The St. Patrick's Day Parade, whose leader last year compared gays marching in it to Nazis being allowed in an Israeli Day Parade, was thin on participants, spectators, protestors, and politicians this year.
Some of the absences were probably due to the snowstorm the night before, but Democratic Senator Charles Schumer said he was at the Fifth Avenue event because heavier snow upstate cancelled the parade in Albany. He was the leading Democrat to defy the boycott of a parade that has excluded identifiable LGBT groups since refusing the application of the now-defunct Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization in 1991.
“Most people watching the parade would want gays included,” he said.
But when pressed why he was participating in an event led by the openly anti-gay Ancient Order of Hibernians, Schumer said, “I want to honor the Irish.”
Schumer, who marches in the LGBT Pride Parade every June despite his opposition to same-sex marriage, said it was the second time he was marching in the city's St. Pat's Parade.
Emmaia Gelman of Irish Queers, who led 30 protesters at 58th Street, said of Schumer, “Why didn't he even look at us? It's upsetting to [see politicians] march in a parade that is less and less about Irishness and more and more about militarism and then say, 'I'm sorry you can't march, but I'm marching anyway.'”
Out lesbian City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who tried to broker a deal on LGBT inclusion last year, was in Dublin for its St. Patrick's Day Parade this year. Asked by some in her host nation why she had come, she responded, “Because I was invited,” Quinn said during a conference call from Ireland with the press on Saturday.
The speaker was accompanied to Dublin by Democratic Councilmembers Eric Gioia of Queens, Michael McMahon of Staten Island, Helen Foster of the Bronx, and Inez Dickens of Harlem. The group met with Teoiseach Bertie Ahern, the prime minister, and traveled to Northern Ireland to support the peace process there. Quinn also met with Dublin's Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, or GLEN.
In New York, protesters shouted, “Queers march in Dublin. Queers march in Cork. Why can't queers march in New York?” About 25 people marched in the parade behind a “City Council” banner, but no City Council members were among them.
The 16-year exclusion of gay contingents was overshadowed in the press by the AOH's insistence on moving city firefighters from a prized spot close to the front of the parade due to alleged bad behavior in 2006 (organizers claiming they had been drunk, while New York's bravest said they were being punished for their unauthorized invitation to have Katrina-scarred New Orleans firefighters join them last year).
Mayor Michael Bloomberg criticized the AOH for the disciplinary action against fire fighters and expressed a hope that gay groups could march, but was not moved to sit this parade out. He marched first with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and then with Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scopetta.
The mayor was joined at his pre-parade breakfast at Gracie Mansion by Brendan Fay, who as a co-founder of the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization was the public face of the effort to integrate the Fifth Avenue event in the early 1990s. In recent years, Fay has been the prime mover behind the inclusive St. Pat's For All Parade in Sunnyside, Queens.
Staci Smith of ACT UP, a protester, said, “This is a political event that is predominately city-funded. They're supporting bigotry.”
While courts have ruled parade organizers have a First Amendment right to include only whom they want, questions have been raised about government entanglement with this parade, especially with all the police, fire fighters, and military marching in uniform.
Republican presidential frontrunner Rudy Giuliani was popular with those on the sidelines. Asked why he had just flip-flopped from support of the inclusion of out gays in the military to endorsing the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, the former mayor said, “The policy should be the same while we're at war.” Reminded that the war on terror may never end, Giuliani said, “We're in a particularly intense phase.”
Gelman, a longtime St. Pat's protester, said, “This has been a really long battle, but we haven't exhausted all legal and organizing avenues. You can't let the bigots outrun you.”