Raucous Irish and Indian drummers greeted New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and top tier members of New York City Council at the St. Pat's for All parade in Sunnyside, Queens yesterday. The Irish government were also represented by Minister of State Ciaran Cannon as major media also attended.
After welcome performances from the Niall O'Leary School of Irish Dancers and the Keltic Dreams dance troupe the newly elected mayor voiced his strong support of the only St. Patrick's Day parade in the five boroughs that welcomes Irish LGBT groups to march under their own banners.
"This parade is what New York City is all about. This is a parade that celebrates inclusion, diversity, unity. That is what this city is about. That is what has made this city strong," de Blasio told the crowd before opening the parade.
"We are here to honor the extraordinary Irish heritage of this city and we want to do it in a way that respects all people and all communities. This is exactly the way I think we should celebrate New York City - in an inclusive way," he added.
Film cameras, network TV news crews and a phalanx of press and photographers all jostled at the head of the applauding crowd, confirming this year's St. Pat's for All parade was the largest yet seen.
But it was the warm greeting from Sunnyside and Woodside locals - dressed in green and clearly in a festive mood - that made the parade take flight.
Fine Gael Minister of State Ciaran Cannon represented the Irish government at the parade and told the crowd he was glad to be "part of this wonderful celebration of what it is to be truly Irish."
"I'm here today at the request of our Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny to represent Ireland at the St. Pat's for All Parade," Cannon said. "The Ireland I live in, the Ireland I represent is changing, it's evolving. It's slowly becoming a place where regardless of your sexual orientation, regardless of your ethnicity, regardless of your religious beliefs you are treated as an equal citizen."
But the marcher who won the biggest cheers from the good humored crowd on Sunday was Irish celebrity drag activist Pandora Panti Bliss, aka 45 year old Mayo man Rory O'Neill, whose life and times are currently the subject of an ongoing documentary film by Irish director Conor Horgan whose cameras followed the parade route.
"I’ve come all the way from Dublin to be here today, unlike our previous speaker not at the request of the Irish government but at the request of the St. Pat's for All organizers and I'm prouder of that," said Panti.
"I'm totally thrilled and excited to be here. This crowd in front of me reflects the open and inclusive Ireland that I'm from and that I recognize and the one that I want to see reflected around the world."
In a short impassioned speech Columbia University professor Terry McGovern, a co-grand marshall of the parade alongside State Senator Tom Duane, tackled the longstanding Fifth Avenue LGBT ban.
"The people who oppose gay participation in the parade say "just march, why do you have to identify yourselves as gay? This is about religion, this is our heritage, the parade is about Irish identity not sexuality." These arguments just don't stand up. If you're not interested in our sexuality then let us march with the banner that says Irish and LGBTQ. I am proud of my family, my partner, my son and the life I live. There is nothing to hide."
Brendan Fay, Co-chair of the St. Pat's for All Parade said that the organizers will always ensure their parade remains inclusive. "No groups are treated any differently than the other," he told IrishCentral. "They bring their banners identifying who they are and that’s all LGBT Irish groups ever sought on Fifth Avenue," Fay said.
Unlike his predecessor Michael Bloomberg, mayor de Blasio has said he will not attend the nation's largest St. Patrick's parade in Manhattan on March 17 because parade organizers still prohibit Irish LGBT participants from carrying signs or banners identifying themselves as gay.
"My approach has been to embrace parades that are inclusive," de Blasio told the press on Sunday. "That’s the standard we’re going to hold."