Exclusion of LGBTQ+ groups from Staten Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade leads to dwindling business, low turnout

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Jody’s Club Forest.
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Up and down Forest Avenue in West Brighton, Staten Island, Pride flags dot business windows, their owners publicly declaring support for the LGBTQ+ community. The show of support this time of year is closely linked to one of the borough’s oldest traditions — the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and the ongoing controversy over its exclusion of LGBTQ+ groups.

While the area usually prepares for the parade — kicking off Sunday afternoon — with much excitement, some say there is far less joy in the event now as the Staten Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee continues to deny LGBTQ+ groups from marching.

Local leaders say the exclusion has also resulted in declining attendance and fewer opportunities for the bars and restaurants along Forest Avenue.

“It used to be a really big, happy event for family and friends,” said Andrea Morse, a member of the Board of Directors for the Forest Avenue Business Improvement District (BID). “Now people are mad. There’s been a lot fewer people on the sidelines. The joy has gone out of it.”

Megan Coppola, owner of Beans ‘n’ Leaves Coffee and Tea Cafe on Forest Avenue, said support for the parade has changed since the parade committee began barring LGBTQ+ community groups like the Pride Center of Staten Island and Gay Officers Action League (GOAL) — both of which were again denied participation in this year’s parade — citing a ban on “political or sexual identification agendas.”

“Regardless of the number of people who came out, it was always a day where everyone was Irish for a day,” Coppola said. “But it’s a different parade [now] with much less people.”

Perhaps the most impacted by the exclusion is Terrence Haggerty, owner of Jody’s Club Forest on the avenue — the longtime location of the parade committee’s annual parade-day breakfast.

“It’s dwindled compared to what it used to be,” Haggerty said of the parade. “It used to be longer, more festive. Now it is slower with less people. Every year, there’s this overshadow.”

For years, the Island’s political leaders and elected officials would gather at Haggerty’s restaurant prior to the start of the parade — a tradition started by Haggerty’s late father, Jody Haggerty. However, on Feb. 17, those in charge of the pre-parade breakfast, formally known as the Jerome X. O’Donovan Parade Day Breakfast, announced they would not be hosting this year’s “political breakfast” due to the parade committee’s ongoing exclusion of local LGBTQ+ groups.

“Their exclusion is based on an ignorant misunderstanding about what this day, the Catholic church, and these groups stand for, and we remain steadfast in our call for the Parade Committee to finally make the right decision and end their discriminatory prohibition on them from marching. But until then, we cannot in good conscience continue to host our pre-parade breakfast as we have done for so many years,” said District Attorney Michael McMahon in a statement.

McMahon, a member of the pre-parade breakfast committee, went on to say that the day-long celebrations have been “sullied” in recent years as a result of the parade committee.

“Their exclusion is based on an ignorant misunderstanding about what this day, the Catholic church, and these groups stand for, and we remain steadfast in our call for the Parade Committee to finally make the right decision and end their discriminatory prohibition on them from marching,” he said. “But until then, we cannot in good conscience continue to host our pre-parade breakfast as we have done for so many years.”

McMahon is refusing to march in the parade along with other political leaders from Staten Island (and from across the political aisle), including Council Member David Carr (R-Mid Island) and State Sen. Jessica Scarcella-Spanton (D-North Shore/South Brooklyn). The only two political leaders who are expected to march on Sunday will be Congress Member Nicole Malliotakis and Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella.

Speaking to amNewYork Metro, Haggerty called the parade committee’s decision “idiotic,” and said that he would love to see all be included in future parades. (Jody’s will remain open for business Sunday despite not hosting the breakfast.)

The Staten Island version of the St. Patrick’s Day parade is believed to be the only local parade that forbids LBGTQ+ groups from marching. The New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade in Manhattan lifted its ban in 2016. Other U.S. cities such as Boston, Chicago, and Washington D.C. allow the LGBTQ+ community to march in their parades. Even Dublin, Ireland has allowed this group to participate in its own St. Patrick’s Day parade.

The Pride Center of Staten Island an GOAL have been applying to participate in the Staten Island parade since 2011, even after its committee voted to ban LGBTQ+ groups from marching under a banner. Parade President Larry Cummings told the Irish Central Voice in 2018 that the decision was made to protect the parade’s “culture.”

“Our parade is for Irish heritage and culture,” he told the international outlet. “It is not a political or sexual identification parade.”

Ongoing hostility

Carol Bullock has been submitting the Pride Center’s application every year since taking over as executive director in 2017. Every time she tries to drop off the paperwork, she says she is turned away at the door by Cummings.

This year, the Staten Island Advance reported that Cummings behaved in a “hostile” manner towards her and an Advance photographer.

Despite the “really awful” treatment from Cummings, Bullock told amNewYork Metro she gets support from many people all over Staten Island. “Every year there is more and more support,” she said. “At some point, there’s got to be a breaking point and we’ll get that call saying, ‘you’re allowed to march,’ because this is driving down businesses and people aren’t showing up.”

In this picture from 2022, applicants associated with LGBTQ+ groups plead with Parade President Larry Cummings as he rejects their bid to participate in the annual Staten Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Morse, of the Forest Avenue BID, believes this year’s parade will be “telling” about just how much of a negative impact the exclusion of LGBTQ+ groups from the parade has on the event and the local businesses.

“The St. Patrick’s Day parade is a big, important day,” she said. “A lot of businesses make a lot of money from it. But [the parade committee has] hijacked our beloved parade. This has got to stop.”

Efforts to secure the parade’s future are also in the works. For the second time since last July, Staten Island’s Community Board 1 has requested that Mayor Eric Adams withhold funds and city services like police and sanitation from the parade due to the LGBTQ+ exclusion.

While the mayor has committed to not marching in this year’s parade, he said the board’s request “makes no sense.” When reached for comment by amNewYork Metro, officials at CB1 declined.

Bullock, though, understands the perspective and thinks the parade committee should foot the bill for those services. She also hopes local businesses can rebound from any loss of business during the usually-busy parade day.

With that in mind, Staten Island’s Pride Center plans to host a “Crawl for All” along Forest Avenue on March 18. The business-crawl is meant to thank all those owners who have showed their support for the Island’s LGBTQ+ community over the years, and is meant to help them recover from the losses they may experience as a result of the parade’s low turnout.

“It is a way for us to say thank you,” she said, stressing that is neither a fundraiser for the Pride Center, nor is it a St. Patrick’s Day Parade alternative. “They publicly help us and the right thing to do to help them. It’s a goodwill thing.”

Bullock is looking forward to the Rainbow Run, or Forest Avenue Mile, an inclusive event happening the morning of the parade.

What’s next?

While it remains to be seen what Sunday’s turnout will look like compared to previous years — and what business will look like along Forest Avenue — locals hope for changes between now and next year’s march.

“There needs to be continued pressure against the people making these decisions,” Morse said. “You have a parade and nobody comes, what have you accomplished? It’s terrible. These are our friends and family. I hope and pray the forces of community, love, and acceptance will win out.”

Coppola said that, in the meantime, her group will stand with those that are excluded.

“We are very disappointed by the lack of inclusion in the Staten Island St. Patrick’s Day parade in the world we [can] love in any form, [no one] should be denied or turned away from,” she said. “We stand with the Pride Center in hopes that change is on the horizon for the St. Patrick’s Day parade which was once a day of celebration in our community.”

amNewYork Metro made multiple attempts to contact the Staten Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade committee for comment, but received no answer.