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With Fewer Sponsors, Anti-Gay St. Pat’s Parade Protested for 23rd Year

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Uniformed New York City police officers in the Fifth Avenue parade. | DONNA ACETO
Uniformed New York City police officers in the Fifth Avenue parade. | DONNA ACETO

By legend, St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland. The question in 2014 is whether beer companies pulling their sponsorship can drive the homophobia out of the New York and Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parades.

On the eve of these parades, Sam Adams pulled its sponsorship from the Boston event and Heineken from New York’s. While Guinness resisted pulling out at first, under pressure from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, which threatened a dump of the brew outside of the Stonewall Inn, the company, in the end, did boycott. Ford Motor Company maintained its sponsorship of the Fifth Avenue march, so the message was drink but don’t drive!

Among the other sponsors to bail on the Boston parade were the Westin Waterfront, Gillette, and six local radio stations, some of which had floats and promotions in past parades. In New York, WNBC continued to broadcast the parade and sponsor it, making no mention of the controversy in its four-hour coverage.

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton blasted for marching, most politicians boycott

The fight for the inclusion of LGBT Irish groups got a boost this year from new mayors in New York, Bill de Blasio, and Boston, Marty Walsh, who are boycotting the traditional parades over the exclusion of LGBT Irish groups. Walsh pushed hard for a compromise in Boston that would have let MassEquality, the state’s LGBT rights lobby, march, but the group was not allowed to use the word gay or identify itself as such so it declined and so did Walsh.

De Blasio resisted a coalition call –– including from this newspaper –– to go further and ban city personnel from marching in uniform in what he himself has long skipped for being a discriminatory event. He said they have “a right” to march, when in fact any wearing of the uniform when off duty requires departmental approval.

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and his wife, Rikki Klieman, marching on March 17. | DONNA ACETO
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and his wife, Rikki Klieman, marching on March 17. | DONNA ACETO

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton marched on Monday, earlier brushing off charges that his actions were anti-gay by citing his lesbian sister and pointing to a video he and his wife made in favor of marriage equality.

The annual LGBT protest at Fifth Avenue and 56th Street swelled this year and attracted much more media attention. At a press conference by protesters, Emmaia Gelman of Irish Queers said, “It’s tragic that beer companies have a stronger moral compass than the NYPD.”

She added, “We may have a new mayor who’s interested in reform, but his police commissioner is bringing ugly back.” Irish Queers, she said, is looking at bringing a lawsuit under the City Human Rights Law unless police, fire, and other services –– which make up a significant percentage of the participants –– are stopped from marching in uniform.”

Veteran gay activist Allen Roskoff, president of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, said, “I’ve been sober for 29 years, but I want a Guinness beer this morning.”

He catalogued the history of the NYPD’s persecution of gay people from Stonewall to its work against the gay rights bill and to raids on gay bars just in the past several years. By marching, Roskoff said, the police and Bratton “are saying bigotry is OK as long as it is just against the LGBT community.”

Kate Barnhart of New Alternatives for Homeless LGBT Youth said, “Police homophobia is putting LGBT youth at risk every day. When they try to report crimes against them, the police often treat them like criminals instead.”

Ann Northrop of Queer Nation said, “We’ve spent the last year protesting the homophobia of Putin in Russia and the homophobia in Nigeria and Uganda. Here we are having to protest the homophobia of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.” Northrop decried the way police and firefighters can march in uniform with banners but that LGBT Irish cannot, calling it “hypocritical” on the part of the exclusionary parade organizers.

Brendan Fay, one of the leaders of the LGBT-inclusive St. Pat’s for All Parade in Queens, now in its 15th year, said there had once again been efforts this year to integrate the Fifth Avenue parade, “but the organizers refused to sit down in good faith.” Despite what is considered a different tone on gay people coming out of the Vatican, none of it has filtered down to the Irish Catholics who run this parade or to Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who is an influential advisor to the annual event, according to the Irish Voice.

“There are no grounds in the Catholic faith for excluding a gay group,” Fay said. “Christianity ought to be known for extending hospitality to those who are marginaliz­ed.”

