March On

March On

By: Iesha Clement, Gaby Deane, Marina Nebro, and Cassandra Price

Judge Duffy, the judge of the 1993 court case Ancient Order of Hibernians V. Dinkins said of the exclusion of Irish gays and lesbians in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade: “ I cannot envision a Parade put on by any organization that would restrict its participants solely to those individuals who have never sinned. Such a gathering surely would be quite small in number, and those who would hold themselves out as entitled to participate most likely would be hypocrites.” Today, the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization is still struggling to obtain the right to march under their own banner in the Manhattan St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

In 1991, according to the court case The Ancient Order of Hibernians V Dinkins the Irish Gay and Lesbian Organization requested permission to partake in the festivities, and were rejected. Instead, a compromise was reached. Irish Gay and Lesbian Organization members were allowed to march in the parade, but were not allowed to do so under a separate banner. The AOH claimed it was not consistent with the teachings of the AOH. This compromise is still used today, but now other parades, such as the St Pats For All parade, allow gays and lesbians to partake in the festivities under their own banner. A representative from the AOH was unavailable for comment.

Every March, those with Irish pride within driving distance converge onto New York City for the grand parade on St. Patrick’s Day. In the past few decades, turmoil has erupted behind these smiling faces over whether or not to let gay and lesbian affiliated congregations participate in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade under their own banner. Many of the more conservative members of the Irish community object to the inclusion of openly gay and lesbian members, and therefore have takensteps to exclude them from the celebration. Ironically, while they are prohibited from marching in the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade, LGBTQ groups are allowed to march in St. Patrick’s Day parades in Ireland.

Unhappy with their situation, the LGBTQ group,the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization, went to the courts. In 1993, the Federal District Courts for the Southern Districts ruled on the side of the conservatives, barring homosexuals from marching in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Gays and lesbians of Irish decent did not take this lying down. According to the 1993 New York Times article “Irish March Up the Avenue, Gay Protesters at Bay”, 200 of the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization were arrested at a sit-in on Fifth Avenue, protesting their inability to join in the parade and show their Irish pride. They were arrested before the proceedings began, but neither conflict, nor the weather could dampen their spirits as those who participated in the sit-ins were put under arrest. As the police impassively took one Irish Lesbian who participated in the sit-in, one Irish lesbian yelled to the other: “Yo, Kelly! Love ya!” Down the block, John Cardinal O’Conner said that although he bears no ill will towards homosexuals, he “could never even be perceived as compromising Catholic teaching” by allowing them to participate in the parade. At the time, this was met with hostility, as someone shouted: “He’s a bigot in a dress,” while the protesters were getting arrested.

The issue of who should and should not be able to march in the parade diverts the attention from the message the AOH wants to project. As Representative Peter T King, a Nassau Republican who had attended the Cardinal’s pre-parade Mass was quoted in the New York Times article in 1993, “It’s a pity the day doesn’t focus on the key issue.” Those watching the parade have a clear sense of what the parade is all about. Said Elaine Jensen, a parade watcher of three decades, in the same article, “There’s plenty of gays in the parade. Make no mistake about it. But they don’t need a banner to march. It’s not a parade about sex.” A like-minded 30-year-old marcher Patricia O’Brian said, “Everybody’s a sinner. You don’t have a banner if you eat too much or drink too much or live in sin with someone. You march with your own country.”

Recently, the LGBTQ members have sought support from Mayor De Blasio in an open letter published in the Gay City News asking him “to direct all City departments not to organize marchers for or allow personnel to participate in this anti-LGBTQ procession either in uniform or with any banner that identifies them with the City.” For these activists, watching the police march in a parade that does not provide an equal opportunity for everyone effects the trust between law enforcement and the public.

