On Wednesday, as they do every year, the Irish and those looking to court their votes will march down New York City’s Fifth Avenue in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the annual rite of 24-hour drinking binges. And, as they do every year, the gays and their advocates will complain about how they deserve to participate. This is a tired argument, and it’s time to stop making it.
The Ancient Order of Hibernians, which organizes the parade, doesn’t like the gays, and that’s a belief based in its Irish Catholic roots, which is why it won’t let LGBT groups take part. (Gay police officers and firefighters, of course, do march, but not under a rainbow flag.) Yet every year, we hear from the likes of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, attacking the parade. Quinn makes a qualified critic: She is Irish-American, gay, and has called NYC her home since around the time the Statue of Liberty arrived on its shores. She makes a point each year to not participate in the parade, choosing another event to walk in, such as Dublin Pride in Ireland, or at the White House with Obama. Good for her.
But for the same reasons we don’t want anyone telling us who “has” to be allowed to march in Heritage of Pride’s Gay Pride March each June, or any LGBT pride event around the nation, it’s inappropriate to insist the Hibernians must adhere to our demands.
The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is a “private” event. It is not hosted or produced by the city or a government office. It is considered the “official” St. Patrick’s Day Parade because it is the largest and most well-covered, but it is not the only. Being a private event, it maintains the freedom to discriminate — the same way any gay pride parade gives us to the freedom to exclude groups, sponsors, and citizens that terrorize, discriminate, or harass LGBTs. That’s a fair policy, is rooted in the First Amendment, and one we entirely support, even if parade chairman John Dunleavy was stupid enough to say excluding queers was the same as excluding Nazis from an Israeli pride parade or the KKK from a black pride parade.
(The only grey area you’ll find us wading through is Hibernians’ use of taxpayer resources, including police security and post-parade sanitation workers cleaning the streets, to execute the event, although we understand the city is paid a fee to cover the costs.)
We’re not saying anyone should stop lobbying the Hibernians to let us take part. There are plenty of gay Irish who would love to participate, and put both parts of their cultures on display, and it’s a reasonable request they be able to do so. It’s an effort we encourage. What we are saying is that it’s time to stop “demanding” the Hibernians allow us to take part.
Why? Because we wouldn’t want any group of any affiliation to insist they be given a parade float to travel down Fifth Avenue during NYC’s annual gay pride march.
Whether it’s ExxonMobil, with their horrific record on employee equality, or delegates representing Uganda’s legislator David Bahati, with his support of the Kill The Gays bill. And what if a group representing the Church of Latter-Day Saints, which orchestrated the marriage equality rape of gay Californians, wanted to take part? Would you want to feel “forced” to allow them? Or a group promoting polygamous marriage — which, even if you support their right to multiple wives, you might not want involved in a gay event because of the negative stigmatization?
If a private group wants to host a private pride event, even if it’s on public property, it should be able to discriminate against whoever it sees fit. These events are about celebrating “pride” for a certain culture, and if they believe certain demographics to be plagues on their identity, so be it. It may not be morally correct, but it’s their right.
The solution is not always forcing our way in, but in using the event as an opportunity to educate participants and spectators about the organizers’ homophobic behavior and beliefs. We would love the Hibernians to welcome the gays this St. Patrick’s Day, and commend anyone working to make that happen, not just so LGBTs can march with their heads held high, but so on-lookers and history can mark our involvement.
But this isn’t a debate over one of our “rights”; it’s a debate over a privilege. Thankfully, and perhaps in spite of any of their delusions, the Hibernians do not represent all Irish people, and nor do their discriminatory parades.