Saint Patrick's Day parade needs the gays

New York's Saint Patrick's Day Parade needs the gays far more than the gays need it. Why? Because the parade as it currently stands is one big Army recruitment commercial (punctuated by blocks and blocks of waving Boy Scouts).

Elderly white men assemble in front of Saint Patrick's Cathedral and off it goes. It's like an old Soviet style parade. All that was missing today was a few nuclear warheads on flatbed trucks.

The truth is this parade is now duller than an ode to Kim Jong-il. It's overwhelmingly male, militaristic and desperately in need of a makeover. Since the Parade committee are expert at banning the groups they personally dislike, it's too bad they're such rank amateurs at creating a decent public spectacle.

On the street the crowds soon tire of the blocks and blocks of soldiers in uniform walking in very loose formation (and the endless pipe bands). They quickly turn to each other for entertainment instead, with mixed results.

This sort of restiveness doesn't happen during a gay pride parade. Because there's always something to look at. I mean the gays seriously know how to put on a show. You'll see float after float of dancing, singing participants in eye-popping costumes and more colors than a Benetton commercial. (A gay float won the Best in Show at the St. Pat's in Dublin last year).

But thanks to the ban on Irish gay people marching today, all that flair and fun creative competition has been completely drained from the Saint Patrick's parade. What's left are the elderly County Organization parader's, anxious looking wolfhounds and old men in funny hats and sashes. If you squint it could be a 12 of July Orange parade. It's only one part of the true story of Ireland and it's a shame they don't have the sense to include the rest of it.

There's nothing wrong with the U.S. army and navy parading, of course. Patriotism certainly has its place. The Fighting 69th have a long and distinguished history. We're proud of them and we always will be. But don't they also have a public forum on the Fourth of July and Veterans Day and Memorial Day and all the rest?

I thought Saint Patrick's Day was an annual celebration of Ireland's national saint and Irish heritage generally? If you'd just landed from Mars and were using today's Fifth Avenue parade as a guide you'd suspect that the Irish are a warlike race of elderly men who love guns, big dogs, bagpipes and the clergy.

Today's parade participants waved and cheered at the Irish gay and lesbian protestors sequestered outside of Abercrombie and Fitch on Fifth Avenue. It's 19 years since the gays were banned from participating. 19 years. By keeping them out we're keeping our own reality out. And the lion’s share of our creativity, innovation and yes good taste. We're not all elderly, heterosexual or conservative. Our idea of a good time varies. Some of us have different contributions to make. This is a good thing.

There should be room for us all in this parade, because diversity is what makes America such a formidable nation. You can't deny the humanity of another person without diminishing your own, wrote James Baldwin, wisely. The New York Saint Patrick's Day parade proves his point in all aspects. The Saint Patrick’s Day parade committee has only succeeded in one sense: they've finally managed to make the parade as dull as they are themselves.

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