I am really happy that the first Irish LGBT group will be marching with a banner in this year’s NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
In the spirit of change and progress some keep talking about, practically screeching about, “moving forward,” “celebrating unity” and not identifying how this change came about.
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.
A few factors that immediately come to mind that I want to note:
• The Parade Committee saying there was a waiting list to join the parade and the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization would have to wait our turn. Then, during litigation, the Parade Committee having to admit they lied: there was no list and we certainly weren’t on it.
• The Parade Committee and Cardinal O’Connor saying there was absolutely no communication between them about allowing a gay group in. I remember the documents, that were turned over in discovery, during litigation by the Parade Committee that included a fax between the Parade Committee and Cardinal O’Connor. Again: they lied, they were powerful and they got away with it.
• Mayor Giuliani on the city’s website celebrating the arrest of those trying to protest our exclusion (hours before the parade) as a quality of life achievement.
• The NYPD Emerald Society, a fraternal organization of Irish-American police officers, approving a resolution seeking the exclusion of ILGO and any other ‘homosexual and alternative lifestyle’ groups from the St Patrick’s parade.
• I remember asking for a meeting with Hillary Clinton in 2000 as she was running to become a senator in New York to discuss this issue. Not being granted a meeting with her, a few of us from ILGO met with her then staff member, Bill de Blasio. Clinton broke the boycott to participate in a parade of hate, rather than stand with and support members of the LGBT community.
There are many answers to why this change has come. In reality it is probably a combination of things. But let’s talk about it, hear people take responsibility and not back away or silence these narratives. We can’t celebrate Judeo-Christian values when that is the same trope that tried to prevent us from being Irish and queer and is the same club being used to batter our LGBT community in Uganda and Jamaica. And let’s celebrate the tactic of boycott that prevented elected officials and multi-national corporations from continuing the financial support of the Fifth Avenue parade.
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.
Lives are long, change is created, leadership changes, power is disrupted.
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.
(John Francis Mulligan is a member of Irish Queers.)