On Gilbert Baker’s Passing, Why Rainbow Flags Are Needed in Catholic Spaces

Gilbert Baker, the person who designed the rainbow flag used as a symbol of LGBT identity, passed away last week. Despite his flag first appearing in 1978, controversy about its presence continues, including a recent spate at a Catholic university in Australia. As we remember Baker’s contribution, this additional unfortunate incident is a reminder of why pride flags are so essential for Catholic spaces.

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The flag sticker in dispute

Rainbow flag stickers have twice been posted, and twice torn down, at the University of Notre Dame Australia’s campus in Fremantle. The stickers were posted by the Student Association on their office windows as an expression of welcome, given the general absence of LGBTQ supports on campus. Buzzfeed reported:

“’We took it upon ourselves to do stuff for our LGBTIQ students, because there was nothing,’ student association president Dylan Gojak told BuzzFeed News. ‘One of the first steps was putting up these ally stickers.’ . . .But the vandalism has placed the stickers in the spotlight – and prompted complaints to university management arguing the ‘divisive’ rainbow flag has no place on campus.”

Gojak said for LGBTQ students like himself “there’s nothing, there’s no public statement, there’s no sign that you’re welcome here.” No action thus far has been taken on recommendations made by the Sexuality and Pastoral Care Working Party. The repeated vandalism against the flag stickers has only intensified awareness that such supports are absent.

Administrators initially asked the Student Association to remove the flag stickers, though a compromise was reached which allowed them to remain. After the stickers were vandalized a second time, Vice Chancellor Celia Hammond sent an email, saying:

“‘While I believe the symbol is divisive, and the University does not support all that has come to be associated with the Rainbow flag, the University does not condone the sticker being deliberately taken down in the way that it was. . .This only aggravates the situation and has the potential to cause additional distress.’ . . .

“‘To that end, while the University does not endorse the Rainbow flag, and does not approve it being displayed on any other parts of the University campus, the University is not seeking for it to be removed from the two windows of the Student Association Office at this time.'”

According to Hammond, “the display of the politically charged stickers” could imply the University is not in full compliance with Catholic teaching. She acknowledged there may be people on campus with homophobic views that are “inconsistent with our Catholic teachings,” but that there were others with “legitimate concerns” about the flag stickers.

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Gilbert Baker

Over time, the rainbow flag has come to signify inclusion, acceptance, and pride in embracing the sexual and/or gender identity.  These are all Catholic values and can lead a person on the path to holiness.

Baker’s flag, created at the request of martyred gay icon Harvey Milk, was to be more celebratory than the pink triangle symbol then in use, which has ties to Nazi Germany. And, according to Gay Star NewsBaker imbued the flag with even more meaning:

“Each stripe on the original eight-color flag had a meaning starting with hot pink which represented sexuality. Red represented life, orange was healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for magic and art, blue for serenity and harmony and violet for spirit.”

These facts make it hard to understand what “legitimate concerns” could be lodged against the posting of rainbow flag stickers. Rather, it is very disturbing that the University of Notre Dame Australia offers no formal support to LGBTQ students, and, in this recent situation, administrators could not express unqualified solidarity with such students.

As the world remembers Gilbert Baker, church officials should remember that church teaching backs the value of each stripe on the rainbow flag, as well as the flag’s symbol of welcome and acceptance. Given how important LGBTQ visibility can be for youth and young adults, every Catholic institution should fly the rainbow flag with pride this spring.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 10, 2017

 

Why Being in Love Leads Us to Seek Justice and Equality

Can the erotic power of being in love so often transform us to more radically seek justice? This question drives David A.J. Richards’ book, Why Love Leads to Justice?, which was recently reviewed for the National Catholic Reporter by this Bondings 2.0‘s Associate Editor, Robert Shine. The reviewer starts off:

“Being in love and being loved by someone are the heights of human experience, unleashing the erotic part of us in a most profound and powerful way. Love is the crucial good most of us seek, the fire that fuels us, and the God whom many of us worship. We believe in love.

