Staten Island’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade was a queer triumph

Rainbows (and leprechauns) decorated the St. Patricks Day Parade route in Staten Island.
Rainbows (and leprechauns) decorated the St. Patricks Day Parade route in Staten Island.

As a trans woman who fled the South to live in Manhattan, I love visiting our southern sister borough–Staten Island. Unlike many of my queer friends, I like it there for more reasons than the Wu-Tang Clan. The less polished streets and more conservative views remind me of home in many ways. Visiting queer-friendly bookstores like the Every Thing Goes Book Cafe and Neighborhood Stage makes me feel like I’m in North Carolina again. Plus, the view of the Statue of Liberty from the free ferry from Manhattan is breathtaking. 

As I stepped onto the streets of Staten Island for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, I couldn’t shake off the feeling of skepticism. Staten Island was taking steps towards equality by allowing LGBTQ+ groups to march openly in the parade – a move that the Manhattan St. Patrick’s Day Parade had refused just a few weeks prior.

Accompanied by my longtime friend Bob, whose last visit to Staten Island was 30 years ago, we embarked on a journey that would challenge our stereotypes of the only Republican borough in the city.

An amalgamation of Irish pride and the promise of positive change pulsated through the streets. Amidst the sea of green, and despite the heavy presence of police, rainbow flags were proudly displayed. The Manhattan St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which was established in 1762, stubbornly continues to refuse openly queer participation, but here, in the borough known for its conservative views, acceptance was unfolding.

Bob and I felt a sense of belonging that completely shattered our preconceptions of Staten Island. As the parade wound through the borough’s heart, we exchanged smiles with allies and knowing nods with fellow community members. Every step on the Franklin Street pavement felt like a move toward equality. 

Our encounter with the mayor underscored the significance of this milestone. While his background as a former cop raises suspicion from some in the community, his presence at the forefront, words of encouragement, and support for LGBTQ+ inclusion seemed genuine.

After Mayor Adams was whisked away by his security team, we sought refuge in the embrace of Staten Island’s Irish community, marching down Franklin Street with about 50 people from the Pride Center of Staten Island. My expectation of us running into anti-LGBTQ+ groups, with their usual carbon copy signs, started to wane. Watching the crowds of people on the sidewalk, standing side by side with both green clovers and rainbows in hand, I felt included.

Ultimately, our journey to the Staten Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade was more than a celebration of Irish heritage; it was a testament to the enduring legacy of resilience from the LGBTQ+ community. In the 1970s, trans women pushed themselves to the front of the NYC Pride parade despite not being welcomed with open arms; they belonged just as much as everyone else. Now queers were part of a traditionally exclusive parade again.

As we bid farewell to our often overlooked sister borough, we carried a renewed hope that change can happen — even in Staten Island. The next time someone takes a cheap shot at Staten Island, I’ll be the first to let them know that Staten Island stood up for me and other queer people and that positive change can occur even in unexpected places.

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