I have always loved a good parade. I grew up in New York and had the good fortune of watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade every year. It was a family tradition for us. We saw it in person at least once, but always watched it on TV while dinner was cooking.
I also watched parades throughout the years on the streets of Astoria, Queens feeling at a young age the pride in my community which represented many different ethnic groups and civic organizations. The fire trucks, and drums, and bagpipes. The bagpipes! They would send chills through me, evoking multiple emotions. Part of it was a shared history with my Irish blood (a small percentage, but shared nonetheless). It also reminded me of the history of fallen police and firefighters whose death’s were always honored with massive outpouring of every uniformed member of our city and marked with the eerie sounding bagpipes.
Speaking of bagpipes reminds me of the huge NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade I marched in as a student of a Greek school- an interesting way to get in, but fun. I have also been marching in other parades for many years. As a young softball player and member of Civil Air Patrol and Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps in various community parades, with the Unitarian Universalists at a Long Island Pride Parade, and later on, several appearances in San Diego Pride Parade and the Long Beach Pride Parade. I have attended Pride Parades in NYC, Long Island, Boston, Los Angeles, Long Beach, San Diego and San Francisco. I wasn’t kidding when I said I love a good parade.
I’m now arriving at the point of my commentary- the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. I learned this year that the LGBT community was excluded from participating in the New York City and Boston St. Patick’s Day parades. I must admit, I don’t know any Irish folk dances, no one was cooking corned beef and drinking green beer in my home, and any Gaelic I know is something I’ve seen scrolled on a plaque at an Irish Pub. I’m not that Irish. But I can tell you I’ve felt pretty damn Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.
I wonder- are there no gays and lesbians that contributed to Irish culture and heritage? Are there no Irish gays and lesbians who love their heritage and want to promote it? Must non-Irish gays infer that their presence is not appreciated on this day? Is the presence of the LGBT community somehow contradictory to the spirit of the St. Patrick’s Day parade?
As a lesbian of Irish descent, I experienced no feelings of goodwill and fellowship this past St. Patrick's Day. And neither did members of the LGBT community in Boston and NYC, as they were excluded by their Irish kin as well. The Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade even has the backing of a 1995 Supreme Court decision, Hurley v. Irish American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston, which basically concluded that groups that don’t support the intended message of the parade organizers can be excluded.
Just because the high court says it’s okay doesn’t make it so. Irish President Mary McAleese rejected the role of grand marshal for the 2011 New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade, due to the exclusion of gay identified groups. Hello NYC! You got turned down by the president of Ireland. Doesn’t that sound off any alarms that something is wrong?
UPDATE: This story was originally written including the San Diego St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Since the story was written, I was made aware of the fact that I had incorrect information - which has been corrected in the letter above. San Diego Pride had indeed not been excluded from participating in the San Diego St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and had participated 3 times in the recent years. The intent remains the same however, solidarity with members of our LGBT family who are still being excluded.
Adrian Espinal lives in San Diego with her partner Jennifer Sieber, who serves as co-chair of San Diego LGBT Pride's Board of Directors.