“Why, then, do most of us so desperately seek to restrain and restrict love? And what would happen if we stopped policing intimacy through civil laws and cultural taboos, enforcing them as if they are a set of Love Laws? What if we just let love run wild through our lives?”

51noegiw18l-_sx329_bo1204203200_The book, wrote Shine, is an “interdisciplinary exploration about erotic power and ethical resistance to patriarchy,” explored through the lives of artists and activists such as Benjamin Britten, W.H. Auden, Bayard Rustin, and James Baldwin. Critiquing the book for a lack of female protagonists, Shine suggested Why Love Leads to Justice could be a foundation for further exploration of other boundary transgressive relationships. He wrote:

“Patriarchy is fundamental to injustice because, in Richards’ words, it ‘destroys the search for real relationships with other persons, as the individuals they are,’ and it demands exacting violence against any resisters. It afflicts all people through attendant oppressions, such as homophobia and racism, and it brutalizes the powerless and the privileged alike. Patriarchy is ‘a threat to love itself.’ . . .

“But in the very love threatened, we find the roots of resistance because ‘breaking the Love Laws can have an emancipatory ethical significance, empowering ethical voices of resistance.’ By loving across boundaries, by being beloved and experiencing the power that erotic intimacy has, by knowing love’s disarming vulnerability and unknowable mystery, we are led to true freedom.”

Of particular interest to LGBT Catholics and their allies is Shine’s juxtaposition of Richards’ book with the Church’s “Love Laws”:

“I have witnessed firsthand this phenomenon in Catholics whose intimate love breaks the Catholic church’s own Love Laws. The faithful people who are in queer relationships or second marriages, who practice contraception or accompany a partner transitioning genders, who say they have experienced God’s love more robustly through boundary-breaking intimacy.

“Through love, these Catholics find a voice to defy the ecclesial patriarchy that bans the ordination of women, condemns same-gender love, and leaves open the wounds of clergy sexual abuse. Too many church leaders cause harm because Catholic programs of formation have stifled education about the erotic.”

Regular readers of Bondings 2.0 know both how often and how widespread this type of repression happens. But also on display in these daily updates is the power of love to transform the church and the world, a point also made in the book which, Shine said, “deeply affirmed my belief in love, specifically the radical power of the erotic.”

The review, which you can read here, concluded with a challenge, an offer for readers to examine their own lives and whether a “failure to let love run wildly through [their] lives” is impairing their work for justice. Shine ends with a provocative question:

“Yes, love is patient, and love is kind. But if it is not also radically free and resisting injustice, is it really love at all?”

How would you respond to the book’s central that love leads to justice? Has love led you or someone you know to seek LGBT equality in the church? Or has church leaders’ stifling of certain types of love impaired you or someone you know from being able to do this work?

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, March 3, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

New Book Examines “Same-Sex Marriage in Renaissance Rome”

A new book by a University of Virginia history professor makes the claim that same-gender marriages existed in the city of Rome during the Renaissance.

Gary Ferguson, the  Douglas Huntly Gordon Distinguished Professor of French at the Charlottesville school, recently published  Same-Sex Marriage in Renaissance Rome: Sexuality, Identity and Community in Early Modern Europe  (Cornell University Press, 2016) in which he displays evidence that, while not commonplace and not legal, the idea of marriages between two men or two women did exist in 16th century, just under the shadow of the Vatican.

In an essay for The Daily Beast, Ferguson begins by noting some literary evidence for the practice of same-gender marriages:

“In the late 16th century, the famous French essayist Michel de Montaigne wrote about two marriages between people of the same sex. The first involved women in eastern France, the second a group of men in Rome. At the time, same-sex marriages were not recognized by religious or civil law, and sodomy—a term that included a wide range of sexual acts—was a crime. As a result, when those involved were discovered they were usually brought to trial and punished, sometimes by death.”