Pappas v. Giuliani, a court case in the Court of Appeals, in the Second Circuit, 290 F.3d 143 (2d Cir. 2002) involved Thomas Pappas, a police officer, anonymously “sending racially offensive political material to political and other groups” who were hassling him for donations. He was charged with violating the purpose of the police department, which, according to the NYPD website is to provide a safe environment to the people by upholding the amendments and the rights of the people. Pappas maintained that he was not acting on behalf of the police department, but only representing himself. The case went to the Supreme Court in June 17, 2003 and ruled on the side of Giuliani: “The effectiveness of a city’s police department depends importantly on the respect and trust of the community and on the perception in the community that it enforces the law fairly, even-handedly, and without bias. If the police department treats a segment of the population of any race, religion, gender, national origin, or sexual preference, etc., with contempt, so that the particular minority comes to regard the police as oppressor rather than protector, respect for law enforcement is eroded and the ability of the police to do its work in that community is impaired.” Essentially, if the police do not have the backing and the trust of the public, then they lose their authority to govern.

While this letter to De Blasio is one side of the story, it fails to acknowledge the possibility that these police officers might be Irish; in which case, the LGBTQ members are petitioning to exclude another group of people. These police officers in uniform may want to express their pride in both their country and their Irish heritage. By asking them not to participate in uniform, they are asking them to choose one or the other. The police should be allowed to be as proud of their Irish roots as much as the LGBTQ members, while maintaining their devotion to their jobs. The LGBTQ members are violating the Golden Rule: one should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated. They are asking a certain party to abstain from the parade, unless they participate without drawing attention to themselves or flaunting their other ideas.

In the Chicago Tribune, Mayor De Balsio restated that he would not march in the Manhattan St. Patrick’s Day Parade this year, to lend his support to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. Instead, he marched in the 2014 St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Queens, the St Pats For All Parade, where everyone was able to participate. While the origins of this parade began fifteen years ago, it recently gained traction with Mayor De Blasio’s participation and its tolerance for all. Not only the Mayor of New York City, but also many of the New York Police Department embraced the St Pats For All Parade; the uniformed veterans from the NYPD’s American Legion, members of the Guardians Association and the Police Square Club joined the Gay Officers Action League (GOAL) in abstaining from the Manhattan parade and opted to walk in the St. Pats For All parade. Two major beer manufacturers, Sam Adams and Heineken, withdrew their support from this year’s parade to protest the exclusion of the LGBTQ community. This year, gays were allowed to march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, but were banned from signage about sexual orientation, which is what they have been, and are still, fighting for. Sarah Kate Ellis, the president of the gay rights group the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), released a statement showing support for the beer companies’ decision in the Huffington Post on March 15, 2014; “Heineken sent the right message to LGBT youth, customers and employees who simply want to be part of the celebration.” If other organizations rally behind the LGBT communities, it might give them the traction they need to gain the freedom they desire.

Streets are normally public space. People of all races and creeds can normally walk on them whenever they want. But this parade is a private event scheduled on the streets of New York City, which means for a blocked period of time, homosexuals are banned from walking on them What is more intriguing is that it is completely legal. It is an entirely privately run event; the city does not help pay for it. The Parade Committee and the Ancient Order of Hibernians, also known as the AOH, with the help of private donations, exclusively pay for the event. The only things the City provides are the police and the sanitation services, which are provided for every public gathering in the City. According to a 2000 New York Times article titled “City Issues Slate of Safety Rules for Large Parades” by Andy Newman, a requirement was put in place for big parades, in which a police officer ride in every parade truck. This requirement was enforced in response to accidents in the 1999 West Indian American Carnival parade that killed three revelers.

For over one hundred and fifty years, the AOH has been in charge of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and if the AOH was not directly in charge of the parade, then an affiliated organization has been in charge. The AOH is comprised of RomanCatholic “men of Irish descent who have complied with the Roman Catholic rite’s requirement that every adult must receive communion at least once during the Easter Season.” This is just one of the religious membership requirements for AOH. For over seventy of those years, the parade has started at 11:00 a.m. on Fifth Avenue. Everyone who has been to or seen this parade can confirm that the parade is not exclusively made up of members of the AOH or Roman Catholic Church. In fact, many are not of Irish descent. Usually, around 150,000 people march in the parade, in addition to about 1.5 million bystanders. Because of the sheer number of people that are involved with the parade, the AOH has taken precautions to ensure that the parade cannot be used to further a political, social or economic agenda that does not have the support of the AOH.

