Marching For St. Pat’s & Inclusion

This year’s St. Pat’s For All parade was the 20th annual celebration to make its way up Skillman Avenue from Sunnyside to Woodside.

The parade began two decades ago, in 1999, when a few marchers who wanted to carry a gay rights banner in the grand St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, held as usual on March 17th, were denied permission by the parade committee. That led to the proposal by those banner carriers to have a small parade in Queens ahead of the big one, on the first Sunday in March.

In the following years, the St. Pat’s For All parade proved persistent and popular, enough so that when, a few years ago, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee allowed some lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) presence to march in its parade, the St. Pat’s For All parade creators had more than proved their point but did not declare victory and depart, since St. Pat’s For All had become an institution in itself and continued.

This year’s parade was supposed to step off at noon from its usual launch, 43rd Street and Skillman Avenue. That seemed a good idea, as weather reports predicted precipitation, whether rain or snow, by early afternoon. Just before noon, the sky could be called sunny, and several speakers on the platform declared how fortunate everyone was to have such a lovely day. Between 11 am and noon, speakers drifted in, but the appearance of the one perhaps most anticipated, Congress Member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or “AOC,” was one of the major reasons for the large turnout.

Among them were the parade’s grand marshals, dancer/choreographer Sean Curran and acclaimed international actor Fionulla Flanagan, who were accompanied by Irish Consul General Ciaran Madden. When introduced, Madden said that Ireland had changed considerably since 1984, when Brendan Fay, a founder and most tireless advocate of the parade, left that country “because he had to” rather than hide his true sexuality. Flanagan, her little dog in tow, greeted everyone in Gaelic and said that while politicians boast of bringing people together, the common folk do a better job of it.

On the platform, Brendan Fay got the show started before letting City Council Member Daniel Dromm handle most of the introductions. Dromm introduced Ocasio-Cortez to great applause and cheering. She hailed what she called the parade’s theme of “radical inclusivity,” then stifled laughter as someone cried “socialism!” with an enthusiasm indicating approval. NYS Controller Thomas Di- Napoli followed, saying it was good to be at such a positive function when so much of politics was going in the opposite direction. He deplored the possibility that a “hard” border might soon be reinstated between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, bringing back the bad old days of strife between the two sides.

NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson said it was a fine thing that the Fifth Avenue parade was now inclusive, but then asked the audience to be outraged at the non-inclusive St. Patrick’s parade going on in Staten Island that day, even as he spoke. City Comptroller Scott Stringer said he hoped he could march in Staten Island next year, “for all the right reasons.”

NYC Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer praised Ocasio-Cortez with his favorite word, “amazing,” then said she stands on the shoulders of many activist predecessors, including his mother, who was nearby, maintaining a perfect attendance record at the parade. Other officials were introduced as having perfect records too, including NYS Senator Michael Gianaris and NYC Council Member David Weprin.

Congress Member Carolyn Maloney put in a few words of support, but Mayor Bill de Blasio didn’t speak, nor did Governor Andrew Cuomo, both of them being absent, though they sent representatives with proclamations. Borough President Melinda Katz was present as well.

The march went on to its usual destination, turning left at 56th Street, going a block to Woodside Avenue, turning right and finishing at 58th Street. Attendees enjoyed the music from bands such as The Absurdist Pipe Band (a trio with loud plastic hair and clown outfits), Fogo Azul NYC (“Gotham’s Heartbeat”), and the Hungry March.