Scalia to Lead NYC’s Columbus Day Parade

Gay political groups plan noon presence Monday to protest

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, famous for his hostility to the rights of gay people, is the grand marshal of New York City’s Columbus Day Parade on Monday, October 11 and a coalition of LGBT groups will protest against him along the route on Fifth Avenue and 59th Street at noon.

Scalia, in a press release about the honor, said, “This is the top of the hill, to be grand marshal in your hometown. I marched down Fifth Avenue many times as part of Xavier High School’s Regiment. For an Italian kid from Queens, there could be no greater thrill than to march one last time, as grand marshal of the Columbus Day Parade.”

Lawrence Auriana, president of the Columbus Citizens Foundation, sponsors of the parade, said in a release that Scalia is the “first of Italian ancestry to serve on the Supreme Court,” and asserted, “His majority and dissenting opinions command admiration and respect for their intellectual rigor among people from all sides of the political landscape.”

George de Stefano, a New York-based writer and author of the forthcoming “An Offer We Can’t Refuse: The Mafia in the Mind of America,” said, “As a gay Italian American who grew up in a home with progressive values, I am disgusted by the choice of the right-wing extremist Antonin Scalia to be grand marshal.” He added, “But I am hardly surprised by this choice, as the Columbus Citizens Foundation represents only conservative Italians. Their priorities are very clear. They won’t allow actors who play fictional gangsters in ‘The Sopranos’ to march in the parade, but they’ll honor a reactionary whose philosophy is all about restricting the freedoms of Americans, which to me is a lot more objectionable.”

Stephanie Romeo, an out lesbian from Brooklyn, said she thinks the selection of Scalia “is kind of a joke—the whole parade is a self-congratulatory joke.” Romeo, 46, a lifelong New Yorker, said she has never marched in the parade.

Gay journalist and activist Mike Signorile said, “The Columbus Day Parade has always been about promoting ‘ethnic pride’ at the expense of demonizing and offending other minorities. The whole idea of celebrating a man whom Native Americans view as a conqueror, and calling that Italian pride, has always been troubling. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the largely conservative and racially divisive people who run the parade would now ask a bigot and homophobe to be the grand marshal. It’s completely outrageous, but not a shocker.”

Veteran lesbian activist Betty Santoro said, “The organizers of this parade are bringing shame to New York’s Italian Americans.”

Former Mayor David Dinkins criticized the choice, saying, “It will be interesting to see who marches and who decides not to” because of Scalia, whom he called “not my kind of justice.” He recalled inviting the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization to march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade with him when he was mayor and having epithets and beer cans hurled at him the one year that gays marched as a group.

The Columbus Citizens Foundation did not return a call for comment.

The Greater Voices coalition of progressive LGBT Democratic clubs is organizing the protest. Gary Parker, president of Lambda Democrats of Brooklyn, said they are not calling for a boycott.

“Parades, marches and protests are forms of free speech and protected by the First Amendment,” Parker said. “Although Justice Scalia is failing in his duty to uphold the Constitution, I will not follow suit by calling for a boycott of the parade. I am calling on all elected officials and community leaders to use their constitutionally protected freedom of expression to speak out on the disastrous consequences that will result should Bush succeed in packing the Supreme Court with right-wing extremists like Justice Scalia.”

Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg boycotted the Columbus Day Parade in 2003 when the organizers banned his friend, Lorraine Bracco, from marching because she is a star of HBO’s “The Sopranos,” which they consider anti-Italian. He has consistently marched in parades that exclude gay and lesbian contingents, such as the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Asked to comment on Scalia as grand marshal, Bloomberg campaign spokesman Stu Loeser wrote in an e-mail, “While the Mayor has had his differences with the organizers of the parade in the past, he will be marching this year.”

Congressman Charles Rangel said he wouldn’t boycott the parade over Scalia’s honor in it, “but if it was Clarence Thomas I would.”

Democratic mayoral nominee Fernando Ferrer is scheduled to march, even though he does not march on St. Patrick’s Day.

City Councilwoman Christine Quinn (D-Chelsea) called Scalia “an unfortunate choice. It would have been better if they picked someone who is a uniting force.” State Senator Tom Duane said, “I would have thought that Italian Americans would have been more conscious of the impact of discrimination in the United States.” He won’t be marching.

Inquiries on the Scalia flap to Senators Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer as well as Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum received no response by press time. A spokesman for Comptroller Willam Thompson said he is not marching Monday.

The Empire State Pride Agenda’s spokesman, Joe Tarver, wrote in an e-mail that the group had “no comment on Scalia” in this context.

The Columbus Citizens Foundation is sponsoring an exhibit through Monday in Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt highlighting Scalia’s career and the contributions of other Italian Americans in American history.

Among Scalia’s career highlights not likely to be featured in the exhibit are, according to Greater Voices, his votes to uphold sodomy laws and the death penalty, prohibit gays from obtaining equal rights, striking down affirmative action policies, allowing Congress to overturn Miranda rights designed to inform those arrested of their rights, prohibiting rape survivors from suing their attackers, as well as his attempts to strike down Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 abortion rights ruling.

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