Ferguson’s thesis is that even in the Renaissance, “marriage was a highly contested issue.”  He explains:

“Marriage between two men or two women might seem like a concept that has emerged only in recent decades. For centuries, however, same-sex couples have appropriated marriage in their own ways.”

Using one of Montaigne’s examples as a case study, Ferguson examines the French writer’s story by exploring  “several sources—diplomatic dispatches, newsletters, fragments of a trial transcript, and brief wills. . . ”   The result is a description of a planned marriage, thwarted by authorities:

“On a Sunday afternoon in July 1578, a sizable group of men gathered at Saint John at the Latin Gate, a beautiful but remote church on the outer edge of Rome. Many of them were friends who had met there on previous occasions. They were mostly poor immigrants from Spain and Portugal but included several priests and friars. They ate and drank in an atmosphere that was festive, yet strangely subdued. It turned suddenly to confusion and fear with the arrival of the police, who arrested 11 of those present. The rest fled.

“The Roman authorities had been tipped off about the group’s plans to celebrate a marriage, perhaps not for the first time, between two of its members. In the end, the wedding between Gasparo and Gioseffe hadn’t taken place: The latter—reportedly ill—failed to appear. But Gasparo was among those taken prisoner, and, following a trial that lasted three weeks, executed.”

Ferguson reveals that the marriage which was to have taken place would not have been a traditional one for many other reasons besides gender, including the fact that it may not have been intended as a sexually exclusive arrangement.  But the fact that such ritual practices is still significant, he claims:

“The evidence, then, points to a handful of motivations behind the Roman weddings. Since the friends took the ceremony seriously enough to put themselves at considerable risk, it very likely served to recognize and sanction Gasparo and Gioseffe’s relationship, claiming that such a union should be possible. At the same time, it may also have had a playful element, parodying and subtly criticizing elements of a traditional wedding.”

In fact, because of the greatly different historical situations,  Ferguson says that these unions are not identical to modern same-sex marriages:

“. . . [T]he context for extending marriage rights to same-sex couples today is very different from the 16th century, when most marriages weren’t based primarily on love and didn’t establish legal equality between the spouses.

“It was after the changes effected by the women’s rights movement in the second half of the 20th century to make the institution more equitable that gay and lesbian activists adopted marriage equality as their major goal.”

Yet, their historical significance must still be considered for another reason:

“. . . [T]he stories from the 16th century show that marriage has never been a universal and fixed phenomenon. It has a contested history, one that both excludes and includes same-sex couples, who have claimed marriage on their own terms.”

Ferguson’s case brings to mind John Boswell’s 1994 Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe which made the case that union ceremonies, equivalent to marriage, between two men or two women took place, often in religious settings, during the medieval era.  Some critics of Boswell claimed that the texts he had which described union ceremonies were not analogous to marriage, but represented other forms of friendship.  Boswell, unfortunately, died shortly after the book’s publication so he could not defend his thesis against such attacks.

I hope to get a chance to read Ferguson’s book in the coming months and provide a full review in a later post here at Bondings 2.0.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 17,  2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit http://www.Symposium2017.org.

 

Former Miss Universe Reconciles Catholic Faith with LGBT Equality

Pia Wurtzbach relinquished her crown as Miss Universe on January 29, 2017, but right before doing so, the model/actress posted a message on a Time magazine website in which she explained that her support for LGBT equality was not in conflict with her Catholic faith.

Wurtzbach, a citizen of the Philippines, who became Miss Universe in 2015, wrote a post for Motto.Time.coma website owned by Time which allows celebrities to state their opinions on whatever subjects they choose.  Wurtzbach began by describing the culture in which she was raised:

“I am Filipino, and like the vast majority of people in my country, I am a proud Catholic. I have a steadfast faith, and my religion is an essential element of who I am. Growing up, my family regularly attended mass, and I studied at a school that taught Christian fundamentals.”

It was exactly those “Christian fundamentals” which shaped Wurtzbach’s inclusive attitude:

“Religious establishments including the Catholic church teach that they are the one true faith, but the values instilled in me as a Christian have encouraged me to respect all beliefs and opinions. Growing up, my family taught me that to receive respect, you must first offer it.”

