History was made on Sunday when the Irish Consulate joined over four hundred Irish LGBTQ participants and allies at the Pride March on Sixth Avenue for the first time.
The Irish marchers were greeted with a roar of welcome from the crowds as they stepped out onto the avenue, led by the banner of Irish LGBTQ group Lavender and Green Alliance and the Amach Le Cheile - Out Together banner of the Irish Consulate.
The cheering response of the estimated two million New Yorkers to the marchers behind the Irish Pride banner was immediate, noisy and powerful. Excited shouts of “Go Ireland” told them that Ireland's marriage equality decision is now an important pillar in the LGBTQ movement across the world.
Marking a dramatic turning point, the consulate's participation clearly demonstrated that once disfavored Irish LGBTQ groups now enjoy the full support of the Irish government, along with the support of other major Irish sporting, cultural and business organizations in the city, who were present on the day to celebrate the true diversity of the Irish experience in New York.
Lining the route with the Irish Consulate and Lavender and Green Alliance were representatives of The Brehon Law Society, The Irish Rep (who also hosted the preparations for the march) Origin Theatre Company, The Irish Arts Center, The New York Irish Center, The Irish Business Organization, IN-NYC, The Emerald Isle Immigration Center and Glucksman Ireland House at NYU.
Dressed in matching rainbow colored Irish Pride t-shirts and waving tricolors and rainbow flags, marchers were led by the giant Irish tricolor that was hand stitched by the artist and activist Gilbert Baker, the man who created the original rainbow flag, and carried proudly on the day by Limerick man David Collins, who told the Irish Voice it was his best experience since coming to the city.
“I'm so proud that today in particular the Irish community will be represented in a historic way,” activist Brendan Fay, who has marched with Lavender and Green since 1994, told the Irish Voice.
“I'm so proud of how far we've come. When I left Ireland in the 1980's homosexuality was still illegal. Now we have marriage equality and transgender rights. It's amazing, it's a beautiful day.”
Kathleen Walsh D'Arcy, co-chair of the St. Pat's For All Parade, told the Voice: “I saw so many Irish Americans from almost every Irish organization in New York. This was a community triumph. Sitting atop the float I thought “We all needed a parade this week,” a respite from the national nightmare of children screaming in their cages. People and children were cheering as the Irish Pride float went by, cheering for the Irish who believe in freedom, equality and justice.”
Although some representatives from the Irish Consulate have participated in the Pride March in recent years this is the first time the organization itself has participated. Before the march the consulate reached out to the wider Irish community and received a remarkable response.
“Everyone who marches today will get to experience what is perhaps New York's most exuberant celebration, one that sends a message of love,” said Fay. “I know that when we step onto the avenue the cheer we get will be amazing.”
He was right about that. The greeting the Irish marchers received was loud and joyous along every block of the route which made it's way from 16 Street to Christopher Street, where it paused in front of the historic Stonewall Inn, site of the famous 1969 riots that led to the creation of the Pride March and the birth of the modern LGBTQ rights movement.
“We have such fantastic representation here from the Irish community in terms of Irish centers, cultural centers, business groups, all coming along together,” Irish Consul General Ciaran Madden told the Voice. “In the sense of community if only LGBT people stand for LGBT people, if only women stand for women, of only people with disabilities stand for people with disabilities, that's not a community. So what we have here today is a real sense of people coming together. That is community, that is Irish society. That's the fundamental reason that we're here today.”
“The second reason is, just by lucky coincidence, that today marks the 25 anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality in Ireland,” Madden added. “Think how long it took to get there and think how far we've come since then. There's a real sense now that Ireland has changed hugely for the better. It's not the Ireland that I grew up in, it's a much more welcoming place where people can feel they can be who they are. That's an important thing to support and recognize.”
Paul Finnegan, the Executive Director of the Irish Center in Queens, participated with his organization on the day and told the Voice: “The New York Irish Center was delighted to accept the Consulate’s invitation to join with the Ireland contingent for the Pride Parade. Our participation aligned perfectly with our recent work with the Irish LGBT community here. It was an uplifting day, one to remember for a long time. With recent progressive developments in Ireland, the nation hasn’t just come a long way. You could say instead that the true spirit of Irishness is getting back on track!”
George Heslin, the Artistic Director of Origin Theatre Company and the First Irish Theatre Festival, told the Voice: “It was an honor to participate in the Pride March under the banner of Ireland. The march was an opportunity for Ireland and its LGBTQ community to celebrate, showcase and promote our historic marriage equality victory. The day marked the 49 year history of promoting LGBTQ rights globally and remind us all that the work is far from over in promoting equal rights for all across the globe.”