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As sure as shamrocks, gays and lesbians banned from St. Patrick’s parade

NCR Special Report Writer
New York

In what has become as sure a sign of St. Patrick’s Day as corned beef and green beer, Irish gays and lesbians in New York were banned from yet another parade.

Since 1991 the city’s Irish Gay and Lesbian Organization has been banned from marching in St. Patrick’s Day parades. Successive court rulings have upheld the right of private groups sponsoring parades to select who can and cannot participate.

This year Brendan Fay, a Catholic gay activist, thought Irish-Catholic gays were on the way to victory. But by the time St. Patrick’s Day arrived, Fay had been arrested for crashing a parade. Fay founded the Lavender and Green Alliance five years ago, a primarily Catholic group.

The first hopeful sign came when St. Paul the Apostle Church, the Paulist parish at Lincoln Center, invited the alliance to hold its annual St. Patrick’s celebration at the church on March 10. Parish leaders advertised the dinner dance in the weekly bulletin and stood fast when some parishioners complained that a Catholic church should not be playing host to homosexuals.

About 300 gays and straights turned out for the dinner dance, some of them prominent New Yorkers. Priests and nuns danced and sang, as did parents who lost a son to AIDS.

Fay said the event represented “the true meaning of Eucharist.” He was so overwhelmed by the inclusion that tears flowed as he announced the alliance’s next victory. Members, he said, had been invited to march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in the Bronx, to be held on March 14. The event was the first St. Patrick’s Day parade in the Bronx in 70 years.

Three days later though, parade chairman Pat Devine rescinded the offer “regretfully” in response to pressure from some other groups marching in the parade. Fay said Devine had told him that several church groups, including the Knights of Columbus and the Bronx’s Ancient Order of Hibernians, had threatened to withdraw if the Lavender and Green were allowed to march under their banner.

Some 25 alliance members decided to march under their banner anyway. They were instantly met with shouts of “go home.” Minutes after the parade began, police surrounded the gay marchers and requested they withdraw. Six refused. Police arrested Fay; teacher Jim McNulty; journalist Jim Van Bramer; attorney Donald Maher, who heads the Gay and Lesbian Coalition at St. Paul’s; and two openly gay politicians, State Sen. Thomas Duane and Councilwoman Christine Quinn.

At least the alliance gained some new allies. As a result of the group’s ouster from the parade, Bronx County President Fernando Ferrer refused to march as did city Comptroller Alan Hevesi and Public Advocate Mark Green. The trio represents New York City’s three most prominent elected officials after Mayor Rudolph Guiliani who has long supported the court ban upholding parade sponsors’ right to ban gay groups.

Fay remains optimistic. He said the dinner dance at St. Paul’s proved that “inclusion is only a matter of time.”

National Catholic Reporter, March 26, 1999