In 1992, the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization were still not given permission to march in the parade. Instead, they were allowed to hold their own festivities from 60th Street to 66th Street prior to the start of the parade on the insistence from Mayor Dinkins. Almost every elected official, the Mayor, City Council Members, etc. chose to participate in the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization’s demonstration, instead of the actual parade. Still today they are not openly allowed to participate in the St. Patrick’s Day parade.

In 1993, the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization wanted to march in the parade with their own banner, but the Hibernians refused admittance, sparking controversy. To settle the dispute, they went to the courts. Unfortunately, nothing is ever black and white. Kevin Duffy, District Judge, reported that while he held multiple hearings, the facts constantly changed. For instance, at one point, the City said they would not allow the parade to march on Fifth Avenue if they did not include the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization, but they would allow the AOH to march on other streets besides Fifth Avenue. Later, they changed their mindsand the City’s position switched to one that would not allow the AOH to march at all unless they allowed the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization’s to march. Ultimately, the Irish Gay and Lesbian Organization were barred from participating in the parade.

The parade was deemed a public accommodation, and therefore was protected by the First Amendment that grants them the right of free speech. According to the court case of the Ancient Order of Hibernians V Dinkins, if a parade is privately sponsored, the sponsors have control over the message they want to project. If the City tried to control the message of the AOH, it would be censorship. The AOH wanted to pay homage to St. Patrick and show their adherence to the Roman Catholic Church and its teachings. This means that the reason the AOH does not want to include the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization under their own banner is because homosexuality does not adhere to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, and therefore the AOH. The City also attempted to force the AOH to allow the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization to march in 1993 by giving an ultimatum to the AOH stating that unless they are allowed to participate the parade will not be able to walk on Fifth Avenue anymore. This falls under the umbrella of censorship, because they are trying to force the AOH to change their message. On these grounds, as the streets are public, it would not be constitutional to prevent the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization from walking in the parade. Normally, the streets are open to whoever wants to walk them, but, since this is a private event, the AOH is allowed to regulate what message the parade is sending to their on-lookers but restricting the people that are allowed on the street.

Parades: Bring Us Together Or Tear Us Apart

The St. Patrick’s Day Parade first started in 1762. Ever since, thousands, if not millions of people converge onto Fifth Avenue in high spirits, ready to display their heritage proudly, or at least have a good time. Over the years, the exclusion of homosexuals under the banner that they choose has caused some debate and controversy. And they are not alone. Other parades have faced similar problems with regards to who should be allowed to participate, with mixed results.

The Israel Day Parade, as mentioned before, went through some similar problems at around the same time. According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, a global Jewish news source, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, a gay and lesbian synagogue, was prohibited from marching in the parade in 1993. They were banned because thousands of Orthodox students had threatened to boycott the parade if they had to march with the Congregation of Beit Simchat Torah. The Orthodox community became closer as they united against a common goal: to prohibit the Congregation Beit Simchat Torah from marching in the parade.

As with the AOH, the organization in charge of the parade that year, the American Zionist Youth Foundation, was caught in the middle of the conflict. In this case, however, the Foundation attempted to appease both sides, resulting in unhappiness all around. The director of the American Zionist Youth Foundation said that preventing the gay and lesbian- affiliated synagogue from participating was “the most painful decision we ever made.” On one side, thousands of people of the Orthodox community were threatening to boycott the parade, and on the other side, there was a small congregation of homosexuals. They decided to side with the greater numbers.

