The event started at 43rd Street and Skillman Avenue with speeches from parade co-chairman Brendan Fay, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other elected officials. The parade honored the memory of Philip Berrigan, the veteran antiwar campaigner.
Bloomberg’s presence at the parade was attacked by some Irish gay groups, now that the mayor has given his commitment to march in the main Fifth Avenue parade in Manhattan on March 17, after he had suggested he might not attend because that parade’s organizers do not allow Irish gay groups to march under their own banner.
In Sunnyside, several of the groups on the parade route represented gay organizations, including the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization, the Lavender and Green Alliance, Dignity New York and several Queens lesbian and gay groups.
Some marchers carried banners protesting the proposed war with Iraq, one reading: “Bush, Blair, hands off Iraq, Britain out of Ireland.” Several colorful musical contingents, including one from Korea, joined the parade, as well as local groups with four-legged members such as the Sunnyside United Dog Owners Association.
It was the gay groups and the parade’s association with the gay Irish groups, however, that brought some protestors to the sidewalks. Near the start of the parade route about 10 protestors held up banners and crucifixes. One sign read: “Sodomites, hands off our children.”
Farther along the route, several second-floor apartment windows bore signs condemning the parade as blasphemous and anti-Catholic, and a man leaned from one of those windows with a video camera to film the marchers as they passed.
“I’m glad everyone can come and march in this parade,” Bloomberg told reporters. “I wish all parades were that way. But I’m here and I’m marching. God bless everybody.”
Parade organizer Fay said: “People realize this isn’t just another St. Patrick’s Day Parade among the thousand that are taking place in the month of March.”
Woodside resident Pat Hurley of the Regular Republican Club attacked the parade, however, saying: “Brendan Fay says this is a celebration of St Patrick. It’s an event designed provoke and insult the Sunnyside and Woodside community. Ninety-nine percent of the people at this parade are not from Sunnyside or Woodside.”
Some Irish groups were noticeable because of their absence. Fay criticized the Emerald Isle Immigration Center for not sending a delegation to march.
City Council speaker Gifford Miller joined the parade as well as openly gay Irish-American representatives Christine Quinn, a city council member, and State Sen. Tom Duane.
Quinn and Duane addressed the marchers and asked if the mayor would invite them to walk with him up Fifth Avenue on March 17.
Bloomberg has been under pressure from gay Irish groups after he boycotted the Italian-American parade on Columbus Day in October last year and went to an Italian restaurant in the Bronx after organizers refused to let him march with his guests, two actors from the “Sopranos,” because they said the hit TV show presents a negative image of Italian Americans.
The Irish gay groups, including Irish Queers, ILGO, and the Lavender and Green Alliance held a protest at City Hall on Monday with openly gay elected officials, asking if the mayor would apply the same criteria to the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, from which gays and lesbians are banned from marching openly.
After Sunday’s parade, the mayor addressed the continuing controversy over the Manhattan parade’s exclusion of gay marchers by saying, “If I were running a parade, I’d run it differently. But you know, [if] you’re invited to somebody’s house, you don’t walk in and tell them how to decorate, or what to serve or what the conversations should be.”
Irish gay groups reacted angrily to the remark. Council member Quinn added her voice to the criticism, saying: “I actually find the mayor comparing discrimination and gay civil rights to upholstery, curtains and other decorations offensive.”
The Queens parade continued to Woodside, where marchers broke up and headed for bars and restaurants to escape the rain. Regular attendees said they reckoned numbers were about a third of the crowd that had attended in better weather last year.
Dubliner Brian Fleming, a drummer with the Irish-African music group DiJembe, who marched in the parade, said that he has been coming over with the group since the parade in Queens started.
“We were delighted,” he said. “So energized. The rain was a bit of a shame, but I enjoy this parade more now than the one in Dublin.”