The Pride Center of Staten Island announced it would be having a “Gay St. Patrick’s Dance” this coming Saturday after having been banned from marching in the Staten Island St. Patrick’s Day parade. Meanwhile, the parade continued as planned on March 1, but not before organizers further banned a local bisexual celebrity from participating, and numerous high profile community members boycotted the parade.
Gay Community News reported that the Pride Center’s dance, slated for the evening of Saturday, March 14, will honor Teri Russo, an LGBTQ activist who was the first woman named as Grand Marshal of Staten Island’s Gay Pride Parade and was formerly in religious life. Organizer Jim Smith explained that a “welcoming event” was needed because of the pain the parade ban caused.
Attending the “Gay St. Patrick’s Dance” will be Miss Staten Island, 23-year-old Madison L’Insalata, who, having recently coming out as bisexual, was banned from the Staten Island St. Patrick’s Day parade after having been invited to participate. The Washington Post reports that she was planning to wear rainbow clothing to show support for her community. L’Insalata still showed up however, decked out in rainbow gear, watching from the sidelines. She says that even though she did not march in the parade, the crowd still celebrated her presence:
“‘I just realized that even if I wasn’t going to be allowed to march, I could still make a difference. And I think that I still sparked conversation.’”
Gabby Ryan, who is Miss Richmond County 2020, will also be at the dance after refusing to march in the parade earlier this month. Ryan, who is the daughter of a lesbian couple, explained:
“We want to make a statement. The statement is we’re here, we’re queer and we ain’t moving to Manhattan. . .The [LGBT+] community is thriving. There’s more gay people than people could imagine and we’re trying to reach out to them.”
A third pageant winner, Miss Staten Island Outstanding Teen Angelica Mroczek, also declined an invitation to march. In a written statement, Mroczek explains that even though she identifies as straight and Catholic, she stands in solidarity with the LGBTQ people in her community. She cites that no matter a person’s identity, everyone’s life is touched by this issue:
“Let’s face it, each and every one of us all love or is loved by someone who is gay, lesbian, transgender, or bisexual and everything in between, and we should mark ourselves lucky to be.”
Mroczek says that even if she loses her crown, she hopes the message reaches the parade organizers. “To put it bluntly,” she writes, “that the Pride Center of Staten Island is excluded in the St. Patrick’s Day parade is a travesty.”
Other prominent figures also boycotted the parade. According to The New York Times, many elected officials declined to participate this year, including “Mayor Bill de Blasio; Borough President James Oddo, a Republican; Steven Matteo, the Republican minority leader of the New York City Council; Rep. Max Rose, a Democrat; and Councilwoman Debi Rose.”
One participating politician, NYC Council Member Joseph Borelli, says he was physically blocked by parade marshals and police backup from marching because he arrived wearing a small rainbow flag pin on his lapel. He says he disagrees with the parade organizers’ stance, citing Pope Francis’ 2013 comment, “Who am I to judge?”
Parade organizers have pushed back against the protests. President of the Staten Island parade committee Larry Cummings told The Irish Voice, “Our parade is for Irish heritage and culture,” he said, “it is not a political or sexual identification parade.” He added, “Gays can march, but not under a banner.”
Catholic organizations, however, have been reluctant to get involved in the dispute. The national Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish-Catholic fraternal order with connections to the event, remained mum. Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, told The New York Times that any priests who attend: “will do so on their own, not as officials of the archdiocese.”
This entire controversy has raised the question of whether city resources, funded by tax-payers, should be used to facilitate the parade: the parade route runs along a public street, the event is patrolled by police, and city sanitation workers clean up afterward. Councilman Daniel Drom, chair of the City Council’s LGBT and Irish Caucuses, said the parade’s stance was not in line with the community’s values:
“It’s wrong for an organization that requires city resources to monitor the parade, to clean up after the parade, to help organize it, to police it, to continue to discriminate in a city that doesn’t believe in that type of discrimination.”
However, the city cannot legally dictate to a private group who can and cannot publicly appear in their parade, says New York Civil Liberties Union attorney Bobby Hodgson.
After years of controversy, most major St. Patrick’s Day parades across the country now allow LGBTQ people to participate. Staten Island is one of the last holdouts. Discrimination of this type has cast a shadow on the annual event. Next year, parade organizers should skip the controversy and instead mirror Irish hospitality with a policy that all are welcome.
—Melissa Feito, New Ways Ministry, March 11, 2020