Virtually everyone in New York City will be Irish on St. Patrick's Day next month -- except Irish lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Again. All New Yorkers, including the mayor, need to step up and end this exclusion. The St. Patrick's Day Parade has banned Irish LGBT contingents since 1991. Ireland itself has welcomed them since 1992, when the Cork St. Patrick's Parade included a banner reading "Hello, New York!" St. Patrick's parades there are a lot more celebratory than New York's annual clomp up Fifth Avenue.
New York's India Day, National Puerto Rican Day and other parades also excluded LGBT groups at first, but now welcome them. The Irish parade holds out, using various wink-and-nod excuses like, "It's a religious parade," or "There's no room."
Last year, Guinness and Heineken pulled their sponsorships, and Mayor Bill de Blasio refused to march. Even under pressure, parade organizers didn't lift the ban on Irish LGBT contingents. Instead, they made a deal with a remaining corporate partner, NBC Universal, for its gay employees to join the parade. As before, organizers said Irish LGBT people could march only with other groups, and only if they weren't visibly identifiable as gay. Everyone else has a banner proclaiming them Irish-and-something -- nurses, athletes, people from a particular Irish county. Irish LGBT people are ordered to hide. Again.
In the old days, politicians used to jostle to be seen marching in the parade. Now, after 25 years of protests by Irish Queers and scores of allied groups (and earlier, the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization), there's jostling to be the dealmaker who overturns the ban. There's so much back-channel discussion, in fact, that it's not always clear who's doing the jostling. So here's our proposal out in the open.
Mayor Bill de Blasio must use his bully pulpit and find a solution to this long-running discrimination. The City Council has said it will have no official contingent or banner in the parade because of the discrimination. With a final nudge, parade organizers can be pushed into the 21st century. Irish LGBT groups will march up Fifth Avenue, under our banners, in a parade that represents the community.
Let's end this embarrassing discrimination so we can all walk in the sun.
John Francis Mulligan, a first-generation Irish-American and social justice activist, is a member of Irish Queers.