Let me start by stating that it is altogether possible that the New York Sun was simply trying to be provocative at the expense of progressive New Yorkers. It would not be the first time.
Still, a Sun story published Tuesday—which the New York City Council speaker’s office declined a specific request for clarification on from Gay City News—begs a restatement of a basic principle of local gay advocacy in place for more than a decade.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn must stand up unambiguously against the bigoted policy of the Ancient Order of Hibernians who stage the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue in their refusal to let groups of gay and lesbian marchers, identified as such, participate in this time-honored civic ritual.
That I would ever feel the need to write these words would scarcely have seemed possible to me prior to reading the Sun’s story. For years in the ‘90s, Quinn joined the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization in its annual protest against the Hibernians, and endured arrest for civil disobedience in doing so several times. Just as importantly, Quinn led the effort among Democratic leaders in the city to boycott the parade over its discriminatory policy. Peter Vallone, the former Council speaker, and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton have been the only major elected Democratic officials in recent memory to cross the picket line. Many, many others—Mark Green, Alan Hevesi, Carl McCall, Fernando Ferrer, Charles Schumer, among others—have adopted the boycott as an article of political faith.
So there’s a big part of me that feels—Who am I to question whether Quinn will keep the faith now?
But the Sun article is downright confusing.
Stating in its headline that Quinn, “gay and Irish, faces tough choice over parade,” the newspaper reports on the possibility of her “broker[ing] a compromise with parade organizers,” and then quotes Council spokeswoman Maria Alvarado saying that the speaker “certainly hopes to be able to march, but there are no formal negotiations at this time.”
Of course, gays and lesbians have “certainly been hoping” to march in the St. Pat’s Parade since we were last allowed to under the protective wing of then-Mayor David Dinkins 15 years ago. In that sense, Alvarado’s comments are not so unusual.
What is unusual, even disturbing—assuming that the Sun fairly represented the speaker’s position—is that Alvarado apparently did not bottom-line the issue; that is, she failed to make clear that Quinn would only participate if the Hibernians withdrew their noxious policy outright. That makes Alvarado’s failure to respond to our query, even though the precise nature of it was explained to another Council staffer, worrisome.
The Sun story is already creating problems for Quinn within the LGBT community, ones that she would do well to squelch by coming forward at once with a clear statement on the issue. Some insiders are suggesting that the Queens County Democratic organization, so critical to her election as speaker in January, has put pressure on her to join the fun on March 17 for the sake of unity. Others whisper that Andrew Cuomo, her pick for state attorney general, wants to troll for votes that day, but doesn’t want to have to do it without her by his side.
Meanwhile, the Hibernians have launched a disinformation campaign saying that Council speakers traditionally lead the parade. Well since the gay controversy began, one speaker has—Vallone. The other, Gifford Miller, hasn’t. And when Miller refused to march, as have so many other good progressives, he was undoubtedly thinking in part about the Irish-American politician he most admired—Christine Quinn.
So for the sake of the LGBT community, for the sake of our ability to prove we can stay true to a principled stand, and for the sake of your own political integrity, Madame Speaker, please do not march down Fifth Avenue on St. Patrick’s Day unless you have the rest of us—signs, buttons, and beads included—in tow.