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Erin go “meh”

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Take in a parade?  If so, you are clearly neither Bill de Blasio nor Marty Walsh.

 The mayors of two major cities have opted out of marching in their cities’ St. Patrick’s Day parades, in what they call a show of support for gay groups that have historically been excluded from the events.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will not march in Monday’s parade in Manhattan, and Boston Mayor Martin Walsh sat out Sunday’s parade in South Boston.

“I simply disagree with the organizers of that parade in their exclusion of some individuals in this city,” de Blasio said at a news conference last month.

I have very mixed feelings about this, at best. (I suspect my feelings are roughly in keeping with those of both Jason and Dennis.)

As a gay man, I am delighted that is it becoming increasingly toxic to be publicly homophobic.  As a person who values the freedom of people to think what they want, I am less sure I like how increasingly intolerant of dissent our side seems to be becoming.

It’s important to keep in mind the stakes we are discussing.  We are not talking about gay or lesbian people being denied employment based upon their sexuality.  We are not dealing with housing issues or equality under the law.  We are talking about participating in a parade, which seems to me a large, marching expression of freedom of speech.

What is a parade, after all, but a massive symbol of something?  The heritages and occasions being celebrated may vary, but parades are usually about something.  In the case of St. Patrick’s Day, it is a combination of Irish pride and Catholicism.

As of now, traditional Catholic teaching (as I understand it) is that same-sex relationships are innately disordered and that marriage is ordained by God as a relationship between one man and one woman.  Suffice it to say that I disagree strongly with both of these positions.  But I also strongly believe that mau-mauing people into public pantomimes of agreement serves no good purpose.

If these parades were dedicated solely to symbolizing opposition to the cause of LGBT equality, I would be supportive of and grateful for the mayors’ opting out and similar shows of solidarity with people like me.  Ireland’s history and Roman Catholicism comprise far more than that, of course.  The country has a rich heritage and has contributed tremendously to Western culture.  The church has done wonderful charitable work and has fostered great thinking and movements for justice.

If I, who am gay but neither Catholic nor Irish can appreciate this nuance, cannot the movement I support do so as a whole?

I would prefer a statement of regret that LGBT groups are excluded, and nothing more.  I would prefer that the organizers of Boston and NYC Pride celebrations highlight the Catholic and Irish groups that choose to participate.  I would prefer that the organizers of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade not be asked to pretend they believe things that they clearly do not.

We are winning the fight for equality at startling, heartening speed.  We are doing so because of the strength of our argument and its ability to persuade.  Coercion is not persuasion, and neither is capitulation.  I think we would be wise to remember that.

If a person’s livelihood or the integrity of a family were at stake, then I would be all in favor of marshaling all forces in favor of rectifying a manifest injustice.  But this is about a parade, and about the speech it represents.  Their speech is as worthy of protection as ours, and forcing them to mouth along with the words we want them to say with do nothing to change anyone’s minds or hearts.

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90 thoughts on “Erin go “meh”

  1. I have to say, I have no problem with either Mayor declining to partake in their respective parade – I wouldn’t have partaken either.

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  2. I will come about this in my usual roundabout matter. I suppose the question is what does it mean to be invited and also the general grand example of the remedy for speech and association is speech and association.

    The NY Times Book Review ran a front page review this weekend for some new Bernard Malamund anthologies:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/16/books/review/library-of-americas-bernard-malamud-collections.html?ref=review

    The opening page is dedicated to some juicy and rather full throttle anti-Semitic screeds by WASP establishment authors against upstart Jews like Bellow, Malamund, and Roth:

    One lovely (sarcasm) little sample Katherine Anne Porter said that she part of the “direct, legitimate line” of the English language and accused Jewish writers (and Jews) “of trying to destroy it (the English language) and all other things they touch.”

    Fuck her, she’s an Avignon Pope*.

    I think you fight for inclusion in all things to show how important you and to say that you will not be treated like a second-rate citizen. Many universities used to have strict quotas limiting the number of Jewish students but fighting for change got rid of that system. There were state universities that did not discriminate against Jews but the fight for Harvard and Yale was important because those were the pinnacle of American University education. I think when people fight to change private events, it is an important pushback at all forms of exclusion. You can have official civil rights and have it be largely true but it is fighting for recognition and acceptance in the private sphere that marks true arrival.

    So I generally think it is good that the mayors of NYC and Boston are skipping the crowds.

    Also this how religions will change on their stance. Maybe in 50 years or so, we will see the official Catholic Church sanctify gay marriages.

    *I’ve been waiting to use this as an insult for ages!

