Bill de Blasio is not going to take part in New York City’s main St. Patrick’s Day parade in March because the organizers bar gay and lesbian groups from marching. He’ll become the first mayor to skip the parade since David Dinkins did in 1993—an election year—two years after Dinkins had beer cans thrown at him by parade observers for the affront of marching with gay groups rather than at the parade’s head. The city comptroller Scott Stringer, Public Advocate Letitia James and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will refrain from marching this year as well.
Some want the city to go further and bar uniformed police officers and firefighters from participating. James, Mark Green and dozens of other current and former officials joined in signing an open letter to de Blasio arguing that “the presence of uniformed police and firefighters in such a procession sends a clear signal to LGBTQ New Yorkers that these personnel, who are charged with serving and protecting all New Yorkers, do not respect the lives or safety of LGBT people.”
But de Blasio yesterday refused to take that step. “I believe that uniformed city workers have a right to participate if they choose to, and I respect that right,” he said.
St. Patrick’s Day, which has been celebrated with a parade in New York since 1762, is a Catholic feast day on the anniversary of the death of a historical figure who, the story goes, drove the snakes out of Ireland, and who personifies the island’s Christianization. The Catholic church considers gay and lesbian sex sinful. So the argument parade organizers have made in barring gay groups (individual gays are officially welcome to march, as they doubtless have for centuries) is that it’s a religious celebration.
But St. Patrick’s Day has long had other connotations, most fundamentally in the “wearing of the green,” which is essentially a nationalist homage to the United Irishmen, who fought, lost, were tortured and killed in the rebellion of 1798—one of many attempts to end the occupation of Ireland by the British Crown, which did everything it could to exterminate the Irish language, culture and, yes, religion. Irish national identity and faith are inextricably linked, but they are not synonymous: Wolfe Tone, one of the heroes of the 1798 rebellion, was a Protestant. The song about the rebellion and the “Wearing of the Green” includes a nod to American notions of inclusion and equality:
But if at last our color should be torn from Ireland’s heart, her sons with shame and sorrow from the dear old sod will part.
I’ve heard a whisper of a country that lies beyond the sea, where rich and poor stand equal in the light of freedom’s day.
Oh, Erin! Must we leave you, driven by the tyrant’s hand? Must we ask a mother’s welcome from a strange but happy land?