Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who twice voted to retain laws against private adult consensual sodomy and is a sworn opponent of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling guaranteeing women the right to choose, walked 30 blocks up the middle of Fifth Avenue as grand marshal of the Columbus Day Parade on Monday relatively unmolested—and unrecognized for that matter.
A group of about 25 protesters from the Greater Voices coalition of progressive lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender political clubs at the corner of 59th Street was the only sign of dissent, shouting “shame” at the man who has ridiculed the court for “signing on to the homosexual agenda.”
Among the leaders protesting were Gary Parker, president of Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn; Melissa Sklarz, president of Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats of Manhattan; Dirk McCall, president of the Stonewall Democratic Club; and Gerard Cabrera, co-president of the Out People of Color Political Action Club. Their flier cited Scalia’s “shameful record on reproductive rights, civil liberties, affirmative action, and LGBT rights.” They were joined by Assemblyman Dick Gottfried, a Chelsea Democrat.
Cabrera said, “I think generally Supreme Court justices are not viewed as public figures the way politicians are. But the fact that Scalia has so politicized his own office by going to extremes when writing about his animosity toward the LGBT community, he sets himself apart from the rest of the court—except for [Clarence] Thomas—who are supposed to be just interpreters of the law.”
Even less noticed than Scalia in the parade was Italy’s Minister for Italians Abroad, Mirko Tremaglia, who was allowed to ride in one of the lead cars despite his fascism and anti-gay bigotry. Greater Voices took advantage of the opportunity to boo him as well.
In 2003, Tremaglia wrote that “cuttoloni” (“faggots”) are in control of the European Union. “That’s what we call them where I’m from,” the minister said at the time. He was incensed that the EU had taken the unprecedented step of rejecting the anti-gay Rocco Buttiglione, Italy’s nominee to head the union’s Justice Commission.
When this reporter tried to ask Tremaglia, through an interpreter, if her were sorry for that statement, the translator asked, “You want me to ask him that? This happened more than a year ago. All the people love the minister.”
Tremaglia said his ride in the parade was a “triumph,” that he was “very proud,” that he “wants expatriate Italians to vote,” and, on the issue of gay rights, “everybody is entitled to live.”
In 1943, after Italian dictator Benito Mussolini had been forced to flee Rome and establish a rump fascist Salo Republic in northern Italy, under the protection of the Nazis, Tremaglia volunteered to serve him. On his Web site Direland, Gay City News contributor Doug Ireland wrote, “The Repubblica di Salò, which owed its existence entirely to the Nazis, participated actively in the deportation of hundreds of Italian Jews, gays, gypsies, and other minorities to extermination camps during the Holocaust. Tremaglia is proud of his fascist past and makes no apology for it.”
Lawrence Auriana, president of the Columbus Citizens Foundation that runs the parade, told The New York Times that while Tremaglia was a “special guest of honor” at the event two years ago and was “simply attending this year.”
“He doesn’t speak a word of English so I haven’t read about his past views,” Auriana said.
Charles Gargano, chair of the board of the foundation, said Tremaglia “wasn’t invited by the board” to be an honored guest this year.
In 2002, Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg boycotted the parade when his friend Lorraine Bracco, who plays Tony Soprano’s shrink on HBO, was told she was not welcome. This year the mayor marched.
Though Scalia wore a “Grand Marshal” sash, but there were no signs alerting the thin crowd of spectators along the avenue who he was. When he tried to shake hands with folks on the sidelines, his security detail hustled him back to the center of the street, much to his consternation. Scalia is said by some observers to be in a foul mood these days, perhaps because he was passed over for chief justice in favor of John Roberts’ whose swearing in he skipped.
Two of the gay protesters dogged Scalia for ten blocks or so from the sidelines, castigating him for “stealing” the 2000 election for George W. Bush, among other things.
When asked by this reporter how his experience in this parade this year differed from marching with Xavier High School as a Queens youth, all Scalia would say was, “I’m older.” When asked later where he saw gay issues going on the court, he responded, with exasperation, “I have no idea.”
Ed Skyler, the mayor’s spokesman, was asked if Bloomberg were “happy, sad, or indifferent” about the choice of Scalia as grand marshal.
“Indifferent,” Skyler replied.
The mayor, who condemned Bush’s choice of Roberts for chief justice, in a move many viewed as a sop to Democratic voters, shook Scalia’s hand after the march, leaning away from the justice, avoiding a cozy two-shot of them.
Asked directly how he felt about the choice of Scalia, Bloomberg said, “He’s welcome to New York.”
Democratic mayoral candidate Fernando Ferrer marched in the parade and his spokesperson did not return a call for comment on Scalia’s presence.
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer said, while marching, “I don’t agree with [Scalia] on many things,” but added he felt he was an appropriate choice for grand marshal as “the first Italian American associate justice.”
“But I’m fighting to keep people like him off the court,” New York’s senior senator added.
Informed of Tremaglia’s record, Schumer said, “Any kind of bigotry against LGBT people is unacceptable.”
The only citywide political leader to explicitly boycott the parade over Scalia’s selection as grand marshal was Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, who said in a statement, “Scalia believes that certain groups—like woman and gays—should have fewer rights than others. I find this personally offensive and morally reprehensible. His ultra-conservative agenda does not represent the views of most New Yorkers. Therefore, I will not be marching in this year’s parade. Justice Scalia is wrong on abortion, wrong on affirmative action and discrimination, and wrong on gay rights. Women’s rights and civil rights are constantly threatened by his presence on the country’s highest court.”
Comptroller William Thompson did not march, but his office did not supply a comment on Scalia.
Queens Democratic City Councilman Eric Gioia, who did march, said, “Italian Americans should say to their children, ‘One day you could be a justice of the Supreme Court.’ I hope they’ll educate their children to be more open-minded and be a better justice than Scalia.”