St. Patrick’s Day is approaching and cities nationwide are planning parades to celebrate the Irish holiday. In Staten Island, New York, the organizers of a local parade remain unwilling to include LGBTQ people who want to march with rainbow pride.
The New York Times reported that the parade in Staten Island, which is a borough of New York City, has “ long barred gay, lesbian and transgender groups from marching in the local parade, even after the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade in Manhattan ended a two-decade ban in 2014.” In 2015, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan was grand marshal of that parade the same year LGBTQ marchers were allowed to take part. Dolan called the decision a “wise one.”
The president of Staten Island’s parade committee, Larry Cummings, explained his position in 2018 to The Irish Voice, an Irish-American news organization based in New York City.
“Our parade is for Irish heritage and culture,” he said. “It is not a political or sexual identification parade.” Cummings believes the inclusion of LGBTQ marchers in “the Fifth Avenue parade has no bearing on Staten Island.”
“They are two totally separate entities,” Cummings said. “We don’t worry about what goes on in Manhattan.”
The application form to participate in the parade proclaims, all in capital letters: “THIS PARADE IS NOT TO BE USED FOR AND WILL NOT ALLOW POLITICAL OR SEXUAL IDENTIFICATION AGENDAS TO BE PROMOTED.” It also states that participants must adhere to the “Teaching and Tenets of the Catholic Church.”
In 2020, the last time there was a parade in Staten Island, organizers issued an even stricter approach to excluding LGBTQ communities. The New York Times reported that “parade organizers ejected some prominent individuals, including Miss Staten Island and a Republican City Council member” because of their public statements in support of LGBTQ people.
Madison L’Insalata, Miss Staten Island, was barred from participating in the parade after she came out as bisexual. Councilman Joseph Borelli, a Republican lawmaker from Staten Island, was ejected after he put on a small rainbow pin on his jacket. Borelli told the Staten Island Advance after the incident that the parade marshals “were so upset at the sight of his pin that they ‘physically blocked me, my wife and two boys in strollers’ from joining the parade.” The organizers also called the police.
“I spoke to a sergeant and was not going to make the life of our cops more complicated to prove a point,” said Mr. Borelli, who did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday. “I didn’t come with it looking for an argument. My friends handed a pin to me. I really didn’t think it was a big affront to the Irish.”
Carol Bullock, executive director of the Pride Center of Staten Island, has applied to participate in the parade for years. Each time without surprise, she was rejected. This year, when she submitted her application in person, she brought representatives from two other local groups: Fire Flag, a group of LGBTQ employees of the New York Fire Department, and the Gay Officers Action League (GOAL), a group of LGBTQ law enforcement officers. The New York Times reported:
“Ms. Bullock said when she handed her paperwork to Mr. Cummings, he quickly told her the application would be rejected. ‘Then GOAL handed them their application, and he said, ‘Nope, just put it in that pile right there,’ which was where my papers were,’ Ms. Bullock said. ‘The person from GOAL. asked, ‘What is that pile for?’ And he said, ‘The ones that are denied.’ Then Fire Flag, the same thing happened.’ She added, ‘That made it a little more painful because you have F.D.N.Y. and N.Y.P.D. people who are protecting our community, but they can’t march in a parade.’”
In an article posted by SI Live, columnist Tom Wrobleski wrote:
“The organizers don’t put this parade on by themselves, by the way. Several streets in West Brighton are blocked off to traffic for the event. NYPD officers are needed for security and crowd control. Buses are rerouted. . .It’s the organizers’ rules, but public resources are being used here. . .Those resources shouldn’t be used for an event that’s in any way exclusionary.”
The Staten Island St. Patrick’s Day parade draws many people, including local businesses, but it is recently drawing more protest than welcome. Elected officials, including Staten Island’s district attorney and New York City’s mayor, are boycotting the parade. A spokesperson for Mayor Eric Adams said:
“We are still hopeful that the organizers of the Staten Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade will see the need for inclusion in our celebrations of cultural heritage and allow members of the LGBTQ+ community to participate. Until that time, the mayor will not participate in the parade.”
Wrobleski explains how the inclusion of LGBTQ persons from the parade “affects all of Staten Island.” He argues that this choice by the organizers is an unfortunate one “because, again, we’re backward Staten Island. Again, we’re intolerant Staten Island.”
Irish heritage is LGBTQ heritage. Unfortunately, as in so many cultures, queer persons were silenced, erased, discarded, and hidden from historical narratives. Rejecting their participation in celebrating cultural heritage continues this erasure.
—Elise Dubravec (she/her), New Ways Ministry, March 4, 2022