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Brendan Faye: Gay activist wins battle to march on St. Patty’s Day

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Astoria resident Brendan Fay fought for a quarter of a century for the 255-year-old St. Patrick’s Day Parade to be opened up to gay groups and in March, as 330 members of his Lavender and Green Alliance turned onto Fifth Avenue to cheers from the crowd, tears of joy flowed down his face.

“Unusually for me I was speechless,” Fay said about the first Irish LGBT group to march with its banner. “This was a marvelous moment for members of Lavender and Green, for the Irish community and the city.”

After marching with Mayor David Dinkins, Astoria’s Robert Rygor and the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization in 1991 without a banner, Fay’s employment as a Catholic high school religion teacher in Queens was terminated. Following years of exclusion, protests and arrests, he began the inclusive St. Pat’s for All parade in Sunnyside and Woodside in 1999.

“It was a historic moment to see our movement go from Skillman Avenue to have at long last reached Fifth Avenue after our 25 year struggle for inclusion,” he said. “After 25 years on a long and winding road, here we were celebrating being Irish and LGBT.”

Marching with Fay was Mayor Bill de Blasio and former Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who was arrested several times protesting the parade in the 1990s. LGBT activist Edith Windsor and author Malachy McCourt marched alongside gay Councilmen Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) and Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside).

“Brendan Fay has devoted years to human rights advocacy in the U.S. as well as in Ireland,” Dromm said. “Brendan has done much to help secure civil rights for people of Irish descent and it has been my pleasure to work with him.”

Van Bramer found it fitting that the ban was lifted as the Irish marked the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising against British rule.

“For the past two decades, Brendan Fay has been an incredible organizer and advocate. His founding of the St. Pat’s for All parade helped make the Fifth Avenue St. Patrick’s Day Parade all-inclusive,” he said. “I am grateful to have worked with Brendan on his quest to bring to life the value proudly proclaimed on Easter 1916: ‘cherishing all the children of the nation, equally.’”

Fay has seen attitudes towards the LGBT community change during the last 25 years in the borough and the world.

“So much of the history of this struggle happened right here in Queens and that is often overlooked,” he said. “And last May 22, the people of Ireland voted overwhelmingly to extend marriage equality to same-sex couples before we did it here. It was an extraordinary moment that has had a ripple effect around the world.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

Updated 2:45 pm, May 27, 2016
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