While officials were once again kicking gays and their allies out of the Staten Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 1, in Woodside and Sunnyside, Queens, participants and spectators were gathering on Skillman Avenue for the latest edition of New York’s first inclusive celebration of Ireland’s patron saint. In 21 years, St. Pat’s For All has gone from outlier to norm, and the Staten Island event has gone from norm to outlier.
This being an election year, dozens of Democratic elected officials and hopefuls turned out in Queens. Along with “Happy St. Patrick’s Day,” the most-heard greeting of the day was: “Are you a registered voter in Queens?” And longtime marchers were quick to cite their bona fides.
“I was one of the earlier people to march in this parade,” Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic minority leader, said as his contingent lined up. Schumer worked the parade route with a bullhorn, urging spectators to cheer — and vote.
“I’ve been coming since 2012,” out gay City Council Speaker Corey Johnson of Chelsea said. “This is one of the best St. Patrick’s Day Parades in the city. It’s painful to see what’s happening in Staten Island in contrast to this one.”
“I’ve been coming since it first started,” State Senator Michael Gianaris, an Astoria Democrat, said. “Queens is the center of progressive activity in this country. We lead the way in western Queens, and this parade has led the way for a long time with its emphasis on inclusion and diversity.”
Assemblymember Aravella Simotas, another Democrat from Astoria, talked about how she has marched in the parade as a community board member and now as an elected official.
People who have marched since 2000 — from Mayor Bill de Blasio to out gay Councilmembers Daniel Dromm of Jackson Heights and Jimmy van Bramer of Sunnyside — provide a kind of institutional memory of the parade, speaking the names of departed friends and supporters, from Edie Windsor to Osvaldo “Ms. Colombia” Gomez, and welcoming new groups from Queens, the other boroughs, states and countries to the not-too-long parade route that ends just short of Roosevelt Avenue.
Founder Brendan Fay and co-chair Kathleen Walsh D’Arcy ascended the flatbed truck for opening remarks and speeches just past noon on a brisk, sunny day. This year, the grand marshals were Irish musician and historian Mick Moloney and the Astoria-based non-profit group Hour Children, founded 34 years ago by Sister Tesa Fitzgerald, which helps incarcerated women get back into society and the work force and reunite with their children.
Moloney said he was thrilled to finally be able to attend the parade. St. Patrick’s season is the musician’s busiest time of year.
“My March starts in February,” he explained. “I’ve always been gigging. I was amazed when I heard they wanted me, and it’s a great honor.”
Johanna Flores, Hour Children’s employment coordinator, and Sarah Murphy, its office coordinator, led the group’s contingent. Both were helped by Hour Children when they came out of prison and now help others build new lives.
“What we’re trying to do is break the cycle of poverty with love and education,” Flores said. She added the parade’s motto — “Cherish all the children of the nation equally” — matched Hour Children’s mission.
As the parade prepared to step off, Fay and Walsh D’Arcy introduced the grand marshals and other dignitaries, including Ciarán Madden, consul general of Ireland, de Blasio, Schumer, Congressmembers Carolyn Maloney and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, both of whose districts include portions of Queens, Dromm, and former State Senator Tom Duane.
Ocasio-Cortez, marching for the second year, called the parade — and Woodside — a “special jewel, where the spirit of today is inclusivity: we’re here to celebrate each other.”
Dromm brought up onto the flatbed a young girl who had written him. Introducing her as “Abigail from PS 38,” he said the 10-year-old had told him about her sister Hannah, who has sickle cell anemia. Abigail has formed “Hannah’s Heroes,” a group that advocates for funding for research and treatment. She urged the crowd to join her, earning one of the day’s loudest rounds of applause.
Along with Johnson, two other likely candidates for mayor next year were present: City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. Adams noted that one in six people in Ireland today are immigrants, comparing that to New York’s immigrant communities.
Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz, who previously marched as a councilmember and borough president, talked about her office’s commitment to combating hate crimes, including violence against transgender people.
The special election to replace Katz as borough president takes place on March 24, and early voting starts soon. The three major candidates marched: City Councilmember Costa Constantinides of Astoria and former City Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley of Woodside each led their own contingents. Southeast Queens Councilmember Donovan Richards marched with other members of the Council, including Helen Rosenthal and Carlina Rivera of Manhattan and Barry Grodenchik of Queens.
In addition to Gianaris and Simotas, other state legislators from Queens on hand included Senator Jessica Ramos and Assemblymembers Catherine Nolan, Catalina Cruz, David Weprin, and Brian Barnwell.
The parade kicked off with the sound of bagpipes from the FDNY Emerald Society Pipe Band, and the official banner was hoist by the founders, grand marshals, and other special guests, followed by the Lavender and Green Alliance, the group of LGBTQ Irish and friends who were finally permitted to march in the Manhattan St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 2016.
Since its founding, the parade has also drawn demonstrators who bring signs protesting “A Sacrilegious Gay and Lesbian Parade” and decrying “Sodom and Gomorrah.” For years, the number had been dwindling, but this year nearly a dozen of them turned up, appropriately enough, on the shady side of the street.
“I think they are picking up on a mood and spirit that’s like a poison affecting the heart,” said Fay. “And, as always, our response is love and inclusion and hospitality.”
When the pre-parade speeches ended, musicians replaced politicians on the flatbed truck, and Irish bodhran player Brian Fleming, who comes to New York from Dublin each year to coordinate both the parade music and the benefit concert the Friday night before, led a band that whirled through traditional and contemporary tunes.
As the parade wound down, the County Cork Pipes & Drums kept playing as they marched into Donovan’s Pub on Roosevelt Avenue.