Staten Island, NY. Once again, the LGBTQ community of Staten Island is denied the opportunity to march in the Staten Island St. Patrick's Day parade. In fact, they were denied the opportunity to even apply to march. On Feb 18, The Pride Center of Staten Island was represented by Executive Director, Carol Bullock, and Brendan Fay founder of the Irish LGBT group Lavender and Green Alliance. After walking in to the registration site at Blessed Sacrament Roman Catholic Church and identifying the organization, they were immediately told by Mr. Larry Cummings ( President of the Parade ), " It's in our rules we don't allow that marching here because it's not compatible with the church and the Catholic tenets ". Fay noted that the Irish LGBT group Lavender and Green Alliance would be marching on 5th Avenue on March 17, welcomed by parade organizers and supported by Cardinal Timothy Dolan. In 2014, the organizers of the New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade lifted the ban on openly gay groups marching under their own banner, ending more than two decades of protests and controversy that placed the annual event and the gay rights debate into the national spotlight. Cardinal Timothy Dolan publicly supported the move in the media, reaffirming that the Catholic Church does not sponsor the parade, nor was the parade a religious activity.
During the conversation, they were also told a vote had been taken last year and it was an "overwhelming" no to allow any organization promoting sexual identification or political agendas. After Mr. Fay noted the changing Ireland, Mr. Cummings even went as far to say that the Prime Minister of Ireland, Leo Varadkar, would be allowed to march but not as an out and proud openly gay man.
This injustice of exclusion and division is out of step with the growing numbers of St Patrick's parades in Ireland and in the US which welcome LGBT groups with their banners.
Carol Bullock said "All we asked was for our Pride Center to march like every other community group — with our banner which has the Pride Center logo and reads Pride Center of Staten Island. Our First Amendment, free-speech rights, as well as our desire to march as Irish members of the LBGTQ community are once again denied. The Ancient order of Hibernians official motto is Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity, none of which seem to apply to the LBGTQ community. They are in fact, creating a culture of segregation and division. Members of the LBGTQ community work, live, worship and contribute to the Staten Island community. Staten Island should have a culture of inclusion and unification."
Brendan Fay stated "The exclusion of the Pride Center of Staten Island from the St Patrick's Parade is wrong. Irish people are known for our spirit of hospitality. A cultural event in honor of the Irish and St Patrick himself, a refugee and immigrant ought to be welcoming and inclusive. I honestly believed we crossed the threshold on this issue when I marched with Lavender and Green Alliance in 2016. In 2018 our work continues. We need to make our cultural gatherings more welcoming and inclusive."
While Ms. Bullock and Mr. Fay made clear that Pride Center participation would be limited to members and their allies marching in celebration of Irish heritage and culture, and had no advocacy or political agenda, they were still prevented the opportunity to complete an application and receive a formal denial in writing detailing the cause of exclusion.
Ms. Bullock said "The refusal to allow us to march is an example of the daily struggles and homophobia faced by our community. The Pride Center of Staten Island is the cornerstone for Staten Island's LGBTQ individuals, families, and allies. There are nearly 500,000 people living on Staten Island and the Center is the Island's only comprehensive LGBTQ program and service provider."
The Pride Center of Staten Island will continue to attempt to apply every year until permitted to march. They are hoping that their right to march for their heritage is respected and that attitudes in every aspect of living on Staten Island will change towards the LBGTQ community.
The Pride Center of Staten Island will make their way to Queens and join St Pats For All parade on March 4 and with Lavender and Green Alliance on March 17.
Carol Bullock stated, "We continue to work for the day when we can celebrate Irish culture and heritage on Staten Island."
Carol Bullock became the Executive Director for the Pride Center of Staten Island in December of 2017. The Center offers mental health support, gender identity and transgender support groups for youth and adults, personal support for violence, bullying, harm reduction planning to reduce new HIV infection, and a full range of social and family programs, events and activities that support personal growth of youth, seniors and community members of all ages.
Brendan Fay, a native of Drogheda, County Louth, is founder of the Lavender and Green Alliance in 1994. In 1999, he founded the inclusive St. Pat's for All Parade in Queens, and has been honored by the Pride Center of Staten Island for his tireless advocacy for the LBGTQ community.