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As organizers prepared for Sunday's sixth annual Queens St. Patrick's Day Parade, co-chairwoman Barbara Heffernan Mohr reflected on the humble origins of an event that was born out of a commitment to inclusivity and has blossomed into a multitudinous affair drawing thousands of neighbors from Sunnyside, Woodside and beyond.Driven by a dedication to the belief that all should be welcomed for a celebration of the Irish heritage that has touched lives well beyond the Emerald Isle, Mohr said she and other organizers, including co-chairman and Astoria native Brendan Fay, waged an uphill battle to launch the first parade that welcomed marchers of all stripes, including but by no means limited to gays and lesbians.Manhattan's better-known St. Patrick's Day parade, scheduled for the following week, does not allow gay marchers."When we first started this parade, there were like six of us who started organizing (and) we weren't exactly welcomed with open arms by some people because (they) did not understand what it was about," said Mohr, who is a former nun and a widow. "I said, 'I don't care if the three of us walk the route of this parade by ourselves, it's gonna happen.'" "For me personally, I'm a Catholic and justice is very important and working for justice is very important," she added.In the end, hundreds of marchers bearing balloons and banners turned out for the first celebration. And this year, among the thousands expected to take part in the parade that kicks off at Skillman Avenue and 43rd Street Sunday will be dozens of children's groups, Korean, Caribbean and Latino organizations, marching bands from across the city and a host of politicians, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Mohr said.New Paltz Mayor Jason West, who was arrested after officiating several same-sex marriages, U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) and other politicians were also expected to attend. "Our parade is very interconnected with the community," said Mohr, who pointed out that this year's theme - "Cherishing all children of the nation equally " - is not only a nod to the festival's inclusive nature but also a clear reference to the Irish roots of many progressive social movements. The quote is drawn from the Proclamation of the Irish Republic of 1916, which espoused thoughts on women's equality that Mohr said were ahead of their time.Among others, the parade will honor Astoria residents Stanley and Kathleen Rygor for their work with the parents of AIDS patients and Mary Somosa, of Hell's Kitchen in Manhattan, whose daughters' cerebral palsy sparked her ongoing crusade for the rights of disabled people, Mohr said.Children's groups from across the borough are expected to turn out in droves, led through the streets by pipers, unions, religious communities and puppeteers, Mohr said. This year's parade also will feature more than 30 life-size puppets that parade-goers are invited to help hoist."You'll hear us because we'll be making a lot of noise," Mohr said.Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.
©2005 Community Newspaper Group
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