March in the St. Patrick's Parade -- Unless you are GLBT

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It's St Patrick's Day, the day that brings delight to many Irish and non-Irish. For those celebrating, Erin Go Bragh! Hopefully, some day, the NYC and Boston St Pat's parades will be truly inclusive so that my proud Irish GLBT friends can march in them, and celebrate the gifts they bring to the world, too. So, here is a toast to the cities in which they are allowed to openly march. Sláinte!

I talked to my best friend, John, last night. He is gay and lives in NY. It tears him up every year that he cannot fully enjoy the parade. "These are my people," he said, "whether they claim me or not. I am NY Irish and proud. Except on St. Patrick's Day when my own people make a point of telling me just how unwanted I am."

I was going to write about St Patrick and the snakes -- you know, how he drove them out of Ireland according to the legend. And I was going to ask you all what metaphorical snakes you'd like driven out of your lives. But the situation with the GLBT community being denied again just got under my skin and won't leave until I write about it.

The mayor of Boston will not be attending the parade again this year, in protest to the exclusions. Andy has posted a fine analysis of the history and issues of the Boston parade. The first year after gays participated openly, the parade organizers sought and obtained legal injunctions. He says :

In 1995, the Supreme Court unanimously held that parades are a form of public expression under First Amendment, and the Commonwealth could not force a private group applying for a public demonstration permit to include members of a group contrary to the private group’s expression (presumably, the Council thought GLIB’s marching was contrary, though this is where many take serious issue with the case)...And what exactly is the communicative element of this parade that GLIB’s participation so offends? I hear and read a lot of talk about “Irish family values” come up in defending this action. How does letting Star Wars Stormtroopers march in the parade further that message? It seems as the Council would seek to have it both ways in this one: a sufficiently vague expression to allow every group they think would be fun into the parade, but a sufficiently communicative and specific expression to find GLIB’s participation as offensive to the message and thus have a legally valid reason for exclusion. I’m not saying Stormtroopers shouldn’t be in the parade (they should), I’m saying GLIB should be in there, too. [ed. note - "Stormtroopers marched in costume from the StarWars movie.]

The New York City parade is held by the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), an Irish-Catholic fraternal organization. It is the largest St. Patrick's Day parade in the world, with over 100,000 marchers and over 2 million spectators in the streets. It is a HUGE deal in NY.

The AOH have refused to allow gay and lesbian groups to march in the parade since 1991. In 2006, the parade organizer, John Dunleavy, was interviewed by the Irish Times and said:

"If an Israeli group wants to march in New York, do you allow neo-Nazis into their parade? If African Americans are marching in Harlem, do they have to let the Ku Klux Klan into their parade? People have rights. If we let the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organisation in, is it the Irish Prostitute Association next?"

What? Is this 2009? Is this really NYC? My teeth just set on edge when hatred hides behind a religious face.

Paula tells us the story of Christine Quinn:

New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, an openly gay Irish American, has refused to march in the Big Apple’s St. Patrick’s Day parade again this year...
Quinn has said she been asking the parade’s organizers, the New York City St. Patrick’s Parade and Celebration Committee since 2006 to sit down and have a meeting to discuss possible compromises, but that she has yet to get a response from them
The organizers ... made it clear that she could march as an individual and as a city official but she could not display anything suggesting gay pride or her sexual orientation. So Quinn boycotted the event since, choosing instead to spend this year here in Washington DC. She will be attending a reception for Irish-Americans at the White House tonight night hosted by President Obama, and that will feature Prime Minister Brian Cowen of Ireland. Last year Quinn marched in the LGBT section of Dublin, Ireland’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

This is not just an average city parade run by some small group. This is a full-tilt-boogie-party parade. There are Irish police marching, Irish firefighters, union locals, high schools, religious groups, Irish teachers, and plenty of non-Irish people who are in bands or various groups.

It is not a reverential church-run parade for only strictly observant Catholics where they pass out prayer cards featuring St Patrick. It is a celebration of "all things Irish" -- all things as long as they are not things connected to the GLBT community.

It must be pointed out that not all cities have this ban. Many Catholic-run parades still include all people. Springfield, Missouri -- for example -- sings a different tune. Michelle documents with pictures and says:

I love this: The big winners of the St. Paddy's Day parade were from a Mexican Club
and a gay support group.
How awesome!