As with the conflict with the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the message of the parade is overshadowed by who is accepted into the parade. The parade is meant for people to come together under one cause or one nationality. Political agendas are rampant within the Israel Day parade, but sexual or social agendas are prohibited. In a 1993 article in the JTA titled “Gay Synagogue Holds Separate Event After Exclusion from Israel Day Parade”, a Yeshiva University student, Jason Schwartz, said, “We have to salute Israel; it’s nothing more than that. It should not be a platform for anybody to promote their agendas.” Others, like Dennis Duban, had no problem with the congregation of Beth Simchat Torah marching in the parade; “What’s most important is that all Jews stick together, even if you don’t agree with what they stand for.” Even so, many of the banners and many of the voices declared a political opinion about Israel. They ranged from “Not one inch!” referring to giving up land in the occupied territories, to a sign that said: “End the occupation: Two people, two states.” Instead of coming together as a Jewish community, some would rather be an exclusive club, with only those that hold the same beliefs of sexuality allowed to participate, just like that of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Today, the Orthodox movement does not object to marching alongside gays and lesbians. Since 2012, they have been able to march openly under their own banner. Previously, the Congregation Beit Simchat Torah had been able to march, but without a banner, like in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. In 2012, members of the Jewish Queer Youth petitioned to the Jewish Community Relations Council, the 2012 organizers of the parade, for permission to march freely under their own banner. All their hard work paid off, and they were allowed to fully participate for the first time. Even after they had overcome that obstacle, they still faced backlash with regard to the words “Gay, Lesbian, Bi and Trans” on their banners, according to Mordechai Levovitz in the article “Gay Jews March For First Time in Celebrate Israel Parade” printed in the Huffington Post. They stood their ground, and have been proudly supporting their colors since 2012.

Avi Goldstein, an Orthodox Jew from Long Island, attempted to reignite the controversy last year, according to an article by Josh- Nathan-Kazis titled “Gay Marchers Spark Celebrate Israel Parade Boycott Threat” published in the New York Times last year. Goldstein argues that allowing gays to participate in the parade “compromise[s] the moral integrity of the parade.” His crusade did gain not much traction, as a letter was printed soon after by a group of Jewish Day School principals agreeing that they would not boycott the 2013 parade, and the Jewish Queer Youth and Congregation Beit Simchat Torah were allowed to march in the parade in June. As one member from Gay, Lesbian and Straight Alliance at Queens College said, “…this past year we march with our own flag which was very nice. I don’t really know anything about the St. Patty’s Day Parade and I have never been involved but I know in like 5 years kids will look at this and laugh.”

It is not just the conflict over sexuality versus sin that keeps people away from ethnic gatherings in New York City. Since 1984, Muslims in New York have gathered on Madison Avenue to begin the American Muslim Day Parade. In 2010 they hit a snag. According to the article “For Muslims, Day of Celebration Amid Controversy” in the New York Times, that year there was controversy due to the plans to build an Islamic Center near ground zero. There were additionally anti-Muslim ministers who were threatening desecration of Korans, and incidents of hate crimes against Muslims including an attack on a Manhattan taxi driver. There were no protesters on the day of the parade, but the fear of violence kept many away. The executive director of the Islamic Leadership Counsel of Metropolitan New York, Zaheer Uddin explained in the article, “some people are just scared to show up.”

Others, such as Shahid Khan, used the fear as motivation. A proud marcher, he brought his entire extended family to march in the parade. Said Mr. Khan, “This is for my children to see different cultures, different people speaking different languages, marching together under the banner of Islam. We want to come down here more than previous years to show we’re united against this bigotry.” Muslim police officers marched in the parade in full regalia to show their pride of their community. Said Syed Alirahi, a lieutenant with the fire department of Elmsford, N.Y., “We are public servants. Most of us are born here, live here and die here. We’re going to fight for our country. Today is our opportunity to show ourselves to other people, and our contributions to the country as Muslims.” This reinforces the point that police officers have nationalities too, and asking them to refrain from walking in a parade, as the LGBTQ members did, is asking them not to express their pride in their nationality or religion. They might want to show the world, like Mr. Alirahi, that they are Muslim and American and are proud of both.

