For years the final question that even well-meaning people ask about the ongoing controversy about the Saint Patrick's Day Parade is why do Irish gay groups insist on marching under their own banner? 

Heterosexuals don't do it, they observe, so why should gays?

It's a good question. Here's the answer: If no one can see you, or your struggle, it's much easier to pretend you don't exist. Invisibility is the very thing that prevents you from achieving equality.

Believe it or not there are hundreds of thousands of Irish American LGBT citizens and the people who want to dismiss them out of hand are greatly helped when if they agree to airbrush themselves out of the picture. If you go quietly, you go unnoticed.

As no less a man than Gerry Adam's once observed (and gay equality groups are reluctantly discovering) in this world you get as much freedom as you take.

So the point of Irish gays marching under their own banners isn't to celebrate or promote homosexuality. They're not trying to persuade you or anyone to explore their sexual orientation. They're not insisting you embrace values you don't share.

No, they're fighting for their own lives.

Their point is counteract the fact that the only time a majority of people hear about gays in America is when they're being used as a crude pejorative.

If you're openly gay, let's face it, there are no county societies who'll be lining up to invite you; the GAA (a well-worn route to a new life in America) won't be the first organization you'll turn to; most Irish Catholic groups will look askance at you; and even the annual parade of all things Irish has gone to court to keep you out.

Talk about a Cead Mile Failte, eh?

And what does choosing Mary Higgins Clark say about the parade? She's 82, the embodiment of the values of an earlier age. And that makes anxiety about whether she'll complete the route real. We all acknowledge her achievements and class, but her selection (after President Mary McAleese's decision to decline) says something about the frozen in time outlook of the parade committee.

If Irish gays collude in the decades long campaign to sweep them under the carpet, or put them back in the closet, or if they even momentarily pretend that they have achieved legal equality with heterosexuals (when they certainly have not) they'd be foolish in the extreme.

It's completely disingenuous to ask why do you have to march under their own banners if you know that gay people don't have the same rights as you do. If you aren't daily working to support their equality under the law yourself, if you're not willing to stand with them, then perhaps you can finally appreciate now why they're standing up for themselves.