Monday, 29 June 2015

St. Patrick's Day Parade 2016 - all changed utterly

            The recent decision of the Irish people to legalize gay marriage closed a chapter of church-state integration and laid a foundation for a secular Irish society.

            Yet in all the immediate celebration and commentary there was little mention of the very obvious elephant in our room – the ongoing war over gay participation in the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

            Yes, I know it’s barely three months since the last battle, but with the referendum everything has changed utterly. Talk about a terrible beauty being born!

            Let’s recap a little. When it seemed like the 2015 Parade would have to allow participation by Irish gay groups or suffer sponsorship boycott, the Parade Committee threw two brilliant counter punches. They chose the popular Cardinal Dolan as Grand Marshal and invited the NBC LGBT group, Out@Universal, to march.

            It was a short-term victory for there’s little doubt that unless an LGBT Irish group is invited to march Parade sponsors will come under popular pressure to withhold their support in 2016. Hopefully, this won’t be necessary.

            This is, after all, New York - one of the world’s most progressive cities. Besides with next year being the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Uprising, it’s a good time to settle this contentious matter once and for all.

            I firmly believe that there’s a desire on both sides to do so, despite Parade Chairman Dunleavy’s statement that LGBT groups “will have a problem” marching. The key is to get an early start and not leave it until early March when positions have already hardened.

            In any meaningful compromise both sides need to feel that their views are respected and that they do not have to totally surrender long-held principles. Senator George Mitchell was very cognizant of these points in the negotiations that led to the Good Friday Belfast Agreement.

            Thus, it would behoove both sides to take into account the other’s respective hurts, goals and traditions. The back-story to the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization’s (ILGO) groundbreaking activism in the 1990’s often goes unmentioned. By then the New York Gay community had suffered through the scourge and heartbreak of AIDS for over a decade. This curried ILGO’s desire to be accepted as an organization that wished to march and celebrate its Irish heritage under its own banners.
            From the perspective of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee, the members merely feel that they are upholding their right to continue the traditions of a Catholic gathering that observes Catholic Church teaching.

            But was the first NYC parade in 1762 exclusively Catholic? Probably not, since it was organized by Irish troops serving in the British Army. Perhaps it’s time the Parade focused on its Irish rather than its Catholic identity? That works in Dublin, so why not New York City – the home of inclusiveness?

            I have friends who argue that the NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade honors those who fought Know-Nothing anti-Catholicism down the centuries. But such bigotry is a thing of the past, and traditions can become rusty chains if they’re not greased with relevance.

            The real crux of the issue is that many structured religions have problems dealing with the breadth of human sexuality and, like it or not, homosexuality is a part of the natural order. Likewise, it’s hardly a secret that down through the ages the Catholic Church has provided a safe haven within its clergy and religious orders for many with no inclination to marry whether for sexual or other reasons.

            But times have changed and nowadays there’s an accelerating acceptance of diversity. Pope Francis himself when questioned about gay people remarked, “Who am I to judge them if they’re seeking the Lord in good faith?”

            He’s right, of course, and what a breath of fresh air sweeping aside the cobwebs of dogma. People have always found ways of circumventing the strictest of Church rules – ask the overwhelming percentage of married Catholics who disregard church teaching on contraception.

            What’s needed is someone of stature who will bring both sides together in a spirit of good will. Once people start talking face-to-face anything is possible.

            The time for mediation is now otherwise next March the parade will become a major battleground, not to mention a financial basket case  – it’s time for a little sanity.

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