Uplifting Parades:

The Macy’s Day Parade’s legacy began in 1924 when the first Macy’s Day Parade took place. The employees, many of whom were immigrants or first-generation Americans, wanted to celebrate their success the same way they had festive parades in their home countries. Within the first decade, they adapted the now-iconic helium balloons and it quickly became more elaborate. It has become a staple of pride and celebration.

In September 2001, New York City was shaken to its core when the twin towers fell. Later that year, when it was time for the Macy’s Day Parade, the sponsors of the parade had a very difficult decision to make: would they continue with the festivities or would they cancel in respect to the fallen. Their decision brought together people all over the country and sent out a message to those watching that America will not cower in fear. Those that marched remembered the fallen in the twin towers and brought the city together so they could all heal collectively. Many stars performed songs that uplifted spirits and evoked American pride. As it says in the book Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade by Robert M. Grippo and Christopher Hoskins, “On November 22, 2001, Robin Hall, Macy’s new parade producer, and his team put on a parade that unified the country” (155). Parades can bring people together, whether it is because of race, ethnicity, or shared experience. It is only when the focus turns to conflicting ideologies between the organization in charge of the parade and the participants, does it lose sight of the original intent: to bring people together.

This parade has had its moments of uncertainty, like the one after Kennedy was shot a week before the parade was supposed to take place. The parade’s message is clear: celebrate the city’s accomplishments and your own good fortune. Because of this universal message, people across cultures and sexual orientations can join in and be part of the group. This parade has succeeded where others are still struggling: they have an all-inclusive message.

Parades Overcome Conflict:

Leagle Inc. (a legal website) states that the parade “celebrated the fact that all Americans, native and immigrant alike, enjoy the freedom of the City on the streets of New York and, by implication, throughout our great land.” The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is meant for people in New York with an Irish heritage to come together under a common sense of pride. They are not alone in their celebration: thousands of people who participate and watch the parade have no more Irish in their blood than Vulcan. They go to have a good time and show their support. Unfortunately, some of those who wish to show their support are forbidden to do so in the parade. The Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization was been excluded from the festivities for years based on the AOH’s decision on the basis that their banner and what they stand for is not supported by the Roman Catholic Church. After a long legal battle, the court declared that they could not force the AOH to include the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization because it would be a direct violation of their First Amendment right to free speech. Eventually, the AOH was able to bend on some of their rules without compromising their message. The AOH let the members of the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization march in the parade, but not underneath their own separate banner.

Other parades faced similar conflicts. Whether it was the Israel Day Parade letting homosexuals march with them, or Muslims having a parade in spite of the surrounding turmoil, they have overcome these obstacles. The Israel Day Parade had completely changed their policy towards homosexuals. Not only are gays and lesbians allowed to march in the parade, they allowed to do so underneath their own banner. Even when there was an activist determined to stir up the controversy again last year, the Orthodox community, the ones previously against it, were unmoved by the activist’s accusation. Though surrounded by fear and violence, it did not stop Muslims from gathering together and showing their pride. Muslim police officers wanted to show their pride as Muslims and Americans by wearing their uniforms while marching.

New York City has come far with regards to the tolerance towards gays and lesbians. When it came to the controversy over the St. Patrick’s parade, the mayor and most politicians were on the side of the LGBT by the late 1990’s. Fifty years ago, many people would not have even considered letting a section of a parade represent the gay and lesbian affiliated organizations. Now, more people are siding with those organizations than ever before. Public opinion has swayed to the other side, to be in favor of the Gay Right’s Movement. Social change represents this new perspective with the new law legalizing gay marriage. The change is also reflected in the administration of the different parades, and their positions on allowing gays and lesbians to march. A member of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Alliance Club on Queens Campus said, “The only parade I’ve even been to is the Gay Pride Parade. But at the pride parade you see so many different groups with their own banners – Jews, Italians, even the Irish – so I can understand why it would be upsetting because people are proud of their Irish heritage and their sexual orientation. Gay pride comes from the concept of constantly being oppressed but coming back strong… gay marriage is legal in New York State. That’s beautiful and it’s a victory.”



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