An annual controversy is brewing across the Verrazzano Bridge, where LGBTQ groups have once again been rejected from participating in the Staten Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 1.
Pride Center of Staten Island executive director Carol Bullock said she tried submitting her group’s application in person on February 16 but was denied by organizer Larry Cummings, who she said told her, “This is not a sexual identification parade.” According to the Pride Center, the Gay Officer’s Action League (GOAL) was also rejected.
“It’s disappointing,” Bullock told Gay City News of the ongoing ban on LGBTQ groups in the parade. “It sends a terrible message, especially to the youth who are thinking of coming out and celebrating who they are. This is the type of thing they’ll be facing. It’s sad and frustrating.”
Bullock said she showed up to apply with 30 to 40 individuals who accompanied her in a silent protest. They were met at the original application entrance at Blessed Sacrament Church with a sign that directed applicants to a different address “Do [sic] to the threat of a protest by the gay pride people/ politicians/ and ministers of other faiths…”
Bullock said she tried explaining to Cummings that there was a time when signs read, “No Irish need apply,” at which point Cummings told her he was not alive during that time period.
“Larry said, ‘Maybe you people and your organization should hold your own parade,” Bullock recalled.
In a February 16 tweet of support, the LGBTQ law enforcement group wrote, “@GOALny stands firmly with @pridecenterSI.”
Bullock said it was her understanding that Cummings and the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), an Irish Catholic fraternal organization that previously controlled the Manhattan St. Patrick’s Day Parade, organized the Staten Island parade. But when Gay City News contacted the New York State Board of AOH, a spokesperson said in an email that “the parade you’re inquiring about is not sponsored by or affiliated with the AOH.”
In any event, organizers — whoever they are — face mounting pressure from a bipartisan slate of elected officials who represent the borough. US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Congressmember Max Rose, State Senator Diane Savino, and City Councilmember Deborah Rose are among Democrats who have tweeted support for the Pride Center’s desire to participate in the parade, while Republican Borough President Jimmy Oddo also published a tweet backing LGBTQ groups like the Pride Center’s right to march.
Staten Island GOP Councilmember Steven Matteo, who has a record of voting against transgender rights initiatives and previously refused to boycott Manhattan’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade during the long era when queer groups were banned, also made his position clear in response to questions from Gay City News.
“I strongly support the SI Pride Center and other LGBT organizations openly participating in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade,” Matteo said in a written statement February 17. “It’s way past time for this to become a reality.”
Matteo’s Republican colleague Joe Borelli, who also has a poor record on LGBTQ rights, did not return requests for comment for this story.
It is the third consecutive year Bullock has unsuccessfully tried convincing organizers to let her organization participate in the parade. At this point, she appears to have accepted that homophobia will win out for now — but she hopes the rest of the borough doesn’t suffer as a result.
“Last year I was really positive about the whole thing,” she said. “This year I’m just asking people to still go and visit amazing bars and restaurants — just don’t march in the parade.”