As Russia’s new Cold War begins, no politician should be marching in a St. Patrick’s Day Parade that directly endorses Vladimir Putin’s stance on homosexuality, says Rob Buchanan.
The Dublin Pride organisers have invited the Mayor of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio to take part in this year’s parade. Bill de Blasio made international news when he refused to take part in the New York St Patrick’s Day parade on Fifth Avenue, the largest of its kind in the world, due to queer marchers being banned from displaying gay rights banners. He said he would still take part in some of the other numerous Paddy’s Day events throughout New York, to fulfill his role as Mayor.
De Blasio’s decision not to march is historic and was not taken lightly, coming at a time when the issue of LGBT rights in the US, especially marriage equality, has never been more prominent. However this is not a case of bandwagon jumping, since De Blasio has a long history of supporting the gay community in his city, and has frequently attended the alternative gay St Patrick’s Day parade in Queens.
Bill de Blasio is not the only mayor of a large US city to boycott a parade this year due to concerns about LGBT exclusion. Boston Mayor Martin Walsh has threatened to boycott the South Boston St Patrick’s Day Parade unless the ban on gays marching under banners is lifted. Meanwhile in Ireland, Minister for Social Protection and Deputy Labour Leader, Joan Burton, also said she would not be attending the parade “until it is more fully inclusive”. Taoiseach Enda Kenny, however, will take part in the parade. An interesting comparison is last year’s refusal by the Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore to attend a St. Patrick’s Day event in Georgia because it was men-only.
To clarify: LGBT people, like everyone else in New York City, are allowed to walk in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. What is banned is the display of any LGBT banners, be they civil rights ones or simply neutral LGBT Pride symbols, like rainbow flags. In effect this is the fine American tradition of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ – a kind of inclusivity-lite solution to a problem created by the organisers themselves, the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
The US Supreme Court unanimously ruled in 1995 that the Ancient Order of Hibernians had the right to exclude groups from the Parade who carry messages that they do not approve of. In reality, much of the New York parade looks more like a religious procession than a carnival – the Ancient Order of Hibernians is a Catholic group, after all. And while they seem to believe that rainbow flags, even flown with solemnity, are offensive and irreligious, they have no problem with a huge amount of militaristic grandstanding in the Parade, along with often scantily clad women.
I had the honour of visiting New York for Paddy’s day a few years ago and it was an incredible experience to see Irish culture, both high and low, represented with pageantry and sincerity on a scale its quite hard to imagine. I felt so proud that day to be Irish, to be part of this huge celebration of my heritage. I had experienced that same joy and validation each year at that first big whoop of cheering and applause that you hear as you pass the Parnell monument and enter O’Connell Street at the Dublin Pride Parade. The magic of parades is that they allow people to celebrate what’s best about their culture and history, and share that celebration.
No matter what city it’s celebrated in, everyone feels a little Irish on St Paddy’s Day. That melting pot becomes a green soup and people’s boundaries start to loosen. By bringing diversity together under a common symbol, differences are forgotten and celebrated at the same time. If St Patrick’s Day is to be truly parade of Irish culture than it has to be an accurate mirror of all that’s good about Ireland, including the forward country we are in terms of gay rights, and acceptance of diversity.
And one more thing: With the rise of Putin’s new Cold War, which among other things seeks to stamp out any expression of queer existence, let alone culture, the message the West should be sending to the world is that it embraces all aspects of society and celebrates diversity as a core strength.
The Ancient Order of Hibernians needs to get with the programme, and until they do, no Irish politician or person in public life should be endorsing its Putinesque worldview.
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