Veteran activists Ann Maguire and Paul O’Dwyer, who have been involved in efforts to have openly LGBT New Yorkers participate in the annual Fifth Avenue St. Patrick’s Day Parade for years. | ANDY HUMM
Veteran activists Anne Maguire and Paul O’Dwyer, who have been involved in efforts to have openly LGBT New Yorkers participate in the annual Fifth Avenue St. Patrick’s Day Parade for years. | ANDY HUMM

This controversy started in 1991, when the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization (ILGO), a group of mostly new immigrants, including Fay, applied to march and was denied. A compromise was worked out that let their members march with Mayor David Dinkins within Division 7 of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, but despite some acceptance, they were also pelted with jeers and beer and excluded entirely thereafter, the organizers going to court for the right to exclude anyone they wanted to, which they won.

Big protests were held through the mid-1990s, with mass arrests. The demonstrations, mostly maintained by Irish Queers, grew smaller over the years, but this year was old home week. Anne Maguire and Paul O’Dwyer, two ILGO leaders, were there.

“I had to come here today because it’s not over –– and has spanned two centuries,” said Maguire. With all the advances in LGBT rights in recent years, she said, “everything has changed except this parade.”

O’Dwyer is encouraged by the Guinness pullout.

Brendan Fay, another longtime Irish gay activist who founded the inclusive St. Pat's for All Parade in Queens. | DONNA ACETO
Brendan Fay, another longtime Irish gay activist who founded the inclusive St. Pat's for All Parade in Queens. | DONNA ACETO

“You can’t get more Irish than Guinness,” he said. While he is not hopeful for a positive resolution of the dispute, he doesn’t think the parade will survive the loss of sponsorship long-term.

When Bratton marched past the demonstrators, “he looked, smiled, and turned away,” said Gelman. “He does not give two craps about the queer community.” He also refused to answer the coalition’s letter seeking a meeting on the issue. Gelman said she thinks the publicity about the dispute created some hostility from cops and firefighters marching in this year’s event.

In a first, the New York City Council under the new speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, pulled its banner from the 253rd parade. In recent years, it had fronted for just the handful of politicians who marched. This year, former Council Speaker Peter Vallone, Sr., and his sons, former Councilman Peter Vallone, Jr., and current Councilman Paul Vallone were the only ones behind a new banner that read: “New York Public Officials.” Vallone, Sr., said he was marching, “For God, country, and family,” ignoring questions about the exclusion of LGBT Irish groups.

While some Irish government ministers visiting New York are boycotting the parade, Prime Minister Enda Kenny insisted on marching. Out gay Irish Senator David Norris, a veteran activist who led the fight to get rid of Ireland’s sodomy laws, was among members of four Irish political parties to urge him not to. He told the Christian Science Monitor, “As an Irish man who through my mother has direct descent from the ancient kings of Ossory, Leinster, and the High Kingship of Tara, I find the claiming of the parade as an exclusively Roman Catholic festival –– despite being originally founded in the US by exiled Irish Protestants –– completely ridiculous.”

Kenny said earlier, “The St. Patrick's Day parade is a parade about our Irishness and not about sexuality, and I would be happy to participate in it.” But the New York organizers have made it not about Irishness, but about adherence to Catholic doctrine, even if the doctrine applied here by the parade organizers –– and with the archbishop’s blessing, as the Irish Voice reports–– is at odds with the conciliatory tone Pope Francis is purportedly encouraging on gay issues.

Allen Roskoff (with Bill Dobbs, on the left behind him) speaks at the Irish Queers press conference. | DONNA ACETO
Allen Roskoff (with Bill Dobbs, on the left behind him) speaks at the Irish Queers press conference. | DONNA ACETO

In London, an LGBT contingent from the local Irish group Mind Yourself marched in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 16 for the first time, though Father Bernárd Lynch of the group said they weren’t excluded before, they simply had never applied.

“Our reception along the parade route was joyful, enthusiastic, and full of welcome,” he wrote via email.

This past fall, in an historic first, the group was invited to the Irish Embassy in London for a reception, “and the ambassador [Dan Mulhall] went out of his way to tell us that this was not simply tokenism. The Irish government is committed to our full and equal inclusion in the life of our country of origin, whether here or abroad,” Lynch wrote. Similar receptions at the residence of the Irish consul in New York, Noel Kilkenny, have been held for several years for the Queens St. Pat’s for All Parade.

