Brendan Fay pointed to an e-mail on his computer screen from the New York Fire Department’s Emerald Society Pipes and Drums corps confirming that it would be marching in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Queens, on Sunday.
“Now that’s how you know the tide has turned for us,” said Mr. Fay, 54, adding that this would be quite a change from the lone bagpiper that the fledgling parade had to settle for most years.
Mr. Fay helped found the parade in 2000, and since then he had had trouble finding pipe bands willing to play in this parade whose name, St. Pat’s for All, and theme of inclusion are a swipe at the much larger and older St. Patrick’s Day parade held on Fifth Avenue. In the Fifth Avenue parade, people seeking to march under gay banners have been turned away. (The organization that runs the parade says its policy is meant to discourage political displays, including banners and slogans on T-shirts.)
“I’d try to get pipe bands to participate, and they’d say something like, ‘Oh, you’re that parade – no, we’re not available,’” said Mr. Fay, who helped start the Queens event after being arrested at three St. Patrick’s Day parades in 1999 after he tried to march under a banner for a gay alliance.
“I know what it’s like to be told you’re not welcome,” Mr. Fay said as he rushed around his Astoria, Queens, home making last-minute preparations for this Sunday’s parade, which starts at 2 p.m. in Woodside and runs for two hours. It begins at Skillman Avenue and 47th Street and proceeds east on Skillman, ending at Woodside Avenue and 58th Street.
With the phone ringing constantly, Mr. Fay finalized details for portable toilets, pipers and puppets to be held aloft by children. The parade has grown in size every year, and this year he expects more than 2,000 participants.
Bars that once wanted nothing to do with the parade are now opening early for breakfast on parade day, he said.
As for the parade, he said, “We err on the side of hospitality and inclusiveness.” And with the doors wide open, he has certainly amassed a wide array of regular attendees, including from many ethnic groups in this extremely diverse area of Queens.
At the moment, Mr. Fay was making arrangements with Pakistani and Bengali contingents. There will be Bolivian, Ecuadorean, Korean and Chinese groups, as well as a troupe of young black and Latino step-dancers from the Bronx. Mr. Fay called a Turkish contingent seeking to march for the first time, to honor the food shipments that Turkey sent Ireland during the potato famine. Then there was the Mexican group marching in tribute to that country’s San Patricio battalion in the Mexican-American War.
“We try to reflect the spirit of New York – we’re all neighbors, we marry each other,” Mr. Fay said in his living room, which is presided over by a green statue of St. Patrick, rescued from a trash heap, with its arms broken off.
It was easier a decade ago when barely any politicians marched. That has changed, especially after Hillary Rodham Clinton showed up several times. Now elected officials are practically trampling over children to engage with spectators, joked Tom Moulter, Mr. Fay’s husband, who for the past week has been baking cakes and cookies for preparade events.
Now Mr. Fay’s in-box is full of e-mails from the offices of elected officials and politicians jostling for favored positions, including Joseph J. Lhota, a Republican candidate in the hotly contested race to succeed Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who will also be marching. Mr. Fay said he would probably not put the mayor next to the Occupy Wall Street contingent.
On a refrigerator was a sheaf of personal checks sent as donations, including one for $100 from Arriba Arriba, a Mexican restaurant on Queens Boulevard that heard about the parade from a nearby Irish bar.
As usual, the parade will honor the Rev. Father Michael Judge, the gay Fire Department chaplain who marched in the parade in 2000 and died on Sept. 11, 2001, at the World Trade Center. And as usual there will be a moment of silence for Robert Rygor, an early critic of the Fifth Avenue parade who died of complications from H.I.V. in 2004.
Mr. Fay went out to the garage and climbed up a stepladder to pull down the parade’s main banner, with help from Kathleen Walsh-D’Arcy, another leader of the event, which seems to have outgrown its early rebel days.
“We’re now part of the St. Patrick’s Day tradition in New York,” Mr. Fay said.