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  3. I thought the parade was off-limits to all political advocacy, and that what is being represented by activists as an anti-LGBT snub is nothing more than the ground rules that apply to everyone. Is that not the case, after all?

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  4. To an extent your right but there are several reasons why many members of the LGBT community might think pushing the Saint Patrick’s Parade to accept LGBT marchers is an important issue. Some might view it as a way to vanquish and achieve victory over an anime. While not as openly vehemet is certain Evangelical Churches, the Roman Catholic Church has generally been a determined fighter against LGBT rights. Since the various Saint Patrick’s Day Parades are basically the largest celebration of Catholic identity in the United States in a semi-civic fashion than forcing them to accept LGBT marches is a way to show that you defeated a group that you identified as the enemy, by making them accept you as part of their celebration.

    The semi-civic nature of the Saint Patrick’s Day Parades is another reason why certan members of the LGBT community might want them to accept openly LGBT marchers. The parades might be organized by private groups but there has always been a very large political presence in the form of police, fireman, and lots of elected officials. For decades participating was seen as a necessity if you wanted to survive the next election more than any other ethnic celebration in the United Sates, especially in the big cities. The semi-civic nature of the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade makes those intentioanlly excluded from it feel more than a little like they aren’t part of the body politic. Getting officials to not march in the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade until you get invited to march is a sign of political power and that you arrived, that you are a more important constiuentcy.

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  5. To an extent your right but there are several reasons why many members of the LGBT community might think pushing the Saint Patrick’s Parade to accept LGBT marchers is an important issue. Some might view it as a way to vanquish and achieve victory over an anime. While not as openly vehemet is certain Evangelical Churches, the Roman Catholic Church has generally been a determined fighter against LGBT rights. Since the various Saint Patrick’s Day Parades are basically the largest celebration of Catholic identity in the United States in a semi-civic fashion than forcing them to accept LGBT marches is a way to show that you defeated a group that you identified as the enemy, by making them accept you as part of their celebration.

    The semi-civic nature of the Saint Patrick’s Day Parades is another reason why certan members of the LGBT community might want them to accept openly LGBT marchers. The parades might be organized by private groups but there has always been a very large political presence in the form of police, fireman, and lots of elected officials. For decades participating was seen as a necessity if you wanted to survive the next election more than any other ethnic celebration in the United Sates, especially in the big cities. The semi-civic nature of the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade makes those intentioanlly excluded from it feel more than a little like they aren’t part of the body politic. Getting officials to not march in the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade until you get invited to march is a sign of political power and that you arrived, that you are a more important constiuentcy.

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    • Isn’t it at least against the spirit of your first amendment for the parades to be treated as both a civic event and and something where the participants comply with Catholic doctrine? I realise they aren’t actually civic events and the private organisers can chose who to invite but that would seem a good reason for politicians to stay away to avoid giving the impression that those invitations have state approval.

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  6. I think I’m close to you on this Russel. I keep wavering back and forth on it.

    Sure the St. Pat’s parade isn’t exactly a place gays have some deep right to be. Then again we’re not talking about banning the parade or impeding it; we’re talking about them having the honor, such as it is, of having the Mayor be part of it. Absolutely there’s no great harm done to gays by their being excluded from the parade but then again the parade isn’t going to suffer if the Mayor doesn’t participate. So my sympathy is low for sure.

    This does run parallel to a lot of other caviling about the ongoing triumph of gays though. Ezra Klein is being besieged by a shrieking passel of gays over Brandon Ambrosino which has me gaping incredulously. What the fish are my fellow ‘mo’s thinking trying to silence writers like this? That’s utterly mystifying to me, to say nothing of hypocritical considering how hard gays fought for gay people to be allowed to openly work for people. Not to mention it gives ammo to people like Rod Dherher on his ongoing quest to prove that the gay led anti-Christian pogrom is right around the corner.

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  7. I’d have a problem with preventing the parade though not so much for declining to participate. Some of it depends on details as to how fairly the parade is defining “political”. Having “Proud, gay, and Irish” signs being one thing and “End marriage inequality” maybe being another (unless there are also signs in favor of said inequality). So I guess I would need to know more.

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  8. You’re right that in the grand scheme of things, the exclusion of certain groups in the parade doesn’t warrant some grand campaign resulting in the “mau-mauing people into public pantomimes of agreement”

    But I don’t think that’s what’s happening here. The mayors are declining to attend. Some sponsors have pulled out. These people aren’t stopping the parades; they’re just not associating with them. Isn’t that a perfectly balanced response? Am I missing some evidence of overt pressure being placed on the organizers (I might be; I’m not following this super close).

    De Blasio says that he “simply disagrees” with the organizers. That seems a perfectly measured response.

