Charging that the agreement by the St. Patrick’s Day Parade organizers to allow an LGBT employee group from NBCUniversal to march in next year’s parade is little more than a sham and a “backroom deal,” a coalition of community activists and advocates are demanding that the 2015 event be opened up to other queer applicants.
“OUT@NBC offered itself as a painless solution,” said Emmaia Gelman of Irish Queers, a group that has pressed for inclusion in the parade since 1996. “Gay corporate staff can march –– under a banner that doesn’t say the word ‘gay’ –– NBC saves face, and the parade keeps NBC sponsorship without doing a thing to end the exclusion of Irish LGBT groups.”
The network’s New York station airs the parade live annually.
In its announcement last week, the parade organizers, New York City Saint Patrick’s Day Parade Inc., said that applications from other LGBT groups would be accepted beginning in 2016.
But John Francis Mulligan of Irish Queers, at a September 9 press conference on the steps of the Public Library, said, “They said the same thing in 1990, that ‘We’ll take your application.’” It was that year that the Irish Lesbian & Gay Organization, the original group to press for LGBT inclusion in the parade, was first denied the right to march.
Contacted about the Irish Queers demand, Bill O’Reilly, a spokesman for the organizers (but not the Fox TV host), said, “The parade is full for 2015. Out@NBCUniversal will be the LGBT group marching in it. Other groups are free to apply for 2016.”
But activists charged that before formalizing a policy barring groups with banners identifying themselves as LGBT, organizers simply responded to applications by saying the parade did not have room. According to Irish Queers, they have contacted parade officials since last week’s announcement but have not heard back. The group said on only a couple of occasions in the past two decades have organizers had any dialogue with LGBT activists.
Some of those who spoke at the Public Library event faulted both the organizers and NBC.
“I am appalled that parade organizers and NBC are trying to pull a fast one,” said Ann Northrop, a longtime activist, now affiliated with Queer Nation NY, who said she was “arrested multiple times” on Fifth Avenue protesting gay exclusion from the parade. The “fast one” she described involved putting “an ungay NBC gay group” into the March 17 parade to stem the growing withdrawal of its corporate sponsors.
This past year, both Guinness and Heineken dropped their longtime support for the parade, and the Irish government has pressed organizers in New York to open up the event to LGBT groups. According to Gelman, “All over Ireland, the New York City parade is considered an embarrassment.”
Prior to last week’s announcement, NBC had been facing mounting pressure from activists and others for its continued airing of the discriminatory parade.
Matthew McMorrow, the manager of government affairs at the Empire State Pride Agenda, also attributed the agreement on OUT@NBCUniversal to fear “that one of their corporate media sponsors would back out.” The fact that the deal was struck “without ever meeting with the community,” McMorrow said, was “offensive.”
Mulligan said that if the Irish Queers application as well as ones filed by Lavender & Green and the St. Pat’s For All Parade, an annual inclusive event held in Queens, are not accepted, “the boycott is on.” Over the past 20 years, most leading progressive Democratic politicians have declined to participate in the parade because of its exclusion of gay groups.
This year, Mayor Bill de Blasio became the first mayor since David Dinkins to refuse to march, though he resisted calls from a coalition of community groups that he also bar city employees from marching in their uniforms.
When the OUT@NBC Universal agreement was announced last week, the mayor told reporters, “I want to hear directly from the parade organizers before I assume what their position is. I want to talk to community members… I need to know more before I can decide what I’m going to do in March.”
After the Irish Queers press conference, a City Hall press spokesperson, Wiley Norvell, in an email message, told Gay City News, "We haven't yet met with parade organizers about these developments. We'll have more to share on the administration's approach thereafter."
Activists are calling on the mayor and other elected officials who have boycotted in the past to refrain from returning to the parade should more LGBT groups not be allowed in next year. They are also pressing the NBC employee group to skip the event.
“It would be a shame to have to picket an LGBT employee group that is essentially crossing a picket line,” Gelman said.
In calling on OUT@NBCUniversal to stand with Irish Queers and other groups, she pointed to the example of Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, where MassEquality, the state LGBT advocacy group there, refused an offer this past March to participate, but only if it did not carry any banner identifying itself as an LGBT group.
NBCUniversal also did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the Irish Queers position. In the days after the agreement was announced, Andrew Brewer, an NBC employee, made several Facebook posts talking about his role over more than two years in getting agreement for the company’s LGBT employee group’s right to march. The company has not, however, responded to Gay City News’ request to make him available to speak to the newspaper about his efforts.
Commenting on last week’s announcement that NBC’s gay group would march, Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and a longtime foe of the LGBT community, told Sirius Radio’s Michelangelo Signorile that he could support an LGBT group marching so long as they keep “their pants on” and a pro-life group be allowed to march under its banner.
A Catholic League observer was at the Irish Queers press conference but declined comment to Gay City News.
In the wake of the OUT@NBCUniversal agreement, former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who was arrested in numerous protests in the 1990s and later, in office, tried in vain to forge a solution, termed the announcement “a huge, huge step” by parade organizers which they were “forced to take” by activists. Asked whether organizers might decline to broaden inclusion after the 2015 event, she said, “It’s impossible for them to go back. If they go back, they’re not just bigots, they’re deceiving, lying bigots.”
Though Gelman clearly doesn’t share Quinn’s optimism, she did say that the one bit of “progress” in last week’s announcement is that it shows “that sponsors have to respond.” NBC, she said, is acting on the same pressures that convinced Guinness and Heineken to drop their sponsorship.
From London, Father Bernárd Lynch, an out gay Irish Catholic priest who spent years working in New York, embraced demands for full inclusion in 2015, saying, “If those who kept us out for so long had an ounce of Patrick's love of the Gospel justice of Jesus Christ, they would never have objected to our rightful and co-equal place in the first place.”
Perhaps not surprisingly coming from the creator of the Rainbow Flag, it was left to Gilbert Baker to offer the most colorful observation at the Public Library on September 9.
“This is a big con job by the archbishop so he can swish up Fifth Avenue in his big ermines and magenta silk and not have to face a protest,” he said, noting that Cardinal Timothy Dolan will be the grand marshal in 2015. “He wants to cast himself as the progressive guy who found the solution.”