The annual controversy over the barring of gay groups from the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade has taken an added dimension this year with the ascension of Christine Quinn, who is both Irish and openly gay, to the Speakership of the City Council. Now the city’s second most powerful elected official, Quinn has decided to sit out today’s event, having tried and failed to reach a compromise with its organizing body, the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
New York’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade — the oldest and largest in the world, dating back to 1762, according to Religionfacts.com — does not bar openly gay individuals, but prohibits gays from marching as organized groups under gay-themed banners. Yet, having been for many years one of the city’s biggest annual parties, the Parade can arguably be said to have outgrown its ethnic-religious origin and become a civic and partly secular event. It is certainly a march that local politicians rarely dare to snub, whatever their ethnicity or political views.
Still, even if we grant leeway to the religious sensitivities of the Ancient Order — the Parade is, after all, named for a Catholic saint, the patron of an overwhelmingly Catholic nation — Parade chairman John Dunleavy went beyond defending his creed and uttered what borders on hate speech when he told the Irish Times, “If an Israeli group wants to march in New York, do you allow neo-Nazis into their parade? If African-Americans are marching in Harlem, do they have to let the Ku Klux Klan into their parade?”
Dunleavy’s very pointed analogy implies that gays are to the Irish what the Nazis were to the Jews or the KKK to blacks: murderous, genocidal enemies. Council Speaker Quinn has been politic, admirably taking the high road with her efforts at compromise and principled but measured response to its failure. I’d be seething with anger if I were gay and Irish — or gay and anything, for that matter — and a civic leader compared me to a Nazi just because of my sexual orientation.
If Dunleavy didn’t mean such a thing — if he was merely making a poor analogy — I’d be interested to hear it from him.