The Staten Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which has faced criticism for its exclusion of LGBTQ groups, is under renewed heat for its decision to ban a local beauty pageant winner from marching this past Saturday just hours after she publicly came out as bisexual.
Madison L’Insalata, 23, who was crowned Miss Staten Island last year, had planned to sport rainbow colors during the parade in support of the LGBTQ community, but she was told after coming out in a New York Post article on Friday that she would not be allowed to march due to “safety concerns.”
“I’m proud of the community that I am from, and I’m proud to be Miss Staten Island,” she said. “I still want to be a part of this tradition, but I’m not going to hide who I am.”
Though she couldn’t march, L’Insalata still attended the parade, waving a rainbow pride flag from the sidelines. She said it would have made her “sick to my stomach” to do nothing, prompting her decision to speak out.
Larry Cummings, president of the parade committee that was responsible for the decision to exclude L’Insalata, could not be reached for a comment. However, Cummings has been a vocal opponent of including LGBTQ people in the annual event. In 2018, he told the Irish Voice: “Our parade is for Irish heritage and culture. It is not a political or sexual identification parade.”
Just last month, Cummings responded in apparent exasperation when asked if the parade would change its stance on LGBTQ inclusion.
“Here’s the deal: It’s a nonsexual identification parade and that’s that. No, they are not marching.” he told The Staten Island Advance. “Don’t try to keep asking a million friggin’ questions, OK?”
Carol Bullock, executive director of the Pride Center of Staten Island, was disappointed by the committee’s decision to prohibit L’Insalata from marching.
“I found it disgusting, quite frankly,” she said. “But I also felt extremely proud. I was so proud that she stood up for who she is, and is celebrating that.”
The Pride Center has for years been denied from marching in the parade under its own banner. Bullock, who has served as the center’s executive director for three years, said she has tried repeatedly to change the parade committee’s stance — but every year, she receives the same answer.
“Even though I’m prepared that it’s going to be a no, it’s still tough,” she said. “It’s tough to go into a place knowing that you’re going to be discriminated against right to your face.”
Only a few years ago, Staten Island would not have been alone in its exclusion of LGBTQ groups in New York City. It wasn’t until 2015 that the first of such groups, Out@NBCUniversal, was allowed to march in Manhattan’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the largest such parade in the world. But today, Staten Island remains the final holdout among the city’s five boroughs. Out@NBCUniversal is the LGBTQ employee resource group of Comcast/NBCUniversal, NBC News’ parent company.
Still, both Bullock and L’Insalata said they were uplifted to see a flood of public support at the parade, spotting pride flags and balloon arches scattered across Forest Avenue.
“There were pride flags literally everywhere, more than I’ve ever seen,” L’Insalata said, noting that she had observed a roughly even split between Irish and pride flags. “By banning us and by not allowing us to march, he turned it into a pride parade,” she said of Cummings.
Bullock added that she had witnessed many acts of support during the parade, including Republican City Councilman Joseph Borelli’s refusal to remove a pride flag pin after being told he could not march while wearing it. Borelli told the New York Post he supports the Pride Center of Staten Island, and did not see the pin as an offense to Irish culture.
For members of the Port Richmond High School marching band, a similar choice was offered: remove their pride stickers or be barred from marching in the parade. The Staten Island students opted not to march.
Danielle Filson, deputy press secretary of the NYC Department of Education, said, “It was unacceptable to ask these students to take off their stickers, and problematic that their participation in the parade was contingent on not wearing a pride sticker.”
“We are proud of our students for standing up for the LGBTQ+ community and standing against discrimination,” she added.
In the aftermath of the parade, several petitions have circulated online calling for Cummings’ removal — some of which have garnered thousands of signatures. But while L’Insalata understands this desire, she hopes for a different outcome.
“A lot of people just want him totally removed, and the thing is, he was trying to shut me and the rest of the LGBTQ community out. He wasn’t trying to have a discussion,” she said. “If I do the same thing, and if other people do the same thing by pushing him out, I don’t think that anything gets accomplished.”
L’Insalata said the outpouring of support at the parade sent a clear message: “The community is ready for change.”
She hopes the parade committee will listen.