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St. Pat’s for All participants celebrate ban lift on big parade

Jim Burke (50) representing Out Rockaway is joined

Jim Burke (50) representing Out Rockaway is joined by hundreds of others prior to the kick off the Queens St. Patrick's Day Parade on Skillman Ave. on Sunday, March 6, 2016. Credit: Steven Sunshine

Longtime participants of a Queens parade founded 17 years ago as an all-inclusive St. Patrick’s Day celebration reveled Sunday in a landmark decision by organizers of the larger traditional Manhattan march to lift their ban on openly gay participants.

Elected officials and LGBT activists at the St. Pat’s for All parade said they were proud to be supporters of the annual event in Sunnyside and Woodside and look forward to marching next week in midtown Manhattan after years of boycotting.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said St. Pat’s for All organizers have succeeded in sending “a beacon of hope and tell us we are going some place better. Now brothers and sisters, we have arrived at that better place and on March 17, we will be marching together down Fifth Avenue — all together celebrating the extraordinary heritage of the Irish people.”

De Blasio waved the rainbow flag of the LGBT movement alongside the green-white-and-orange flag of Ireland as they marched up Skillman Avenue to bagpipe music and amid Irish step dancers. Girl Scout troops and horse-drawn carriages were part of the procession. City, state and federal officials attended in a show of solidarity.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and several members of the council’s LGBT caucus, including Irish-Americans Danny Dromm and Jimmy Van Bramer, spoke with pride of St. Pat’s for All’s accomplishments at a rally before the parade.

Brendan Fay, St. Pat’s for All’s founder and co-chair, has been arrested a dozen times over the years protesting the Manhattan parade but will march for the first time this year behind the banner of the Lavender & Green Alliance.

He spoke emotionally about the advocacy of St. Pat’s for All.

“Celebrations should be about welcome. That’s what Irish people used to be known for,” Fay told Newsday. “For a few hours, Skillman Avenue becomes Ireland of the welcomes, and Fifth Avenue will this year as well for the first time.”

One apartment along the parade route had signs condemning homosexuality in its in windows. “Depraved” and “Corruption: Not in our faith or parish,” they read.

But the protest paled in comparison to the jubilant St. Pat’s for All participants, who reiterated that they have been and are on the “right side of history.”

Van Bramer, who represents the Sunnyside district and has marched in St. Pat’s for All every year, said the parade won’t end just because it successfully influenced the policy of its Manhattan counterpart.

“Allowing this parade to continue to grow in importance and spirit helped to propel the change that ultimately happened,” he said. “It became something much more than just a protest of the Fifth Avenue parade, it actually became its own very powerful symbol of being both Irish and inclusive.”

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