The decision by Irish President Mary McAleese to decline an invitation to be the grand marshal of the 250th annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City next March has been warmly greeted by Irish American gay equality groups. The story was reported exclusively in last week’s Irish Voice.
Brendan Fay, co-chair of the annual inclusive St. Pat’s for All parade in Queens told the Irish Voice, “When I first heard that the organizers of the Fifth Avenue parade had invited President Mary McAleese to be grand marshal in 2011 I was concerned because I realized she would find herself leading a parade that excludes Irish LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) immigrants and our families.”
Although Fay, a longtime equality activist, says he was somewhat hopeful the historic 250th anniversary of the New York parade could finally be the moment that brought all the Irish together on Fifth Avenue, he now believes that the current organizers will not alter their antagonism to Irish gay groups marching under their own banners.
Fay says that he personally contacted McAleese’s staff in Dublin earlier in the summer when news of her consideration for 2011 grand marshal leaked. “I contacted leaders in New York who were close to the parade planning in New York, and then I wrote to an aide close to the president,” says Fay.
“I was not at all surprised by McAleese’s decision to decline. President McAleese is known as an inclusive bridge builder, a leader who is sincerely committed to bringing people together. A hallmark of her presidency has been outreach to all groups and communities in Irish society, including Irish LGBT groups.”
In March 2009 when St. Pats for All celebrated its 10th anniversary march, McAleese sent a message to the organizers that couldn’t be clearer, Fay says. McAleese wrote, “The parade very elegantly and inclusively expresses many of the values that Irish people hold dear in whatever part of the world we reside.”
McAleese continued, “I believe firmly that today’s Ireland is a much more open and progressive society striving in its policies and practices to realize the principle so eloquently set out in the 1916 Proclamation of cherishing all the children of the nation equally.”
St. Pat’s for All co-chair Kathleen Walsh D’Arcy echoed Fay’s views.
“The news that President McAleese declined the invitation to lead the 250th St. Patrick’s Day parade has sparked a new level of controversy that should lead to a new dialogue. This is very good news for the Irish community in New York. We need to talk to one another about this issue that has divided and embarrassed us for too long now,” she said.
Emmaia Gelman, a spokesperson for the Irish Queers group, told the Irish Voice she welcomed McAleese’s decision.
“We’re pleased that she decided not to participate. It would be great if she conclusively said I could never possibly participate in a parade that excluded LGBT people,” Gelman said.
“Regardless, it’s clear to everyone that she couldn’t participate because it’s a discriminatory parade. I’m in no way saying we’re dissatisfied.”
The fact that so many Irish and American elected officials still feel compelled to say they had scheduling conflicts that prevent them from marching is unfortunate, Gelman says.
“It’s indicative of the amount of power that anti-gay conservatives in the Irish American political sphere hold,” she said.
Irish Queers has also asked New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to pull uniformed police officers from the parade. “Our argument that the NYPD should not parade in their official capacity is based on the discriminatory nature of the parade itself. To our minds that’s illegal,” said a letter from the group sent to Kelly last week.
“A parade that has explicitly gone to court to say it’s a homophobic one is one that violates the right of the LGBT community to feel like the police are acceptable to us.”
“On the one hand the parade organizers say it’s a private event and so they have the right to discriminate about who participates, on the other hand they present it as a public celebration with elected officials and past governors. You can’t do both.”
Last Wednesday, after the Irish Voice report made news in Ireland, McAleese’s office in Dublin issued a statement confirming the New York grand marshal invitation, but adding that the president declined because of scheduling conflicts.
“Unfortunately, due to scheduling constraints in a very busy final year in office, it is not possible for the president to travel to New York next March,” a statement said.
“The president has conveyed to the organizers her deep appreciation for the invitation as well as her very best wishes for the success of the parade in this significant anniversary year.”
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