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.”
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.”
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