Inclusive parade pits outspoken Bloomberg against Democratic critics on marriage
The cold winds sweeping through Sunnyside, Queens on the afternoon of March 6 may have kept some celebrants inside their homes, but it did not prevent a host of politicians, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, from showing up for the sixth annual St. Pat’s For All gay-inclusive parade.
The event has become a political barnstorming alternative to the controversial Fifth Avenue parade in Manhattan, controlled by the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a group that has steadfastly refused to allow gay and lesbian-identified contingents to march.
This year it was also a chance for the mayor to reconcile with the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community after his February 5 decision to appeal a pro-gay marriage ruling the day before by Supreme Court Justice Doris Ling-Cohen, a move that has made politics very local for the city’s queers.
Unlike many, though not all, Democratic leaders, Bloomberg marches both in Queens and on Fifth Avenue. The LGBT community had successfully convinced most Democrats to boycott the March 17 parade, though Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, during her 2000 election drive, departed from that emerging tradition.
Clearly pleased that Bloomberg had arrived to participate in the parade, its longtime organizer, Brendan Fay, an Irish gay and AIDS activist, said, “I think it is very good that the mayor is coming to our all-inclusive parade,” adding, “but we wish he would really support our collective equality and work with us on the marriage issue.”
Fay said he intended to use his time with the mayor to challenge him on his appeal of the Ling-Cohen ruling that ordered the city clerk to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
“We’ll have to loudly communicate to this mayor that if he’s really with us, if he wants to walk in our parade, he has to walk with us as well on all the other days,” said Fay.
In his February 5 statement, Bloomberg said he personally supports same-sex marriage rights and would push for legislation recognizing it in Albany. He has also asked that his appeal be expedited by being heard immediately in the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals. No decision on that request has yet been made by the court.
Noting that Bloomberg will also march on May 17 in Manhattan, Fay said, nonetheless, “it is right that he come, celebrate with us and listen to our concerns and our issues.”
Of course, Bloomberg did not have the field to himself. Two of his potential Democratic rivals in November—City Council Speaker Gifford Miller and Manhattan Borough Pres. C. Virginia Fields—also came out for Sunday’s march, and two others—former Bronx Borough Pres. Fernando Ferrer and Brooklyn Congressman Anthony Weiner—attended a post-march celebration at the Saints & Sinners bar in Woodside.
In Sunnyside, as workers filled balloons for an orange, white and green arch, the colors of the Irish national flag, and volunteers searched for marchers to carry colorful puppets, a Queens Democratic district leader, Daniel Dromm, a longtime gay activist who was a co-founder of the borough’s June LGBT pride festivities, took a moment to express his own mixed feelings over Bloomberg’s participation.
“On one hand, it is good that we have the office of the mayor represented here,” said Dromm. “On the other hand, I have been upset with his stand on many issues. I don’t see how you can say you support gay marriage and then you go out and fight against it. He’s been bad on the Equal Partner Benefits bill, he’s been bad on the Dignity for All Students bill, and also I don’t like his education stuff.”
Dromm referred to laws enacted by the City Council over mayoral vetoes that provide benefits to the partners of LGBT employees working for contractors doing business with the city and an education measure that addresses bullying in the public schools and includes specific protections for queer youth. Bloomberg is currently challenging the contractor law in a lawsuit.
Many of Sunday’s participants echoed the sentiments articulated by Dromm, who is a public school teacher.
From a stage set up at the end of the parade route, Bloomberg attempted to explain his marriage appeal decision in words that emphasized his support for LGBT rights.
“This is a time of the year when we really should be making sure this is a city of opportunity,” the mayor said. “Opportunity means jobs, opportunity means no crime, opportunity means good schools and I happen to believe that opportunity also means that marriage should be available to everyone. The city is trying to do what we can to understand what the state law really means, and we have to make sure that the city opens itself up to everybody, and I think this parade is one of the ways to do it.”
Bloomberg’s words, however, did not silence his Democratic critics.
Christine Quinn, a lesbian city councilwoman from Manhattan, who marched with Speaker Miller, whose mayoral bid she strongly supports, said, “I think of course it’s nice that the mayor comes, but we can’t forget that he also marches down Fifth Avenue in a parade that doesn’t let us in.”
Quinn then went after the mayor for being a political hypocrite.
“In some ways, this parade is in the talk-is-cheap category,” she said, adding that if the mayor “really believed that law is so unclear that it needed to be decided on by the state’s highest court, he could have issued the marriage licenses and appealed.”
Asked how the mayor’s decision resonated among the city’s LGBT community, Quinn replied, “His decision to appeal was extraordinarily disappointing.”
In her remarks, Fields, the Manhattan borough president, also distinguished between participating in the Queens parade and joining the Manhattan event.
“I am here today to support the lesbian and gay community and to say again that exclusion from the parade is something that I hate,” she said. “And I don’t believe that any group should be excluded from the parade because of maybe different beliefs, lifestyles or ideology.”
City Councilwoman Margarita Lopez, a lesbian who is running for Manhattan borough president, said she turned out Sunday due to her “enormous respect to the Irish community” and “because it’s a parade that’s inclusionary.”
“The parade sends a message that everyone is welcome,” Lopez said. “Be black, be white, be Latino, be a woman or a man or be gay, you are welcome in this parade.”
Author Malachy McCourt noted that “it’s very unfortunate that all people who are of human descent can’t get together and celebrate all our ethnic heritages one way or another, and that’s what I think is beautiful about being here. Very decent, good people have organized this and it’s a great memory of Mychal Judge,” the gay fire department chaplain killed at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
As groups including the All City High Schools Marching Band, the New York Irish Dance Academy, Staten Island Stonewall, Dignity USA and Dignity New York and the Boys Club stepped off into the march, other elected officials echoed the sentiment that having an inclusive St. Patrick’s Day parade was very important.
Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum said, “This is the first parade of the season and the fact that it’s inclusive is extremely important. I believe that all parades should be inclusive—we should include everyone who wants to march regardless of anything, because parades are fun and they’re all about celebrating.”
As the parade made its way down Skillman Avenue, the crowds cheered the marching bands, performers and many groups that had assembled. A lively bunch of anarchists, dressed in black and green and waving black flags that featured a shamrock overlaid with the anarchy symbol, kept the end of the parade festive with drumming, flag waving and good-natured chaos.
Some of those same protesters will join the activists who plan to protest the Fifth Avenue parade at 10:30 a.m. on March 17, at the east side of Fifth Avenue and 58th Street.