This will be the last year gay men and lesbians are excluded from marching under banners in New York’s St Patrick’s Day Parade, says Brian Finnegan, because money talks.
St Patrick’s Day has come and gone again. In Ireland, we had the usual combination of marching bands, majorettes, bad face-painting and random drunken violence, while in America, where Paddy’s Day is celebrated with more religious fervour, we had our country’s leader endorsing a parade that actively discriminates against LGBT people by becoming the first Taoiseach to march in it.
To add insult to injury, Enda Kenny defended his decision on the morning of March 17 by claiming that many of the people in the NYC parade are “members of the gay community and they are marching proudly”. Mr Kenny made this deeply insulting, untrue statement after having breakfast with the Mayor of NYC, Bill de Blasio, who had the balls to boycott the parade because of LGBT exclusion. The mayor of Boston, Marty Walsh also boycotted his own city’s parade for the same reason.
Adding insult to injury, Mr Kenny went on to say that the Government had sent a representative to the alternative gay St Patrick’s Day parade in Queens. This parade was specifically set up to include people marching under LGBT banners, and while many see this as a kind of ongoing protest, I think it’s grown into a kind of apartheid over the years. It’s true that President Mary McAleese chose to attend this parade in 2010 rather than march in the main Manhattan one, and that was a strong statement, but I believe that as long as lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and trans people are only allowed to march under banners in the suburbs, distanced and hidden from the main streets of the city, it’s the same as segregation.
So, to my mind, not only did Enda Kenny endorse a parade that is overtly homophobic, he endorsed segregation at the same time. He obviously thought that by saying what he said, he might have his cake and eat it. He could grandstand at the world’s biggest Paddy’s Day Parade, while at the same time an unnamed member of his team went to that other parade out in the sticks, the one that gays are allowed to march in, making a statement about Ireland’s support of LGBT people.
Along with all this, he brought the referendum on gay marriage into the discussion, saying that the Government will be offer people the option of voting for gay marriage next year. This was like trying to have your cake and eat it, and then reaching for another slice. Even though it effectively allows the majority to vote on the rights of a minority, the Irish gay marriage referendum represents a once Catholic-dominated country probably in the final furlong to ditch the influence of the Church on state legislation. But the St Patrick’s Day Parade in New York is organised by a Catholic group, so on one hand, the Taoiseach is saying that Ireland rejects Catholic discrimination and on the other, he’s openly accepting Catholic discrimination.
The Taoiseach left the parade two blocks before a gay protest behind the barricades, with the banner ‘Boycott Homophobia’. It’s a clear message, and in these times of terrible strife for so many people in parts of the world that are introducing homophobic laws, it’s a message Enda Kenny should have listened to in advance of the parade.
While nobody would say that New York is anything like Russia in terms of gay rights, the public exclusion of gays from one of the city’s largest annual events echoes the public exclusion of gays from all aspects of life by Putin and his plutocratic gang, and that’s something every right-thinking politician should be distancing themselves from right now, particularly in the light of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which echoes the German annexation of Sudetenland in 1938. Let’s not forget that while Hitler was marching across Europe, at home he was securing his power by stepping up the persecution of a demonised minority and the spreading of lies and propaganda about them.
Enda Kenny cited “legal issues” around the decision to ban public expressions of gay pride in the NYC Parade, adding that he didn’t want to “get into the detail of this”, which was a very handy way of further distancing himself from the homophobic treatment of gay people by the organisers, without really clarifying anything at all. The truth is that because the parade is privately organised, its organisers have a right to discriminate. If the city organised the parade, it would be a different matter altogether.
One way or the other, I predict this will be the last year that LGBTs are excluded from publicly marching in Paddy’s Day parades in Boston and New York. The mayors of both cities may have declined to march, but much more importantly, this year Guinness pulled its hefty sponsorship in New York.
“We were hopeful that the policy of exclusion would be reversed for this year’s parade,” the brewer said. “As this has not come to pass, Guinness has withdrawn its participation. We will continue to work with community leaders to ensure that future parades have an inclusionary policy.”
Two other major beer companies, Sam Adams and Heineken, also dropped their sponsorship of parades in Boston and New York.
There is no better indication that the tide has finally turned. Guinness’ pledge to “continue working with community leaders” is a message that they won’t be on board in 2015 either if the Catholic organisation behind the parade doesn’t change its mind about LGBT inclusion. And we can be sure that along with Heineken and Sam Adams, a lot more sponsors of the most expensive Paddy’s Day parade on the planet will be following suit.
Money talks, and its voice is louder than any politician’s, so the organisers won’t be able to turn a deaf ear. Still it’s a real a pity that the leader of our nation, where the active inclusion of LGBT people is encouraged in our capital’s parade, couldn’t have been ahead of the game; that he didn’t have the balls to really say something about where the people of Ireland stand on active discrimination against any minority.
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