Wurtzbach is proud that “the Philippines is every day becoming a more tolerant community,” but she also notes that “my liberal opinions on many social issues sometimes conflict with Christianity’s teachings.”  Still, she holds firm to her opinions because they are rooted in her experience and her faith.   Having been raised by a single mother, her childhood was one of struggle. Wurtzbach notes how her experiences shaped her attitudes:

“Perhaps my nontraditional family unit allowed me to accept others’ differences without judgement and has made me proud to advocate for LGBTQ rights as a Christian. In fact, I find the strength to do just that through my faith. Undoubtedly, there will continue to be times when my faith and secular opinions clash, but in those moments, I find comfort in an old saying: ‘Live and let live.’ “

But her views were also shaped by her experience of LGBTQ people:

“I myself owe a lot to the LGBTQ community, many of whom are my closest friends. Without their accepting attitudes toward my own flaws and struggles, I would not be where I am today.”

Wurtzbach has used her celebrity to help those less fortunate.  In December 2016, she met with Manila’s Archbishop Luis Tagle to present the proceeds from a fundraising event she sponsored to be used for Caritas Manila.  Tagle gave her a rosary blessed by Pope Francis.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 12, 2017

 

 

 

 

Catholic Lesbian Author Describes the Beauty of Incarnational Faith and Love

By Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 7, 2016

Catholic writer Kaya Oakes has done a wonderful service to the readers of U.S. Catholic in her recent article on women authors who are not often recognized for their Catholic identity.  What caught my eye was that one of those authors happens to be one of my all-time favorites: Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize winner.  Though it has been years since I read her astonishing Song of Solomon and her monumental Beloved, I still gasp when I pick up my well-worn copies of both books and read selected passages.  Though I have read a lot about Morrison, until Oakes’ article, I had not known she was Catholic, and a convert to the faith, to boot.

Toni Morrison

But Oakes’ article also introduced me to someone I had never heard of before:  Rebecca Brown, a novelist and essayist who happens not only to be a Catholic and a convert, like Morrison, but a lesbian, too.   Brown’s personal story is a powerful one, especially since she joined the Catholic Church as an adult, well after she had recognized herself as a lesbian.   Oakes’ article quotes other interviews with Brown, in which the author describes some of her faith journey:

“Brown was received into the Catholic Church in 2012. In an interview with Moss magazine in 2015, she reflected that there had always been “a real sense of dark and light” in her writing. ‘There’s a real sense of someone dying, and then getting to live again,’ she said. Prior to becoming Catholic, because of the sex abuse scandal and the church’s historical treatment of women, Brown had a sense of Catholicism as ‘the worst.’ But ‘something drew me—and keeps me drawn to it. Some longing, hunger, draw, whatever, to the mystery of incarnation, redemption, mercy.’ She adds, as many Catholics would, ‘I can’t explain or justify it.’

It is ironic that Catholic teaching frowns upon the physical love of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, because it is often Catholicism’s valuing of the physical, through its incarnational theology, that draws people, including LGBT people, to the faith.  Brown explains her own attraction:

Rebecca Brown

“As an out lesbian, Brown would seem to occupy a marginalized place in the church, but, as she told Fact/Simile magazine in 2012, her Catholicism, like much of her writing, is embodied. ‘I’m drawn to passion and to the elemental physicality of it—the rituals of standing, kneeling, sitting, the laying on of hands, the bending of the head in prayer, the baptism by water, making the sign of the cross, the Sacraments as signs of divine presence.’ In her most recent book of essays, American Romances, her essay ‘Priests’ describes childhood reenactments of communion using Necco wafers.”

Perhaps it is no surprise that Brown’s best-known work is entitled The Gifts of the Body, a novel about caring for people with HIV/AIDS, which won the 1995 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction.

