Right now I'm going to keep the schedule I usually keep, which is to march in this parade and I'm hopeful that with perhaps more discussions and negotiations I will be able to march in the Fifth Avenue parade, but I have no plans to do so at this time.”
Neither the heavy snowfall nor the momentarily missing mayor could dampen the community spirit on the day. Wearing a lavender shirt and a green tie when he arrived a beaming De Blasio told the crowd: “You are here to celebrate no matter what. That is what pride is all about, pride in the fact that in New York City you can be whoever you are.”
Marching bands, senior representatives of The FDNY and NYPD, GAA players and local girl scouts and boy scouts groups all lined up to parade along with many invited immigrant groups that make this parade the most representative of New York's diversity.
Traditional Irish bands played jigs and reels and even some early Madonna songs, reminding parade goers that this parade is a unique blend of the traditional and the modern.
As in past years however some lone protesters lined the route. A man held up a sign that read: “Stop blaspheming Our Lord Now!” And in a coffee shop overlooking the parade an elderly lady who declined to give her name complained that the parade had closed the streets. “How much is this garbage costing the city?” she asked angrily. When reminded that the paraders were her own neighbors she was unrepentant. “I don't support this,” she said.
Meanwhile with New York state passing its Marriage Equality Act in 2011 allowing marriages for same-sex couples and with the Supreme Court likely to grand federal marriage rights for gay couples in June, the pressure on the parade committee to acknowledge that times and attitudes have changed is increasingly immense.
So far however they have remained striking holdouts – even the Boston parade has permitted gay groups to march under their own banner - in the most diverse city in the world.