An escalating campaign of homophobia plagued the Staten Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade as marchers stepped off on March 1, but the LGBTQ community and allies turned out in large numbers to push back against the bigotry.
The parade has been shrouded in a years-long controversy due to the homophobia of its organizer, Larry Cummings, who has continued to ban LGBTQ individuals and groups from participating. After rejecting for yet another year the Staten Island Pride Center from participating, organizers also banned Miss Staten Island Madison L’Insalata when she came out as bisexual. And as the parade was due to step off, Staten Island Councilmember Joe Borelli was also blocked when he tried marching with a tiny rainbow pin.
The Port Richmond and Tottenville High School bands were also slated to participate in the march but were told that they could not do so as long as they kept rainbow stickers on their uniforms and instruments. They boldly decided to keep the stickers and refused to participate.
Members of the Staten Island Pride Center and others participated in an annual Rainbow Run on the same day as the borough’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Families and residents of Staten Island outraged by Cummings’ determined obstinacy turned out for the run to show solidarity with the LGBTQ community.
“It was just an amazing day,” Staten Island Pride Center executive director Carol Bullock told Gay City News. “The amount of support from the community was absolutely overwhelming. There were Rainbow Flags, rainbow balloons… as I walked down the street along the sideline of the parade, the community was so positive.”
In an example of the emotional response to the parade’s ban on LGBTQ participants, Bullock said she encountered a family that attached a rainbow flagpole to their baby’s stroller.
“I went up to them and said, ‘Thank you so much,’ and the woman looked at me and said, ‘My husband was outraged so he came out and got the flag and painted the pole.’” Bullock recalled. “Some of the stories were just unbelievable.”
The unmistakable message sent by the community and its allies came as little surprise considering that organizers were even willing to ban conservative individuals such as Borelli, who has a long track record of anti-LGBTQ actions.
Bullock said she gave Borelli, who was accompanied by his family, a rainbow pin at an event ahead of the parade on March 1. Hours later, Borelli told the Staten Island Advance that he was “physically blocked” from marching by one of the parade marshals.
“They called the police on me,” he said. “I spoke to a sergeant and was not going to make the life of our cops more complicated to prove a point… I didn’t come with it looking for an argument; my friends handed a pin to me. I really didn’t think it was a big affront to the Irish.”
He added, “Tough guys couldn’t contend with a half-inch pin.”
Many local elected officials who were disgusted by the organizers’ policies made clear ahead of the parade that they would not participate as long as the community was banned. US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Congressmember Max Rose, State Senator Diane Savino, and Councilmember Deborah Rose, all Democrats, were among those to protest the parade, as were Republican Borough President Jimmy Oddo and Councilmember Steven Matteo.
As evidenced by his attempt to participate, Borelli was — along with Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, who is aiming to challenge Rose for his US House seat in November — among the remaining local elected officials still willing to join the march.
Borelli’s ban came in the wake of parade organizers’ decision to blocked 2020 Miss Staten Island Madison L’Insalata, who came out as bisexual to the New York Post one day before the parade and vowed to wear rainbow colors while marching.
Neither L’Insalata nor Borelli could be reached for comment for this story, but Bullock voiced her disappointment over the organizers’ actions and described their decision to block L’Insalata as “horrible.”
“They cited security concerns, which from my perspective was hiding behind some excuse to mask discrimination,” Bullock said.
Still, queer folks and allies in Staten Island took a stand that could not be missed — and that, in the end, overshadowed the parade’s organizers and showed that even in one of the city’s most conservative areas, homophobia is not tolerated.
“The message it sent to Staten Island was that we’re supportive,” Bullock said. “It’s a small group of individuals who are displaying this discriminatory behavior and hopefully it has made some of our youth or other individuals who haven’t come out yet feel a lot more comfortable knowing there are people who are supportive.”