By Patrick Markey
The rainbow flag of the gay movement fluttered briefly alongside the tricolor on Sunday as First Lady Hillary Clinton marched in a Queens St. Patrick parade, lending her support to the city’s first Irish parade to include gay and lesbian groups.
While organizers of the Woodside event hailed it as a victory for tolerance, it seemed at times that the celebration of Ireland’s patron saint had been hijacked by the New York Democratic party establishment.
"Vote for Hillary" posters and signs for Bill Bradley’s presidential primary race lined the route as the first lady joined a clutch of city Democrats and added another public appearance in her Senate race against the city’s mayor, Rudy Giuliani.
The St. Patrick’s Day parade has become a running issue in Clinton’s senate campaign. When the first lady announced that she would march in Fifth Avenue parade, the Irish Gay and Lesbian Organization criticized her endorsement of an event that has banned gay participation for nine years.
But Brendan Fay, who heads the Lavender and Green Alliance, said the Queens parade had shown that there was acceptance for a parade that extended to all groups.
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"The majority of the people in the community were behind us and were very supportive, cheering and clapping," he said.
With a mob of television crews running alongside and a Secret Service vehicle bringing up the rear, the first lady worked the crowd from 43rd Street to 50th Street before leaving the march in a black van.
It was an eclectic group that followed the Democratic bandwagon. A range of gay and lesbian groups marched behind the first lady, with a Korean dance troupe, business leaders, human-rights groups and a regiment of practitioners of the Chinese spiritual group Falun Gong.
The family of republican deportee Malachy McAllister marched for support of their fight, and even former Green Party candidate Grandpa Al Lewis of "The Munsters" TV series managed to put in an appearance.
"She’s so beautiful, beautiful," screamed one excited woman who managed to squeeze a hug out of the first lady under the watchful eye of her security detail.
Sitting on the pavement as the parade meandered its way to Woodside, Limerick native Brenda McDermott said she was proud to support the gay marchers.
"It would have been better if more people had turned out," she said. "But we’re here to cheer them on. We’re proud of them."
Most of the residents who lined the route seemed just as pleased to see Clinton as the gay participants in their neighborhood. But others were wary less of the first lady’s involvement than at the prospect of a gay parade.
Just two blocks from where the senate candidate left, at 52nd Street, opposition raised its head. Flapping in the breeze two banners slung from a window declared the parade sacrilegious and blasphemous. Posters stuck in the window called it the line of shame.
"I’m here because it’s a homosexual parade," said Anne Gilmartin, who was holding a sign that read, "Sodomites."
"St. Patrick is a great saint and we’re Irish Americans. We can’t have this," she said.
As they approached the corner where the signs greeted the parade, most marchers simply smiled and lifted a victory sign to the twitching curtains on the building’s second floor.
For ILGO, the battle goes on, however. Still smarting from its defeat in federal court by AOH attorneys and the New York City lawyers, the group’s leaders have promised a large turnout for their annual protest on Fifth Avenue for St. Patrick’s Day.
In a statement about the Queens event, ILGO said that the Woodside parade would not be considered an alternative to the Manhattan parade. Inviting the first lady to test her integrity, ILGO said Clinton should join the boycott of the Fifth Avenue parade.
"It doesn’t matter where else you march, how many times you march, or what spin you put on marching — what matters is integrity," the group’s statement read.
"You can’t march in other parades that welcome queers, whether its this parade in Queens or gay pride parades, and then expect it to be OK to march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade — that’s wanting your cake and eating it."