New York’s St. Patrick’s Day season culiminated on March 17, the day after the traditional Manhattan parade was held on Fifth Avenue, with the Brooklyn St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which included an LGBTQ group for the first time.
Every March, communities cross the New York area hold parades in honor of the Irish saint and to celebrate Ireland’s culture, and each year it seems at least one more becomes inclusive. In 2019, however, there remains one stubborn holdout — I’m looking at you, Staten Island.
The Manhattan parade and traditional Mayor’s Breakfast were held Saturday, March 16, a day before the official holiday. It’s a sign of the times that Irish-American LGBTQ activist and filmmaker Brendan Fay was invited to introduce the morning’s program and Mayor Bill de Blasio at Gracie Mansion. Fay was a member of the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization that originally protested Manhattan’s exclusionary policies in the early 1990s, and he went on to found both the Lavender & Green Alliance, which now marches on Fifth Avenue, and the inclusive St. Pat’s for All Parade in Queens.
“It was quite a difference to be preparing remarks to introduce the day and the mayor in contrast with preparing to be arrested,” Fay said, recalling the days when he and many other activists engaged in civil disobedience to protest exclusionary policies in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx.
Since joining the Manhattan parade three years ago, the Lavender & Green Alliance has become a welcome presence, and the parade’s grand marshal this year, Brian O’Dwyer, dropped by the March 1 St. Pat’s for All concert at the Irish Arts Center to address the crowd to warm applause.
At Gracie Mansion, Fay welcomed the crowd, made up of Irish and Irish-American elected officials and civilians, including the Rose of Tralee, Kirsten Mate Maher.
When Fay mentioned the previous day’s massacre in New Zealand, the crowd stopped buzzing and fell into a spontaneous moment of silence. Fay was joined by the following speakers, including de Blasio, O’Dwyer, and Charles Flanagan, Ireland’s minister for Justice and Equality, in emphasizing hope and inclusivity as well as the contributions immigrants have made to New York and the US, often times in the face of hardships and prejudice.
De Blasio also honored Michael Dowling, a Limerick native, who immigrated to the US as a young man and now heads up Northwell Health — the city’s largest private employer, the mayor pointed out.
Later, as the parade got underway, the Lavender & Green Alliance, numbering about 100, donning badges and sashes, and celebrating its 25th anniversary, waited its turn on 48th Street. Shortly after 4 p.m., the group stepped onto Fifth Avenue, led by this year’s contingent grand marshals, Lisa Fane and Randy Wicker. Fane, the general manager of the Irish rep, is an activist who played a lead role in winning inclusion in this year’s Brooklyn parade. Wicker, a longtime West Village business owner, has been active in LGBTQ rights since the 1950s.
Holding the group’s banner were Wicker, Fane, de Blasio advisor Matthew McMorrow, Fane’s partner in founding the Brooklyn Irish LGBTQ Organization (BILO), Carol Bullock, executive director of the Pride Center of Staten Island, which was once again denied a spot in that borough’s parade, Fay, and Kathleen Walsh D’Arcy, Fay’s co-chair at Pat’s for All. City Councilmember Daniel Dromm marched with the Council contingent and then jumped back in to march with Lavender & Green, which was also joined by former State Senator Tom Duane.
“There was a great cheer when we stopped onto Fifth Avenue with our banner,” said Fay. “It’s always an emotional and moving moment for us, as we remember the struggle, the arrests, and the dedication of activists which led us to this day.”
Many of the same marchers journeyed to Park Slope the following day to march with BILO in the Brooklyn St. Patrick’s Day parade. Fane, who had been arrested many times protesting the Brooklyn parade’s former exclusionary policy, recalled the activism that led to this year’s breakthrough.
“Assemblymember Robert Carroll supported us in outreach to the members of the parade committee and of the Irish community in Brooklyn, then he arranged for me to meet with the parade committee chair Mary Hogan and Father Larry Ryan of Holy Name Church, which is a hub of parade activity,” she said. Though BILO’s subsequent application to march was initially denied, community support for the contingent led the parade committee to relent.
BILO was joined by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Congressmember Yvette Clarke, Assemblymembers Carroll and Jo Anne Simon, and Councilmember Brad Lander. The parade crowd cheered the LGBTQ contingent, and another St. Patrick’s Day Parade was suddenly inclusive.
Bullock, from the Pride Center of Staten Island, said her group received more well wishes on its effort to join the parade there than ever before, with many elected officials, including the Republican borough president, James Oddo, boycotting in protest. The word from sources close to the parade organizers, however, say they remain recalcitrant despite the growing pressure on them to open up the event.
“Our work is ongoing, including to make sure our cultural celebrations in New York City are welcoming and inclusive,” Fay said, taking note of the work still to be done.