Brown also is aware that Catholic means ‘universal,’ which in a big sense, means diversity:

“In 2013, Brown wrote an essay for the Stranger about her hopes for Pope Francis as a ‘super-feminist, gay, lefty Catholic.’ A friend’s question about what kind of Catholic she wanted to be helped Brown understand that there was no such thing as a Catholic. ‘There were,’ she writes, ‘as there are in most large groups of people, clueless, terrified fundamentalists, but there are also struggling, hopeful, trying-to-be-decent slobs like me.’ “

And Brown also seems to have gotten to the heart of Pope Francis’ message about the gospel, inferring a message of welcome and new life:

“As she parsed the complexities of Pope Francis’ journey and his attitudes toward LGBT people, Brown also came to understand that ‘Jesus didn’t come here to condemn us human lumps; he came to show us mercy and forgiveness and the goodness of the just and loving heart. He came to show there can be life even after you feel like you’ve been dead, and that even after someone’s been horrible or had horrible things done to them, they can have another chance.’ “

Brown’s musings are perfect answers for LGBT people when they are asked why they remain in the Catholic Church.  They describe sentiments I have heard over my two decades working with LGBT Catholics.  As marginalized people in the institution, LGBT Catholics are often made to feel second-class, but Oakes points out that the writers she profiled, while on the margins of the Church, have embodied the message of the faith.  Oakes concludes her article:

“Brown, Morrison, and [Fanny] Howe are all risk takers. They write books that challenge readers intellectually and emotionally, that center marginalized characters—people like women, single mothers, people of color, or LGBT people. The Catholicism that runs through their work is one of deep empathy for the struggle of others, of ritual, and of redemption. But it is also countercultural, in the manner of Dorothy Day or mystics like Hildegard and Julian of Norwich: It pushes back against the dominant structures of greed, the refutation of mystery, and the insistence that being Catholic simply means following a set of rules. For all three of these authors, Catholicism is an intellectual negotiation as much as it is a spiritual one. It is, in many ways, the Catholicism of our time: a faith of heart and mind, but also of gut instinct.”

I know I want to run out and read one of Brown’s novels and essays right away!  Does anyone have any recommendations?

 

 

Saint of 9/11: Remembering Fr. Mychal Judge as a Gay Priest

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Today marks the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which took the lives of 2,996 people. Catholics remember in a special way the life of victim No. 1, Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM.

Judge, frequently referred to as the “Saint of 9/11,” was not only a chaplain for the New York Fire Department and a beloved (and busy) pastoral minister.He was a gay priest. This last identity is sometimes ignored or even left out intentionally when he is remembered, but it should not be.

As we pray for the victims of 9/11, for those persons who inflicted such pain, and for peace in our world today, we would do well to consider Judge in his fullness, for the lessons he taught and the witness he provides for our church even now. Focusing on his death could obscure his life, as a 2011 feature article in New York Magazine cautioned:

“As it happens, the unembellished story of Mychal Judge’s death is just as moving — and an even more telling tribute to the chaplain, as well as to the men he served.”

Part of his busy life included ministry to LGBT people who were on the margins of the church and of society in the 1980s and 1990s.  The same article quoted above explained:

“Back in the early eighties, Judge was one of the first members of the clergy to minister to young gay men with AIDS, doing their funeral Masses and consoling their partners and family members. He opened the doors of St. Francis of Assisi Church when Dignity, a gay Catholic organization, needed a home for its AIDS ministry, and he later ran an AIDS program at St. Francis. [In 1999], he marched in the first gay-inclusive St. Patrick’s Day parade, which his friend Brendan Fay, a gay activist, organized in Queens.”

