By Stephen McKinley
The annual St. Patrick’s Day parade was protested by two sets of Irish gay and lesbian groups this year.
At 54th Street and Fifth Avenue, about 50 members of the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization protested the continued exclusion of gays and lesbians as a group from the parade, combining the demand to be allowed to march with posters and signs that celebrated “all our heroes, gay and straight.”
Farther north on Fifth Avenue and 59th Street, approximately 50 members of Irish Queers held a silent black flag protest, focusing on Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision to march in the parade. Bloomberg, Irish Queers said, was a hypocrite for marching, having previously said that he would not support exclusionary parades.
When Bloomberg tried to shake hands with some protesters, he was rebuffed by Irish Queers.
“How dare the mayor try to shake my hand as he marches with people who discriminate against me,” said Meghan McHugh, a protester. “He can’t have it both ways. He either supports civil rights for all, or he doesn’t. When he stands up for inclusion, he can shake my hand.”
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Three ILGO members attended the mayor’s breakfast at Gracie Mansion on Saturday morning. Irish Queers were invited to the City Council Speaker’s breakfast. Speaker Gifford Miller said that he would not march in the parade because it excluded gays and lesbians.
ILGO protesters used the image of a fire truck to make their point this year, alluding to a request by some firefighters that a fire truck be allowed to lead the parade.
When that request was denied by parade organizers, posters of fire trucks were printed by ILGO with the words “they won’t let us in either.”
At the ILGO protest, several firefighters came out of the march to shake hands and kiss the protesters. Others acknowledged the protests with waves and salutes. There were fewer negative gestures compared with last year.
Protesters also held up signs with pictures of Fr. Mychal Judge, the FDNY chaplain killed on Sept. 11, and another victim, Mark Bingham, an openly gay executive, who led the charge on board Flight 93 to attack the terrorists. That United Airlines flight crashed into a field in Pennsylvania and Bingham was lauded as a gay American hero.
Gays and lesbians are prevented from marching in the parade under their own banner by the parade organizers, who have insisted in the past that they can march under county association banners.
Protestors respond that their Irish identity is intricately linked to their sexuality. Said Ellen Madigan of Irish Queers: “My experience as an Irish person is absolutely affected by my lesbian identity, and vice versa. I have the right, in my own community, to express my whole Irish self — lesbian and all. This is not Ireland in the 1950s. We don’t hide from the church and each other behind closed doors anymore.”