Does St. Patrick’s Day Parade Discriminate?

(Photo by nycmarines/Creative Commons license)

(Photo by NYCMarines, Creative Commons license)

In the days just before the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue, commentators once again weighed in on the exclusion of gay groups from the parade, sparring over whether it’s correct to participate in New York’s renowned celebration of Irish heritage.

Colin Broderick, writing in Irish Central, said he would not be taking his 5-year-old daughter to the parade, despite the fact that he has fond memories of attending when he was a young man recently arrived in New York.

Having just left my own home in Northern Ireland I was still in a state of perpetual bliss at the freedoms we Irish were granted here in America. Where I grew up in the North, there was no such thing as flying our national Irish flag on the front lawn, or wearing a shamrock adorned t-shirt as you casually strolled down the streets of Omagh, Derry or Belfast.

The freedom represented up and down Fifth Avenue on the morning of March 17 was, in essence, for me a day of national celebration of our identity, a day to be able to express fully who we were, out in the open for all to see.

But it was more than that for me. It was more personal, having spent my life feeling like I was “different.”

Broderick goes on to observe that he hasn’t been to a St Patrick’s Day parade in several years, and that he can’t in good conscience take his daughter.

The parade feels anti-American to me now. Worse, it feels anti-Irish.

It’s exclusion of our gay brothers and sisters triggers in me some of the same rage that I felt upon leaving Northern Ireland over a quarter of a century ago. A rage that was founded in repression of identity.

But Irish Voice senior editor Debbie McGoldrick counters  that the St. Patrick’s Day Parade has never discriminated against gays.

Gays can march in the parade, and I’m sure that a decent number do. No one ever said they couldn’t. There’s no form to fill out in order to march, no box to tick asking about sexual orientation.

You think all of those marching band members are straight? All of the pipers, firefighters, cops and school groups? Of course not. But yet they march in their thousands year in and year out to celebrate one of the great days on the New York City calendar.

Rather, says McGoldrick,  no specifically Irish gay organization has petitioned to participate, and she believes that if one did, it would be welcomed.

But other than Brendan Fay’s extremely laudable St. Pat’s for All which exists to organize the annual all-inclusive parade in Queens, I don’t see any other gay Irish group out there. And that’s a shame, because the need for one has never been more urgent.

Here’s the outline of a gay group that I would fully support taking part in the New York City parade, and I bet, or at least hope, that many others would agree.

For example, let’s call the group Irish American Gays. They meet once a month or so to discuss their shared interests, their heritage, all the political developments that are affecting their lives. They have guest speakers, they organize outings, they have a presence in the Irish American community by supporting and working with other groups, that sort of thing.

You can read more of Broderick’s essay about why he won’t be taking his daughter to the parade here, and find an elaboration of McGoldrick’s views here.

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