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Firefighters carrying Judge’s body from the World Trade Center rubble

Fay said that in Judge “there was a core of sadness or vulnerability in him” that made him a good minister because he “was very in touch with human vulnerability.” The priest had an apartness from it all, though, which helped him minister, too, said Fay:

” ‘He recognized the tension between the worlds he lived in. . .He’d be honored by these members of the far right, and yet at the same time he felt he had to constrain himself. There was a certain sadness about that.’ “

Judge never came out publicly, especially to the firefighters at Engine 1-Ladder 24, near his residence. But he came out selectively to many people, including gay advocates, New York City officials, and the Catholics to whom he ministered. Franciscan Fr. Brian Carroll told New York Magazine:

” ‘Mike taught me how to come out as a young man. . .And how to see sexuality as an important part of who I am. He took away the shame. For some people, sexuality is a part of their shame. Or homelessness is a part of their shame. Or addiction is a part of their shame. Mychal helped people embrace all the shame parts of themselves and turn them into something good.’ “

Judge still struggled with the church, even while he himself was quite peaceful about his sexuality, writing once from the Marian shrine at Lourdes that he felt as if he was in a “different kind of church.” Many of his brother Franciscans were surprised when it became public after his death that Judge was a gay man.

 

But Judge’s sexual orientation, for him, was an integrated part of his being and even a gift. An autobiography of the priest, written by Michael Ford, quotes Judge as saying, “Look at who we are as gay people at this moment in history, being a gift for the church, being agents of change in both church and society.”

Popular devotion to the “Saint of 9/11” is growing, as a fast-growing  website about the priest’s legacy attests. There are documentaries and biographies, including Brendan Fay’s film, “Remembering Mychal,” which was shown at World Youth Day in Poland this past July and has been screened at parishes, too. His burial site in New Jersey has become a place of pilgrimage for many people. The cause for Judge’s formal canonization is gaining steam,reported The Record, but it also has little backing from the Archdiocese of New York or the Franciscan community.

Today’s Gospel, part of the same readings proclaimed the Sunday after September 11th, 2001, includes the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Prodigal Son. They are readings about going out to the margins to find people, and about rushing out to welcome those who have come home. This Gospel seems particularly fitting for Fr. Mychal Judge, a gay man who, in his priestly ministry, rushed to the margins and welcomed home the many people he served in so many ways. Fr. Michael Duffy, OFM, concluded the homily at Judge’s funeral with the following words (you can listen to the audio version at NPR by clicking here):

“And so, this morning we come to bury Myke Judge’s body, but not his spirit. We come to bury his voice, but not his message. We come to bury his hands, but not his good works. We come to bury his heart, but not his love. Never his love.”

Fr. Mychal Judge was, and is, a gift for Catholics. Gay men in the priesthood still have to deal with structural homophobia, and disputes about priests who have come out as gay are not infrequent. Judge’s life reveals how wrong it is to reject or repress gay priests. His life is a witness to the broader truth that there are many gay priests who lead holy lives of humble service. That is why, in remembering him and learning the lessons he teaches, we must never forget that his sexual orientation was a fertile source for his ministry and his love. We must always honor the fullness of Fr. Mychal Judge’s person–the full person that God created him to be.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Article

National Catholic Reporter, “The joys of Mychal Judge, fallen 9/11 chaplain”

LGBT Irish-Americans Finally Fully Welcomed to NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade

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Members of the Lavender & Green Alliance at last Sunday’s St. Pat’s For All Parade

 

When the St. Patrick’s Day Parade kicks off in New York City tomorrow, it will finally be an inclusive celebration of Irish heritage with all LGBT marchers fully welcomed for the first time.

The Lavender & Green Alliance has been invited to march by parade organizers, reported the Washington Blade. The Alliance, which since 2000 has hosted an alternative event in Queens called the St. Pat’s For All Parade, was celebrating the welcome, said founder and chair Brendan Fay. He told the Blade the parade will be “a great day for hospitality and inclusion,” adding:

” ‘History will be made for the first time on March 17. . .I think it’s conveying a message about equality and what I call cultural hospitality. There’s an overall feeling of excitement and just really great and joyful expectation. . .I’ve really come to appreciate how important cultural gatherings and parades are in our lives and communities.’ “

