Staten Island parade organizers say acceptance of gay marching groups in New York City St. Patrick's Day parade is irrelevant to them.
The organizers of the annual parade on Staten Island have denied a local gay group a place in this year’s event on Sunday, March 4.
The acceptance of gay marching groups in the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade after years of controversy is irrelevant to them they say.
“Our parade is for Irish heritage and culture. It is not a political or sexual identification parade,” the parade’s president Larry Cummings told the Irish Voice
On Sunday, February 18, the Pride Center of Staten Island, located on Victory Boulevard, applied for a place in the line of march. The request was made in person by the center’s executive director Carol Bullock and Brendan Fay, the long-time Irish gay activist and leader of the Lavender and Green Alliance, the first Irish gay group granted permission to march in the Fifth Avenue parade in 2016.
Bullock and Fay met with Cummings at the Blessed Sacrament Church, where parade applications were being accepted by Cummings. When they identified themselves and their group they were denied the chance to file a formal application.
“Carol’s group does such important work with the LGBTQ community in Staten Island. It’s a fixture in the community and a welcoming place for everyone. The denial is very upsetting and unfortunate, and it is wrong,” Fay told the Irish Voice.
Bullock became the center’s executive director last December, and said she was stunned by the refusal.
“We didn’t even get a chance to apply or to talk to the committee members,” she told the Irish Voice
“We asked if we could speak to them to explain our position and why we would like to march, and we were told no.”
The Staten Island St. Patrick’s parade, held on the first Sunday of March, attracts thousands of marchers on Forest Avenue and spectators on the sidelines. It is a cherished local tradition, and this year’s parade will be the 54th.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has boycotted the parade in the past because of its refusal to allow gay marching groups. His predecessor Michael Bloomberg did take part in the march and participated in the annual St. Pat’s for All parade in Queens co-founded by Fay in response to the Fifth Avenue parade ban.
Cummings said the parade committee took a decision to ban gay marching groups several years ago after receiving an application from the Pride Center. That position remains in place.
“The committee voted so that’s that. Those are the rules,” he said. “Gays can march, but not under a banner.”
When asked if the Fifth Avenue parade’s policy of accepting gay marching groups – with the blessing of Cardinal Timothy Dolan -- might influence Staten Island, Cummings was adamant.
“The Fifth Avenue parade has no bearing on Staten Island. They are two totally separate entities. We don’t worry about what goes on in Manhattan,” he said.
“We’ve gotten all of these talking points all of the time… [Pride Center] applied and was turned down and that’s just it. “Our parade is not for sexual identification agendas.”
Bullock said in a statement, “The refusal to allow us to march is an example of the daily struggles and homophobia faced by our community. The Pride Center of Staten Island is the cornerstone for Staten Island’s LGBTQ individuals, families, and allies. There are nearly 500,000 people living on Staten Island and the center is the island’s only comprehensive LGBTQ program and service provider.”
Fay said he was hoping that the Pride Center would at least be given a chance to meet with parade leaders, and that the instant denial sends a “wrong” signal to members of the gay community, particularly the young.
“What does this say to our youth who are still struggling with coming out? It tells them that discrimination still exists. But things are changing. It’s just going to take longer in Staten Island,” he said.
“You know, I’m always hopeful for resolution. The parade hasn’t stepped off yet so there’s still room for discussion.”
Bullock says she intends to seek out allies in the local Irish community and would love the chance to meet with the parade’s decision makers. She added that she won’t stop until the Pride Center is included in the line of march.
“We will try every year. We are very committed to this,” she said.