Did you enjoy St. Patrick’s Day? Hope so. Perhaps you visited the New York City parade, which is the world’s largest St. Patrick’s Day celebration, and enjoyed watching the marching and revelry? Maybe you even took part? But were you aware that, since 1995, a Supreme Court ruling means that the organizers of the parade can, and have, banned gay people from marching if they show any open signs of their sexuality such as rainbow flags, pins or banners, citing that the parade is a private religious celebration. Conversely, in Dublin and in Cork, Ireland, gay marchers are welcomed and are free to express themselves.
The Ancient Order of Hibernia who are the organizers of the parade, have refused to budge on the issue which was first raised in 1995 after the Supreme Court ruled that it was the Order’s right to free speech that meant they could bar open displays of sexual identity from those participating in the parade.
However, the order has shown signs of wishing the ban had gone further, when members have made comments such as “If we let the Ilgo [the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organisation] in, is it the Irish Prostitute Association next?”
These were the words of the St. Patrick’s Day parade chairman John Dunleavy at the March 2006 parade, where he also drew a litany of offensive comparisons over what it would be like for the Order of Hibernia to let openly gay marchers into the parade:
“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?”
You might contend that one neo-Nazi is already marching in the parade, but, at any length, this outburst marred the 2006 celebrations and continues, to this day, to overshadow what is otherwise a march of tradition, culture and celebration.
But one response by Fox News host Bill O’Rilley, also from 2006, perhaps sums up what many an opinion might be, that this is an issue blown out of proportion and to let the Order have its march. O’Reilly said that gay people participating in the parade would be “inappropriate” and that:
“You have your Gay Day parade. You have your Stonewall celebration. You have your Halloween deal, OK? You don’t need this.” Charmingly, he then marred a somewhat reasonable argument with, “I don’t want these people intruding on a parade where little children are standing there, watching”.
He then goes on to address LGBT people, telling them, what they do in the privacy of their own homes is up to them, but it has no place in a parade honouring a Saint. I hadn’t realized that the LGBT community had asked for beds on wheels to be supplied so that they might consummate their relationships with a crowd of spectators watching.
To read the full Bill O’Rilley transcript please go here.
This year, as with every year since the ban was introduced, the city’s openly gay City Council speaker Christine Quinn has asked to have meetings with the parade organizers to try and work out this issue. The Ancient Order of Hibernians has declined to even respond. Ms. Quinn is Irish-American, and she strongly feels that her cultural identity and her sexuality should not be made to sit apart like naughty school children who can’t get along. Unfortunately Quinn, and other Irish-American LGBT individuals like her, are forced into refusing to participate in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, feeling that it’s an all or nothing situation.
Being gay and being religious are not mutually exclusive, and nor is being LGBT in some way indicative of being unable to control displays of a sexual nature as comments like those that O’Rilley and parade chairman John Dunleavy seem to think.
Of course what’s appropriate in a St. Patrick’s Day parade needs to be considered: was anyone suggesting that leather clad men would be gyrating to techno music in front of the traditionalist marchers and gathered families? No. But an inclusion in the parade as a gesture of unity, yes, that is something to want. And now, it is something that LGBT people have to yet again strive for.
O’Rilley also says in the above transcript, that “No Irish people are banned from marching in the parade.” But clearly, if you’re Irish and gay and want to show your pride for both existing in tandem, you are. You are made to segregate the two by this ruling that the Supreme Court made off the back of an appeal by The Ancient Order of Hibernia and the parade’s organizers. And that can’t be right, can it?