March 2, 2020 By Michael Dorgan
More than 120 groups ranging from Irish cultural societies to LGBT organizations took part in the largest ever Sunnyside/Woodside St. Pats For All parade Sunday.
The parade – now in its 21st year – continues to grow in stature and that was reflected in both its size and the influx of high-profile politicians that included Mayor Bill de Blasio, Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Senator Charles Schumer as well as Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Carolyn Maloney.
The parade’s theme of inclusivity and diversity was very much to the fore again this year and pre-parade speeches were made to the backdrop of a giant Irish flag that was stitched by Gilbert Baker, a gay rights activist who designed the rainbow flag, a universal symbol of LGBT pride.
Brendan Fay, the founder of the parade, told the large crowd at Skillman Avenue and 43rd Street that the Irish tricolor – which was adopted by the Irish Republic during the Irish War of Independence (1919–1921) – was also a symbol of inclusivity: the “white” in the center signifies the lasting truce between the “orange” Irish protestants and the “green” Irish Catholics.
The parade was founded by Fay and other gay activists who were not permitted to march under a gay banner in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue in the 1990s. Fay, along with others, then decided to establish a parade “For All” in Sunnyside.
De Blasio said that the parade has helped transform the rights of New Yorkers.
“Twenty-one years ago, a different kind of Irish rebellion broke out right here. A rebellion in favor of respecting everybody, a rebellion in favor of ensuring the whole community could participate,” he said.
De Blasio thanked the organizers and those who believed in their cause saying the nation needs to see more mutual respect, unity, understanding and inclusion.
A fired-up Schumer said New Yorkers and Americans stand for diversity and inclusiveness. “When you pick on any of us, you pick on all of us,” he said, referring to the discrimination the LGBT community has faced.
Schumer also said most ethnic groups–including the Irish–have been maligned and excluded upon their arrival in the United States.
“We’ve come a long way,” he said, before taking a swipe at President Donald Trump. “Donald Trump take that, we are going to beat you in every way,” he warned.
Council Speaker Corey Johnson – who along with Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer shared his personal story about coming out gay – said that St Pats for All was a “real counterpoint” to the LGBT community’s exclusion from being able to march in the Staten Island parade, and a “beacon of what is possible.”
LGBT organizations were again excluded from the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Staten Island this year.
“Open up that parade and let’s have everyone march like they do here in Sunnyside and Woodside,” he said.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – who received the loudest cheers – said that the Sunnyside/Woodside community was a “special jewel” in a city that loves immigrants and that was in no small part thanks to the “beautiful Irish progressive inclusive community that has such a rich history here.”
“We are here to celebrate each other; we are here to celebrate our Irish brothers and sisters and everyone is Irish on St Paddy’s Day, we all know that!” she said.
The parade was led by the Pipers of the FDNY and also featured the County Cork Pipes and Drums, the Lesbian and Gay Big Apple Corps Marching Band, as well as the colorful Rude Mechanical Orchestra, a 30-odd-piece band with dance troupe and large puppets who advocate for immigrant rights.
There was plenty of Irish tradition and regalia visible through Irish music and dance groups including the Niall O’Leary School of Irish Dancers, McManus Irish Dance, Sunnyside/ Maspeth Youth Trad group as well as the Irish Arts Center.
Fogo Azul, a 50 member, New York City-based all-women Brazilian Samba Reggae drum line band added some South American spice.
LGBT social groups had a big presence and among them were the Lavender and Green Alliance, Out Rockaway, Pride Center Staten Island, Stonewall Democrats of NYC and Queens Center for Gay seniors.
New York politicians marched behind their own respective banners but there was also a national presence with large supporters of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders taking part. Supporters of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez marched behind a Green New Deal banner.
A variety of children’s groups and schools marched under banners including the Shannon Gaels who turned heads with a set of Gaelic games goalposts they carried through the streets. Sunnyside United Dogs Society were also out again this year with their canines.
Anti-nuclear weapons groups were also present, including New York Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (NYCAN), International Queers Against Nukes, and Divest Nukes.