We all want to celebrate -- wear shamrocks, drink green beer and laugh -- even if only metaphorically. But then there is this darned lump in the throat. I think the Irish events are lively and probably a good antidote to a depressed country. But an exclusive event? No thanks. I'll pass.

It is a mixed bag.
Ms Fledermaus says it well.

I have mixed feelings about St.Patrick's day. They break down like this:

Happy people wearing green: Good!
Beer: Good!
Parades: Good!
Blarney: Good!
Potatoes: Really, really good!
Springtime: Good good good!
Happy drunken people wearing green and picking fights downtown while watching the parade: Bad.
Bad Irish accents: Bad.
Parades that do not let gay Irish folks parade: Bad.
The cabbage part of corned beef and cabbage: Bad bad bad bad!
St.Patrick driving all the Pagan folks out of Ireland in a metaphor: Baddity bad bad.
Throwing up green beer: Bad, and all too common.
Driving drunk while wearing green and smelling like cabbage: As bad as it gets, people...

This year, in Manhattan, thirteen blocks away, a gay protest was held on 57th St in NYC. But that is not all that is happening as a result of the exclusions.

Joanna points out that in the boroughs of NYC, something inclusive is afoot.

Kick off the month of March with the St. Pat’s for All parade Sunnyside and Woodside, Queens. This annual parade began in 2000 as an alternative to Manhattan’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, which has typically banned LGBT organizations from marching.

Activist Brendan Fay started the alternative parade. The St. Pat’s for All website speaks to the mission of the group and points out its nature by whom it has honored:

Ed Fowley... A dedicated and fearless Irish American who reached out to the least in our community, Ed was affectionately known as the "Mayor of Woodside." In 2001 we honored the life of Eileen Egan, friend of Dorothy Day and Mother Theresa she was an internationally respected advocate for non-violence and compassion. .. In 2002, we remembered our beloved friend, Father Mychal Judge Franciscan chaplain to the FDNY. A great supporter of our parade, Mychal died at the World Trade Center on September 11. In 2003 we celebrated the life of Irish American Philip Berrigan, a veteran & a courageous and compassionate man who was tirelessly outspoken against war and militarism. In 2004 we celebrated the life of Frank Durkan, renowned civil rights leader and prominent attorney. Additionally, we highlighted the international movement for equal civil marriage rights. The 2005 parade honored Mary Somosa, advocate for families with children living with disabilities and Stanley Rygor, community activist, celebrated musician and father of the late Robert Rygor. In 2006 we honored the internationally renowned Irish/Irish American brothers of stage and screen, the McCourt brothers, Frank, Malachy, Aiden and Michael McCourt, as well as Irish community organizer and St. Pat's for All co-founder, Ellen Duncan. In 2007, we honored Bronx public school teacher, Caroline Duggan and her Keltic Dream dancers from PS 59 in the Bronx. 2008s grand marshals were NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn and writer Pete Hamill. The honorees for the 2009 celebration were Belfast born director and screenwriter Terry George and singer Susan McKeown.

Now there is an idea -- host the parade you want to have. At least it gives people uncomfortable with the main parade a place to celebrate. But even though it is ON the bus, it is still not the main part of the bus. It beats no bus -- or does it?

It makes me crazy on a lot of levels.

This is a Saint's Day. A day when doing the right thing might be in the minds of those who claim to be religious, or spiritual, or Irish or all three.

OK ... it has converted into a secular free-for-most, but if that is the case, why draw the line? If it is a party day because you are Irish -- well, have at it. Everybody.

It just makes me so impossibly sad and angry when an event that has any ties to religion is so utterly and preposterously homophobic. It's time the world stopped hurting people. I know that sounds like that just fell from the overly-simplistic lips of Pollyanna, but it is true.

It is time the world stopped hurting people ---all people.

All of this leads me to ask --

1. What do you do when a religious group that you are part of says horrible things, or excludes people? Do you stay in and hope to be the voice of reform? Do you speak out?

2. If you were in NY or Boston, would you attend the parade? Would you march in it? Would you do anything?

3. Do you think the organizers had a right to exclude? Why?

Mata H, CE for Religion and Spirituality also blogs at Time's Fool

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