For LGBT New Yorkers, No Luck of the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day
For decades, instead of celebrating, Irish LGBTs in New York City have spent St. Patrick’s Day protesting their exclusion from the Hibernians annual parade down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. For some years, they and their supporters have marched in an alternative, far smaller, "inclusive parade" in Queens.
Advances seemingly everywhere else -- most prominently, the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York State -- have LGBT activists once again questioning when the Ancient Order of Hibernians’ ill-advised policy of LGBT exclusion will at long last come to an end. The inclusion of LGBTs in St. Patrick’s Day parades in Dublin and Cork, Ireland, has led to further pressure on the Hibernians, who run the Fifth Avenue parade.
"It remains a very significant personal and political disappointment to me that we have not been able to move parade organizers to a different place as it relates to full inclusion in the Fifth Avenue parade," said City Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn. "Every morning when I wake up I’m Irish lesbian. I’m a package deal. I don’t come a la carte. You want me, you get all of me."
Quinn, herself an out-lesbian and out-and-proud daughter of the Emerald Isle, has long refused to march in the Hibernians’ parade. She has instead marched in Queens.
Brendan Fay, organizer of the St. Pat’s For All parade in Queens, was quick to praise Quinn. "She has been consistent, and appreciates both the principle and the issue," he said. Fay is less than thrilled that Mayor Michael Bloomberg has once again chosen to march down Fifth Avenue as well as his in Queens.
For Fay, the Queens parade would continue to open the doors to all who wanted to march. "Of course we urge people not to march in parades that literally directly discriminate against LGBT people," said Fay. "But we are St. Pat’s for All -- we are what we say -- and for a few hours at our parade, we can all find unlikely allies."
As political activist David Mixner noted, Quinn is only one of many New York politicians who refused to march in the parade because of this bigotry and exclusion. Last year, the Irish Foreign Minister condemned the parade, and even the former President of Ireland Mary McAleese declined an invitation to be Grand Marshal.
"The exclusion of LGBT people from Irish celebrations on Fifth Avenue is completely out of sync, and does not reflect at all the Irish experience," Fay said. "At our parade, we read greetings and messages of support from McAleese and President Michael D. Higgins, and Ireland’s largest union sent over a banner to be carried in our parade. In 1992, while we were literally barricaded from the Fifth Avenue parade, an Irish lesbian and gay youth group won first prize in Cork’s parade."
The Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization (ILGO) and other Irish LGBT groups continue to protest the Hibernians. As many as 250 protestors were arrested in 1993. Similar protests and arrests have occurred in every year since.
Challenges against LGBT exclusion in St. Patrick’s Day parades heated up in the Bronx in 1999, when the Lavender and Green Alliance was invited to march but was later informed they would not be welcome. Irish LGBTs are still excluded from parades in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Staten Island.
In Boston, gay men and lesbians pressed so hard to be permitted in 1994 that the private sponsor cancelled the parade after a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of gay marchers.
The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the ruling in the 1995 case Hurley vs. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Group of Boston, which ruled parade organizers have a legal right to decide who marches. This year, the Boston parade organizers told LGBTs who wanted to march that the parade was full.
"Organizers of the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade have barred LGBTQ people and groups from marching in the Parade for 18 years simply because they are openly LGBTQ," said MassEquality executive director Kara Suffredini. "After years of rejecting MassEquality, in particular, because it is an LGBTQ organization, it seems disingenuous to now ban the organization because the Parade is allegedly ’full’."
This year, LGBT Bostonians will join the nonprofit Mass Equality to march in their own parade, scheduled to begin an hour after the Allied War Veterans Council parade and on the same route.
"To be sure, the LGBTQ community in Massachusetts faces many issues more urgent than the ability to participate in a parade -- youth homelessness, bullying, anti-transgender discrimination, HIV/AIDS, elder abuse, and more," said Suffredini. "But public rejection by an established cultural institution like the St. Patrick’s Day Parade is significant in that it’s emblematic of the more life-altering rejection our community members face every day."
Last year, some hoped that NBC and parent company Comcast, which owns broadcast rights to the New York parade, would force the Hibernians to change their policy to adhere to the company’s diversity policy. Bolstering this optimism was a letter from the FCC stating that Comcast (which sponsors the annual GLAAD Media Awards) must adhere to diversity rules for seven years, lest the merger be undone.
"The idea that a group of LGBT people aren’t allowed to participate in a parade in the middle of New York City in the year 2012 is completely out of touch with a majority of Americans and it is frankly indefensible," GLAAD spokesperson Herndon Graddick said in a 2012 statement.
For now, however, the 1995 court decision protects the Hibernians’ right to exclude LGBT marchers, while Irish LGBTs must be content with inclusive alternatives.