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20 years on and the protest continues

March 17th, 2010 · 4 Comments · LGBT

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the protests and campaign to see lesbians and gay men included in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.  On Fifth Avenue at 57 Street (West side of the Avenue) a group of Irish Queers will protest against the exclusion of Irish gay groups in the parade – which has repeatedly been regarded by the courts and the organisers (the Ancient Order of Hibernians) as a private religious event.

“For 20 years, the NYC St. Patrick’s Day parade has been a battleground where the religious right has tried to erase and exclude LGBT people,? said Tierney Gleason of Irish Queers. “Historically homophobic institutions like the NYPD and FDNY have happily supported that exclusion by marching in uniform and en masse in this anti-gay demonstration.?

“Fortunately, anti-gay discrimination is now illegal in both Ireland and New York City. The NYPD, FDNY and Mayor Bloomberg need to do some catching up. As city representatives, they cannot legally march in the parade until the organizers renounce the homophobic exclusion of LGBT Irish groups,? said JF Mulligan of Irish Queers.

New York City law protects LGBT people against discrimination by police, firefighters and other arms of city administration. The organizers of the NYC St. Patrick’s Day have affirmed, over and over, that their parade carries an explicitly anti-gay religious message. Irish Queers has long asserted that participation by uniformed members of the NYPD and FDNY, as well as New York City mayors and other officials, is a violation of city law.

Deepening the link between the NYPD and the parade organizers’ message, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly will lead this year’s parade as Grand Marshal.

It’s 15 years since lesbians and gay men marched in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin under the banner of the National Lesbian and Gay Federation (I was one of the organisers for the two years we took part). We did it because we could and in solidarity with those in New York.

I’m shuddering to think that there are photo’s out there of the rigouts but it was a very important symbol of how things in Ireland moved on. Those were the days before the Paddy’s day parade got arty – there were still loads of commercial floats in it for security companies and the like. (A.T.A Security floats being legend) Members of Youth Defence threw rotten fruit and eggs at us but generally we got a good reception from the crowds and a welcome and support from the organisers.

Yesterday Dublin Pride continued the history of Irish gay groups supporting lesbians and gay men in New York by calling for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York to end the ban on the participation of a lesbian and gay group. I’m not sure if there are any gay groups marching in any parade in Ireland this year. I’m sad I’ve never been able to make it to New York to join in the protest.

American blog Queerty yesterday wrote that gays should not be trying to march in the private event. I note the comments of many prominent Irish American Lesbian and gay activists in reply to the post pointing out that the issues are a lot more complicated than Queerty makes out. The fallacy that St. Patrick’s Day Parades as religious events is rolled out and knocked back. They are not religious events in Ireland or indeed viewed as such by those abroad. It’s about culture and identity and national pride – and in Ireland it’s about inclusion and diversity and tourism promotion – lgbt tourists included.

If you want to read more on the history of the birth of the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organisation’s campaign I recommend reading Rock the Sham by Anne Maguire.

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