Community board members in Staten Island, New York, have voted to withhold taxpayer money from the borough’s St. Patrick’s Parade Committee due to years of discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community.
According to SILive.com, a 24-0 vote by Staten Island’s Community Board 1 approved a motion to stop using public funds for the parade. Going forward, parade organizers will have to pay for all the costs associated with the event, including for police and Department of Sanitation services. In addition, the motion states that New York City employees will not be permitted to wear their uniforms in the parade, and high school marching bands will be unable to participate.
The Staten Island St. Patrick’s Parade Committee has a long history of refusing to allow the LGBTQ+ community to participate in the annual event. While Manhattan ended a “two-decade ban of LGBTQ+ groups in 2014,” Staten Island continues to limit LGBTQ+ participation.
As Bondings 2.0 previously reported, the Staten Island Pride Center has been rejected from participating in the parade for several years. This year, several Pride groups, including the Pride Center of Staten Island, Fire Flag, and the Gay Officers Action League, were rejected without any review. This prompted lawmakers, such as New York City Mayor Eric Adams, to boycott the parade.
As a result, the Pride Center hosted an alternative Irish celebration so that queer identities could be recognized in Irish culture. According to gay activist Brendan Fay, the hope of creating alternative events is that one day the “PRIDE center here on Staten Island will be welcomed to march in the Staten Island St. Patrick’s parade with both pride and Irish flags.”
Back in 2020, the Pride Center’s executive director, Carol Bullock, went to the parade registration location but found a sign stating that the registration location had changed due to the “threat of protest by the gay pride people/politicians/ministers of other faiths.” That same year, Miss Staten Island, Madion L’Insalata, was banned from marching in the parade after coming out as bisexual.
These incidents followed a statement from the president of the Staten Island St. Patrick’s Parade Committee, Larry Cummings, in which he said that LGBTQ+ groups are “not compatible with the church and the Catholic tenants” and therefore goes against “Irish heritage and culture.”
According to the deputy director of the Pride Center, Lisa Sloan, there is no dichotomy between the LGBTQ+ community and the Catholic Church. Rather, “there have always been and will always be LGBTQ+ people of faith.” Furthermore, she argues that queerness is an important part of Irish culture:
“Indeed, many Irish people of note are in fact LGBTQ+, including historical figures, like poet Oscar Wilde and Easter Rising rebels Elizabeth O’Farrell and Julia Grenan, as well as more recent figures, such as artist Francis Bacon and former Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. If the parade is ‘for Irish heritage and culture,’ there’s a rich LGBTQ+ Irish legacy to celebrate.”
In order to truly celebrate and appreciate Irish culture, the Staten Island St. Patrick’s Parade Committee must be open to recognizing all identities. By limiting public funding to parade organizers, Staten Islanders are recognizing intersectionality and diversity among the Irish population. Hopefully, parade organizers will take the necessary steps to make the next parade more inclusive, so they can truly emulate Irish hospitality and openness.
—Sarah Cassidy (she/her), New Ways Ministry, July 29, 2022