Inviting the Lavender & Green Alliance hopefully ends decades of controversy between LGBT advocates who sought to march openly and conservative Catholic opponents, but attaining such inclusion was not certain and did not come easily. Last year’s welcome of OUT@NBC Universal, the parade’s first openly LGBT contingent, was criticized by many because few marchers were of Irish descent. Comments last June by parade chair John Dunleavy raised the possibility that LGBT groups might be excluded yet another year. Thankfully, parade organizers have welcomed LGBT Irish-Americans under their own banner, about which Emmaia Gelman of the group Irish Queers commented to The Villager:

” ‘The demand to end the exclusion from the St. Patrick’s Day Parade has always been for Irish lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender marchers to participate in the parade behind their own banner. . .We’re really pleased that’s going to happen. It’s been a long 25 years. . .It’s really a great thing that it’s over.”

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Brendan Fay, left, being interviewed

Fay of the Lavender & Green Alliance, who is Catholic, said the “persistent determination” of the Irish community, and not just LGBT people, helped make this welcome possible. So too did financial pressures from sponsors like Guinness and boycotts by local politicians. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is ending his two-year boycott of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, telling a crowd last Sunday:

” ‘The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is a New York City tradition but for years, Irish LGBT New Yorkers could not show their pride. . .Finally they can celebrate their heritage by marching in a parade that now represents progress and equality.’ “

Some advocates, however, do not want the history surrounding this parade too quickly displaced in the name of progress. John Francis Mulligan of Irish Queers wrote in the Washington Blade:

“But this lockstep ‘moving forward’ is like reconciliation without the truth part. It erases history. It erases the power of people to create change collectively. It diminishes the history of the courage and grit of people that push back, stand up and speak out. Even when it has affected us by losing our families, safety, housing, jobs and friendships. The history of the anti-gay NYC St. Patrick’s Day parade is important. This bigotry was a coagulation of very powerful forces: the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, the Police Department, the mayor’s office, the courts and the religious right. . .

“Some of the many Irish values I cherish are to be contrary, to stand up for what is right, and to not be afraid when everyone else is walking down the road to stop and walk the other way. . .It may have taken us 25 years of struggle to walk up Fifth Avenue on St. Patrick’s Day but we prevailed. Let’s celebrate, give fair dues, remember the history and continue the work.”

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Members of the Lavender & Green Alliance in an earlier, undated photo

Danny Dromm, a gay Irish member of the New York City Council, recalled the struggle, too, reported the Irish Times. During remarks earlier this week at the Irish Consulate, he said:

 

“‘ For all the people who were arrested and who protested, and to my own family who wrote letters against what I am doing here today, today is a day of reconciliation and healing for us all.’ “

Tomorrow’s festivities in New York City are certainly worth celebrating, just as those who made this day possible are remembered. The parade’s inclusion reflects the deep shifts in society and in cultures which have happened around gender and sexuality that are worth celebrating, too. Boston saw a similar victory during last year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and New York City’s St. Pat’s For All Parade is set to continue in Queens in addition to this main parade–all positive developments towards full LGBT equality.

On a final note, the parade’s inclusion of LGBT marchers also more accurately ties it to Ireland. Dignity/New York’s spokesperson, Jeff Stone, explained to the Blade how inclusive St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the U.S. rightly relate to the equality victories made in Ireland:

“Eventually the older, more conservative members who were against [LGBT marchers] either left or died or whatever and I understand that Barbara Jones, the consul general of Ireland in New York, tried to urge the committee to let them march. That’s also in line with what’s happening in Ireland, especially now with the pro-same-sex marriage vote. The people of that country have clearly spoken.”

Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day through this parade has been a high-point for Irish Americans, and indeed New Yorkers of all backgrounds, since the late 18th-century. The parade is celebrating its 255th year tomorrow. As Bondings 2.0 previously noted, these celebrations will be even better now that LGBT people are welcomed in the spirit of Catholicism’s long tradition of social justice — and perhaps most pertinent here–the Irish charism of unbounded and warm hospitality.

To read Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of the controversies surrounding St. Patrick’s Day parades and celebrations, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry