We simply cannot stay silent about racial injustice anymore – that’s the message from Brendan Fay, the Irishman who has spent much of his adult life protesting the inequality that the LGBTQ and other marginalized communities have endured for decades.
Fay, a native of Co. Louth who resides in Queens, is appalled by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and has taken to the streets of his adopted New York to peacefully voice his outrage. He has spent decades protesting injustice, and led the efforts to secure the inclusion of gay marching groups in the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade as the founder of the Lavender and Green Alliance and the annual St. Pat’s for All parade in Sunnyside-Woodside.
“Tragically this killing is not an isolated incident but a pattern of brutal violence and killing. Silence is not an option. Indifference is not an option,” Fay told the Irish Voice after attending a protest March in Astoria on Monday evening, one of many that are taking place all over New York.
“This is a critical moment for soul searching. As a white person, I ask what to do? As an Irish person, I ask how to respond? We can all do something. I could not be a bystander.”
Fay was arrested at a number of protest events during the days when he was on the front lines fighting for inclusion for the Lavender and Green Alliance various New York parades, but never for violent acts against police or other marchers. The rally in Astoria on Monday was filled with people sharing similar goals – securing justice through peacefully raising their voices.
“Most -- nearly all -- had masks and homemade signs. Hundreds were there stepping out of silence to connect in human solidarity, a collective rising up against racist violence. There was a humanity among the crowd gathering with a message of condolence for family and friends of George Floyd and solidarity with a national movement against police brutality,” said Fay.
“Silence is not an option. There was a quiet pause between each speaker. They were disciplined. No roaring here. Justice for George Floyd was the mantra. All listened to speakers, applauding every few minutes. For those of us at the back who couldn’t hear a thing, well, it was enough to be present.”
Fay has been reflecting on leaders of Irish America who have passed, those such as labor icon Mike Quill and civil rights attorney Paul O’Dwyer, and how they stood shoulder to shoulder with the African American community. There are many lessons for present-day Irish in America to absorb from their deeds.
“Paul became a passionate advocate for civil rights and human rights in the U.S., in Belfast and especially among the African American community. He campaigned and was the leading lawyer in the 1951 case against the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company to end housing segregation against African Americans in Stuyvesant Town. In the early 1960s he traveled South in solidarity with the civil rights movement,” Fay said.
“As leader of the TWU he began, Mike Quill supported Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference by sending union member delegations.”
The St. Pat’s for All parade that Fay co-chairs also recalls Ireland’s historic links with the black community. “We carry a banner of Frederick Douglass remembering his visit to Ireland in 1845 at the height of the Famine calling for Irish support to abolish slavery in America,” he adds.
Together with his husband Dr. Tom Moulton, a hematologist-oncologist with a specialty in Sickle Cell Anemia, Fay has been active in trying to secure more funding for the red blood cell disorder with disproportionately affects African Americans.
“With Tom and advocates in New York I have been part of a campaign for a Sickle Cell disease bill in Albany. A majority of sickle cell patients in the U.S. are African American. The bill is to raise awareness and funding for basic health care. June 19 is World Sickle Cell Day,” Fay says.
The co-chair of the St. Pat’s for All parade, Kathleen Walsh D’Arcy, another longtime community activist, agrees with her friend Fay that standing idly by in the fight for justice isn’t acceptable.
“George Floyd’s murder and the murder of so many other black men and women has sparked a national and international call for justice. Irish Americans who have always supported human rights and equality movements around the world should be standing side by side with black and brown people in this new civil rights movement. We should tap into our collective memory of oppression, famine graves, forced emigration, colonization, tanks, and rubber bullets!” she told the Irish Voice.
“Now we need to stand up, as immigrants and children of immigrants, for people of color who are fighting for equality and for their lives, in our fractured democracy. Those Irish Americans in the White House who are destroying our democracy and our global reputation must be stopped. No peace without justice. We are all George Floyd.”