“Remember the Irish and London St. Patrick Day Parades are secular events,” Lynch wrote. “The Catholic Church has no control whatsoever, unlike the ‘medieval control’ exercised in my home city of New York.”

Toward the end of the protest in New York, Shane McEvoy, 32, said he had been in every St. Patrick’s Day Parade with his family since he was a baby, but not this year.

“If bands and civil services and my family can march, every other group should be able to,” he said.

The message is sinking in and it is becoming harder and harder for right-thinking people to stand with the parade organizers. Indeed, it may have been because of the cold as well, but spectators along the sidelines were much sparser than in past years. By 1 p.m., the reviewing stands in the East 60s were virtually empty, with more than two hours of parade left to go.

Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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Reader feedback

Perley J Thibodeau says:
St. Patrick's Day had become a rite of spring and I used to see people of all nationalities and ethnic groups all gussied up in various green outfits happily coming across E. 86th St after the parade to the bars along 3rd, 2nd and 1st Avenues in order to continue the celebration. But all that changed visibly a few years ago when the gays started fighting the parade committee and the committee as much as told everyone that it was an exclusive Irish Catholic March and no one else need apply. The next year there were wide open spaces between parade goers along the line of march, as stated here, that this year's route was sparsely populated. In other words, most people don't want to be where they are not wanted! And speaking of that, may I also add that the gays fighting to march under a banner are only doing so in order to beat the Catholic Church at its own game? Evidenced in the fact that the St. Patrick's Parade is the only march being picketed for gay banner inclusion, and no activity on these people's part to join the Steuben October Fest or either of the two Puerto Rican Parades, the Puerto Rican Day and the religious one, nor are they raising a ruckus to walk with banners proclaiming their sexual orientations in the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Enough, or need I say more?
March 18, 2014, 12:02 am
Perley J Thibodeau says:
Where's my picture?
March 18, 2014, 12:23 am
pisher says:
Okay, first of all, 'these people' are not Puerto Rican--they're Irish. Puerto Rican gays do, in fact, march in the Puerto Rican Day parade--it's unclear whether the parade would ban them from marching with their own banners, since they seemingly haven't applied to do so. In fact, that parade doesn't really seem to be about banners. It's a very different animal, but according to gay PR groups, they don't feel excluded--and people there know who they are. http://gaycitynews.com/gcn_424/gaysjoinpuertorica... And that's the issue here--the Paddies day parade is huge. If everybody is supposed to dress about the same, if Irish gays can't carry a banner or even wear a button to identify themselves as Irish and gay, then where's the acceptance? The goal is to say "Hey, we let them march", but nobody there will know who they are. They were always marching--that isn't the point--there are so many distinct groups there that get to parade themselves down 5th Avenue with banners identifying them. What difference would one more make? I'm Irish American and straight, and I want nothing to do with this parade until it accepts all parts of our extended family. In the meantime, I see by the published line of march that there were bands from Spain and Guatamela marching yesterday--along with the Catholic League, which has its own banner--why do they need to tell everybody they belong to a group that had no problem with Rush Limbaugh calling the Pope a Marxist? Why is Irish Northern Aid--a purely political group that supported the Provisional IRA for many years--allowed to march under its own banner? How is that Catholic, when the Church always roundly condemned the IRA? There's no religious basis for any of this. And it isn't a religious parade to begin with, no matter how involved church leaders may be. Honestly, if it was a religious event, it would be a disgrace--nobody there is in a remotely prayerful mood. They want to drink and carouse and carry on in ridiculous clothing. Well, who knows more about that than gay people? Let them in, already.
March 18, 2014, 6:32 am
Perley J Thibodeau says:
