The Irish American community is in dire danger of being defined this St. Patrick’s season by the gays-in-the-parade issue.
A complex group representing close to 40 million Americans with positions that span the political divide and a history that is one of the cornerstones of American greatness is instead boiled down to a few simple catchphrases about their attitude to gays on parade.
Mayor Bill de Blasio in New York appears to have no other yardstick when measuring our community. He boycotted the Rockaway parade last weekend, apparently in error, believing organizers had banned gays from marching.
There was no mention of the need to acknowledge the Rockaway community’s heroic service on 9/11 or their extraordinary suffering after Hurricane Sandy.
It turns out de Blasio had mixed up Rockaway with Staten Island. Those outer borough Irish are obviously all of the same ilk.
The mayor did take part in the St. Patrick’s for All parade in Queens on Sunday, which was the proper thing to do, and by all accounts it was a highly successful march.
But the wounds will linger with many Irish who were prepared to give this mayor a chance when he came into office, but now fear he has a one-note agenda.
If the mayor needed guidance on the gays in the parade issue, all he had to do was cast his eyes 300 miles to the north where Boston Mayor Marty Walsh was doing everything de Blasio wasn’t by trying to get Irish groups and gay groups to see eye to eye on the parade and defuse the perennial issue.
It was true leadership by a Boston mayor who was putting his shoulder to the wheel to try and resolve the thorny issue.
Whether he is successful or not remains unclear at press time, but suffice to say Walsh has done his very best by his community.
De Blasio, on the other hand, has made no effort to understand the complexity of the issue and has generally failed an important leadership test.
It is easy to scapegoat, to rabble rouse both for de Blasio and anti-gay elements. The Irish know all about that tendency from their history. As Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen wrote so tellingly in his column on Tuesday:
“If anybody should show solidarity with people who might be shunned or derided for being nothing more than themselves, it’s the Boston Irish. If anybody should recoil at the prospect of being stereotyped as a group, it’s people in Southie, who were lumped together with the racist thugs who threw rocks at buses carrying black kids in the 1970s.
“Mayor Marty Walsh, the son of Irish immigrants, gets that history intuitively, and that’s why he is nobly and so conscientiously trying to hammer out a compromise for the parade dispute.”
Given that history in Boston and New York, a way should be found to make the Fifth Avenue march in Manhattan inclusive. But there is an onus on the gay groups too to understand that issues like this are very difficult to arbitrate and settle. Catch cries demanding everything right now don’t work either.
What is needed is clear heads and vision. Walsh has certainly shown that in Boston. De Blasio has shown neither in New York.
Is it too late to hope that someone else can supply that political courage and sort out the mess? The pipes are calling.