If you’ve never been to the annual New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade, better put it on your calendar for next year. That is, if there is a next year. Time could be running out on the world’s biggest celebration of all things Irish. Why? Because the parade’s organizers have for two decades steadfastly refused to allow gay and lesbian organizations to march under banners trumpeting their sexual orientation. The city’s self-appointed guardians of human rights long ago declared this policy exclusionary and intolerant. But, unlike in previous decades, the effort to paint the parade and its organizers as anti-gay now has friends in very high places.
Democratic New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and his allies on the overwhelmingly Democratic New York City Council are refusing to march in this year’s parade—and every parade after that—until the organizing committee succumbs to the pressure and reverses its policy. This marks a departure from recent years, when mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg happily donned green ties for the procession up 5th Avenue. David Dinkins, who was mayor during the period when the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization (ILGO) first targeted the parade, boycotted the event in 1992 and 1993 in solidarity with the group.
ILGO is gone now, but the cause lives. A group known as Irish Queers has called on de Blasio to do more than just skip the parade. It wants him to forbid the city’s uniformed personnel from the NYPD and FDNY to participate in what the advocacy group calls an “explicitly anti-gay parade.” In an open letter signed by left-wing activists and elected officials—including the city’s current public advocate Letitia James and two of her predecessors, five city councilmembers, three state assemblymen from Manhattan, the New York State senator representing midtown, the Brooklyn borough president, and three former New York City human rights commissioners—Irish Queers called on de Blasio to bar cops and firefighters from marching in this “exclusionary religious procession.” Elsewhere, Irish Queers has asserted that the 253-year-old parade has ceased to be a “public celebration of Irish pride in our shared history and culture.” Instead, it claims, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Irish Catholic fraternal organization that sponsored the parade until the early 1990s, has “redefined” the annual celebration “as a demonstration of homophobia.”
How exactly has the AOH perpetrated this remarkable redefinition? Irish Queers doesn’t say exactly. Nor does the organization appear to recognize that the AOH is no longer the official sponsor of the parade. But it should be noted that gays are not banned from marching in New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. Gays can march in the parade, and they do, as members of the dozens of organizations approved by the parade committee. But all who march—gay, straight, or otherwise—must refrain from turning the parade into a political rally.
Some might call that tolerance. Some might call that inclusion. Not Irish Queers, which seems intent on forcing the parade committee not just to tolerate the gay community but to proclaim it. The group says it “will continue until we defeat the religious right attempt [sic] to hijack our communities and control our identities. The St. Patrick’s Day parade—the most public expression of the Irish community in America—is the right place exactly to stage our struggle.”
You could be forgiven for thinking the hullabaloo over the parade is just a regular, recurrent feature of life in the Big Apple. But while that may have been true last year, or ten years ago, or during the Dinkins administration, this year things are different. New York City now has a mayor committed to ensuring absolute obedience to progressive values. In just two short months in office, de Blasio has proved his willingness to use the power of his office to satisfy the grievances of political allies.
Just ask Eva Moskowitz, the Harlem charter school operator and former city councilwoman who had location approval for three of her highly effective Success Academy schools revoked by the new mayor in fulfillment of a campaign promise made to his teachers union supporters. Won’t the 700 or so New York City children who were going to attend those schools—which are among the best in the city—be forced back into their failing neighborhood schools as a result? Yeah, but who cares? Charters might be great for kids, but they don’t align with the mayor’s far-left politics, so they’ve got to go.
If I had to bet, I’d say that de Blasio and his city council allies will in the coming years move to revoke the parade organizers’ right to march. The stakes are very high, both locally and nationally, and as has been demonstrated repeatedly (most recently in Arizona), Democrats expect to reap great gains from pushing these “human rights” issues to the fore. “This is a parade that’s closing off our public streets, that is utilizing public resources, and it has chosen to discriminate openly,” said City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito in announcing her decision to skip the parade. If the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade is truly an open and city-sanctioned expression of discrimination, how can it be allowed to go on? How could de Blasio and the city council resist taking aim at such a fat target?
As a legal matter, shutting down the parade would be complicated. The city’s outrageously broad human rights law declares that “there is no greater danger to the health, morals, safety and welfare of the city and its inhabitants than the existence of groups prejudiced against one another” and Irish Queers hopes the mayor and the city council will use the law to bar uniformed personnel from marching. But judges have ruled in the past that the First Amendment allows the parade committee to determine who marches and who doesn’t. And, thanks to its longevity, the parade enjoys an exemption from the city’s normal permitting process. The council would have to amend the city’s administrative code in order to boot the St. Patrick’s Day Parade off 5th Avenue. That would perhaps be easier than pursuing a human rights case against the parade’s organizers, but it would be a mistake. If the parade committee is guilty of anything, it’s of refusing to kowtow to a faction intent on framing every political disagreement as a human rights issue.
Sometimes a parade is just a parade.
(Photo credit: Chip East / Reuters.)