First off, I seriously doubt that you are Irish and straight but, that's beside the point. If you want to talk Orange and Green I can assure you I'm fully qualified to hold up my Irish Grandmother's end of the argument. She was from Londonderry not Derry. Let banners be carried in a Puerto Rican Day Parade and the 'Mari cones," would be dead before they crossed the street. My book that's coming out in the next couple of weeks tells about my volunteering for 20 years to keep the cops off the guys in the Ramble and it also tells that I marched in the Gay Pride Parade in a full female outfit with the Mark Green for Mayor contingent. Allen Roskoff wanted me to march in the Puerto Rican Day Parade dressed the same way but, there was a heated public battle going on over the island that the U.S. was using for bombing practices and I felt there was enough going on without me sashaying into it in lipstick and heels, so I was allowed to decline that one. Yes, I've seen the St. Patrick's Day Parade be politically involved in the, as they say, fight between the Orange and the Green, and my grandmother being Orange still didn't cause me to think that England should be in Ireland, and I, on the other hand, didn't feel 'Free Joe Dougherty" signs belonged in a day to celebrate all of our mutual Celtic Heritage. The signs were gone the next year. I honestly don't know what happened to Joe Dougherty. Seriously, was he the one who escaped custody and got a job tending bar downtown? I really have a full day ahead of me and I don't really feel well so I'm not going to continue in this discussion. I've already said what I have to say, and that's just how I feel. The Salute to Israel Parade allows Gays to sing and dance under their own banner and I feel that's great of them! Let the Gays, both Irish and otherwise, go after the Italian, Greek Polish, German, and other annual ethnic inspired parades, along with the biggest parade of all, The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and then I'll listen to their sorrowful pleas. Oh, and don't forget the annual Rose Bowl Tournament of Roses Parade. Have you seen the gowns in that one?
March 18, 2014, 11:47 am
Andy Humm says:
You are dead wrong about the Puerto Rican Day Parade. It has included out LGBT contingents for many years. Razem, a Polish LGBT group, marched in the Pulaski Day Parade once in the '90s and were banned after that--and there were yearly protests for many years. No one has applied to Steuben Day yet, but an German-American gay activist told me they would be welcome if a group applied. India Day parade let LGBT group in after negotiatons with Speaker Quinn a couple of years ago. Macy''s parade doesn't have community contingents, but did controversially have Harvey Fierstein as Mrs. Claus and floats from shows such as Kinky Boots. And the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1977 did put a group together with a turkey float representing the recalcitrant City Council and marched after the end of the Macy's parade to protest resistance to the gay rights bill. Tournament of Roses had an AIDS group float with a gay wedding this year.
March 18, 2014, 4:27 pm
Perley J. Thibodeau says:
Then Macy's should be forced to have community contingents that include gays marching under their own banner proclaiming their sexual orientation. After all, let's face it; Santa Claus is a Fairy...Tale
March 18, 2014, 6:54 pm
Perley J. Thibodeau says:
'You are dead wrong," echoes Paul's words to me exactly; every time. Is it okay if I send the non fiction Stalking A Killer-Heigh Ho' The Merry O-' The Murder In The Dell about the killings I solved in the Ramble section of Central Park, and the fictional, The Bells Are Ringing For Me And My Pal about Marriage, Same Sex And Otherwise to you for review? Both are written for the betterment of the Gay Community. I doubt Paul will take the time to look at them.
March 18, 2014, 7:08 pm
Perley J. Thibodeau says:
I just had my computer restored. Why can't I log in? And where's my picture?
March 18, 2014, 7:12 pm
Perley J. Thibodeau says:
No reply. I've noticed that has become typical of Gay City News in the past year!
March 19, 2014, 10:03 am
Best phytoceramide says:
And then Macy's really should be required to get local community contingents that include gays walking in line underneath their unique banner ad proclaiming their lovemaking inclination.
May 31, 2014, 8:34 am
Passbeemedia says:
And then Macy's really should be required to have community contingents including gays marching within their particular hysterical saying their particular erotic angle.
June 4, 2014, 7:04 am
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Dec. 30, 2014, 3:02 am
thomasgreen22 says:
In my opinion all the gays( Men, women, children) of the world should come out in the parade and when they are gathered in one place they should be caged in one place and after that in order to be the least cruel, they should be asked if the quit being gay for life, if yes they should be granted leave under strict surveillance for life and if they say no, i think i dont need to say how should there end be.
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