A St. Patrick’s Day parade for all of us

March 17, 2010

Sandy Boyer, co-host of Radio Free Eireann on WBAI in New York City and a veteran organizer for Irish political prisoners, describes this year's St. Pat's for All Parade.

THE ORGANIZERS of the St. Patrick's Day Parade that goes up New York's Fifth Avenue every year have sworn under oath that it is not an Irish parade.

In order to exclude the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization from the parade, they had to tell a New York court that it is a Catholic, not an Irish, event. Ironically, this would exclude not just lesbians and gay men, but some of Ireland's greatest heroes, like Wolfe Tone, Henry Joy McCracken, Robert Emmett and Charles Stewart Parnell--none of whom was Catholic.

Fortunately, New York also has an all-inclusive St Patrick's Day parade in Queens. It's called "St. Pat's for All," and its motto, taken from the proclamation issued by the Irish rebels in Easter 1916, is "Cherishing all the children of the nation equally."

On March 7, I thoroughly enjoyed participating in the eleventh annual St. Pat's for All Parade.

I was walking (no one really marches in this parade) between a group of Irish human rights lawyers and a Brooklyn group named after O'Donovan Rossa, a great Irish rebel who spent most of his life in exile in New York. Behind us was an Irish step dancing troupe made up exclusively of African-American students from a local elementary school. Behind them, we could hear the music of a Haitian drumming group.

As we moved down Skillman Avenue, the sidewalks were full of people who had come out for the parade. Most waved or applauded. A few carried signs like "sodomy." Some people playfully called out "Are you for it or against it?"

When the parade reached the end, we were able to see its amazing diversity. I remember a group from 1199SEIU (New York's hospital union), several lesbian and gay organizations, an Irish language group, and a large, spirited Mexican contingent. The Queens Kennel Club, compete with their dogs, brought up the rear.

As we made our way to the pub, I couldn't help wishing that the spirit of Queens could make it to Fifth Avenue. But I won't be holding my breath. I'll just make sure to make it to the St. Pat's for All Parade next year.

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