BY CHRISTINE C. QUINN | New Yorkers should feel proud that ours is one of the most diverse, open, and welcoming cities anywhere. We take pride in celebrating our different cultures. It is no wonder that we have more ethnic parades than any other city in the world – and they are amazing displays of culture and community.
In this spirit of diversity, all of New York City's parades should be truly inclusive, and allow people to openly express all of who they are.
I hope – and believe – that one day soon LGBT people will openly march down Fifth Avenue on St. Patrick's Day.
Since 1991, Irish lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered New Yorkers have been unable to march openly in our city's St. Patrick's Day parade. Unfortunately, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the group that organizes the Parade, won a 1993 federal court ruling that gave them the right to include or exclude groups from the parade.
The most extraordinary aspect of this ruling is that it was based on the notion that by barring LGBT groups, the AOH was exercising its right to freedom of expression. Ironic as this is, and illogical as it seems, successive court rulings have upheld the right of private groups like the AOH to select who can and cannot participate in parades they organize.
And despite years of legal efforts and direct action by community activists, city officials, LGBT groups, and others over the years, the AOH has not budged in its position.
Last year, my first as City Council speaker, I tried to find a way that would finally allow Irish LGBT New Yorkers to march openly, celebrating our identity and heritage. As the first Irish-American, openly gay speaker of the New York City Council, I hoped I could make things different.
Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, we did not make progress. When asked by a reporter last year why the AOH continued to prohibit LGBT people from marching openly, the Parade organizer said it was akin to “barring the Ku Klux Klan from marching in Harlem, or Nazis from joining an Israeli parade.”
While I am absolutely certain these views do not reflect those of others marching in the parade or in New York City's Irish community, we are still excluded from openly identifying as LGBT in the Parade.
This is why this year I decided to accept an invitation by Dublin officials to participate in their St. Patrick's Day festival. I will march proudly with my father, my partner Kim Catullo, and several other members of New York City Council. It is my hope that by marching in Dublin, the home of St. Patrick, we can send a clear message that if LGBT people can march openly in Ireland, why not in New York City?
History is on our side.
I hope – and believe – that one day soon LGBT people will openly march down Fifth Avenue on St. Patrick's Day, and in every other parade, and that we will be able to close another chapter in the history of discrimination.
In the meantime, this year, I will march down Dublin's O'Connor Street, sporting an Irish shamrock, a Big Apple pin, and a pink triangle. Every step will send a message. And, like other people of Irish descent, I will reflect with pride on my heritage and identity – all aspects of it – and dream of the day when we can all march in our hometown.
Christine Callaghan Quinn is the speaker of the New York City Council, and since 1999 has represented the Third Council District that includes Chelsea and Hell's Kitchen.