NEW York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and author and journalist Pete Hamill have been selected as dual grand marshals by the Sunnyside Woodside St. Patrick's Day Parade Committee. The "all-inclusive" parade steps off at 43rd Street and Skillman in Sunnyside on Sunday, March 2 at 2 p.m.Quinn, who refuses to march in the main Fifth Avenue parade on March 17 as long as it bans gay groups, is the city's first openly gay council speaker. Her decision to participate in the Queens march highlights the fact that the parade does not discriminate against Irish gay groups.Hamill has not marched in the main Fifth Avenue parade since 1993, when the New York division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians claimed that it was a Catholic parade, in a move that was widely seen as a ploy by the fraternal organization to ensure the exclusion of gays on religious grounds.Speaking to the Irish Voice Hamill said, "I'm delighted to be invited as grand marshal of the Sunnyside Woodside parade because this parade - unlike the Fifth Avenue one - has a purpose. Its purpose is to say there's many ways to be an Irishman. It's atrocious to keep gays out of the parade when they're winning best float in places like Cork."Hamill said the decision to give the Fifth Avenue parade a sectarian element struck him as particularly nasty because of the result that kind of thinking had in the north of Ireland."To me when they're calling it a Catholic parade, are they telling me there's no room for William Butler Yeats or Wolfe Tone or John Hewitt or Derek Mahon or Roger Casement or Oscar Wilde? How the hell can they say this is not an Irish parade, this is a Catholic parade, if the two are synonymous?"Hamill admits he has only met fellow grand marshal Quinn on one occasion, but he admires her political career. "She's straightforward, which I like. She's not hiding who she is in her private life. When I hear her talk politics, she talks politics," he said.Billed as the "St. Pat's for All Parade," there's no doubt the Sunnyside Woodside parade has become the most colorful parade of its kind in the five boroughs. Featuring street theatre, puppets, stilt walkers, bands, local ethnic and community groups, and legions of Irish dancers, the parades annual theme is "Cherishing All the Children of the Nation Equally, culled from the proclamation of Easter 1916.Acknowledging that some elderly protestors annually gather to lament the parade from the street corner, parade co-organizer Brendan Fay insisted they have got it wrong. "This is not a gay parade," said the 48-year-old activist and filmmaker from Co. Louth. "It is an all-inclusive parade. The point of it is that we don't discriminate against anyone. We're all welcome to celebrate our Irish heritage here." Added Hamill, "I'm looking forward to participating. I assume I'll be presented with my personal bail bondsman if I get into trouble at the parade."
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