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  9. As a person who values the freedom of people to think what they want, I am less sure I like how increasingly intolerant of dissent our side seems to be becoming.

    A person should be morally intolerant of racist and homophobic behavior. (Obviously, the law does and should permit free speech and thought, so there should be legal tolerance, but that doesn’t mean you can’t protest and not participate in homophobic and racist things.)

    I am intolerant of support of slavery, even amongst those who support it for religious reasons. I am intolerant of anti-semitism, even those who cite Martin Luther (or the long history of Christian anti-semitism) as their religious reason for being anti-semitic. People have a right to believe and speak in pro-slavery and anti-semitic ways, but I don’t participate and act to sanction where possible.

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    • Russell: “As a person who values the freedom of people to think what they want, I am less sure I like how increasingly intolerant of dissent our side seems to be becoming.”

      Non-participation is now intolerance?

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      • I think Barry’s got the right of it. The mayor made no efforts to stop the parade or force them to allow gays to walk. He just said, “If that’s your position, go ahead without me.”

        I’d say that’s the essence of tolerance.

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  10. Another way to think about it is that no one in their right minds would think to say the things that Katherine Anne Porter said about Jews and the English Language today. If someone let it slip, they would have to go on an apology tour immediately.

    Maybe in 50 years, it will be seen as incomprehensible that people excluded LGBT people from marching in the St. Patty’s day parade because of current political action.

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  11. “Their speech is as worthy of protection as ours, and forcing them to mouth along with the words we want them to say with do nothing to change anyone’s minds or hearts.”

    But is anyone forcing them to do that? It strikes me as the perfect exemplar of free speech that these mayors made no effort to halt the parades but only their own participation.

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    • If Blasio were trying to muscle then by denying permits or extra police for the parade, that would be going too far. Simply saying “I simply disagree” and declining to participate, though? Good for him, since it’s his job to be the mayor of all the people.

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    • I guess here’s as good a spot as any for me to post a broader reply to the dissenters in the comment thread.

      It isn’t so much that Walsh and de Blasio are trying to get the parade stopped or using the power of their offices inappropriately. Far from it. It’s that I think we are losing the ability to take a nuanced approach to dissent.

      If this parade were premised entirely on opposition to LGBT equality, I would hope that public officials would eschew attendance. But it’s a parade names for a Catholic saint. By refusing to attend, it seems to me that the mayors are trying to coerce the organizers of this event in (at least partial) celebration of a Catholic saint to include celebration of groups whose mission runs counter to Catholic teaching.

      That unsettles me. It focuses too narrowly on one goal (one I support vociferously) at the expense of community and civic engagement. And I value the latter for their own sake, as well as for the sake of moving people genuinely toward the former.

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      • Russell–imagine the organizers barred a group called “Irish, Jewish and Proud” from having a float. Would that be acceptable? I’d say probably not. St. Paddy’s isn’t just a religious festival, it’s a secular celebration of Irish heritage and culture that’s accessible to anyone, whether or not they’re in agreement with Catholic doctrine. Once you’ve got a million people attending and the NYPD marching band going full tilt and every bar in the city having specials, you’ve lost most of my sympathy for your claims of religious solemnity.

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      • Oh, when you put it that way …

        An elected official should not, in his official capacity, be in the position of endorsing or failing to endorse a religious exercise. So if this is really about the Church rather than a celebration of Irishness, he should definitely stay away.

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      • I think Russell’s point here is a little different from simply insisting on the Roman Catholicity of the parade. I think Russell is suggesting we not try to make gay rights a kind of litmus test for every public event that doesn’t acknowledge gays fully and completely.

        I’m not sure I agree fully with Russell. In fact, I’m not sure I’m even representing his view correctly. In part, this is because St. Patrick’s Day, for all the Irish Heritage, etc., implicated in it, it seems to have become a mostly American holiday where people embrace their “inner Irish” whether they identify with Irish heritage the other 364 days of the year or not.

        I should say also I know almost nothing about the controversy. In fact, I’m surprised that those parades don’t include openly gay participants. One thing I’d like to know is if the would-be gay participants are acting from within the traditions celebrated by St. Patrick’s Day or Irish heritage, or if they’re just one more group that wants to be represented.

        Russell, I hope I’m grasping your argument correctly.

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      • Russel, your argument is an interesting one and its something that I can generally support. I’m not really a fan of orthodoxy, the idea that there are things that every right-thinking person must believe in. The world is a complex place and everybody should be allowed some heterodox views without having their identity questioned.

        At the same time, I don’t really think that the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade is the best the place to test this theory. I think there are very good reasons to expect a more inclusive Saint Patrick’s Day Parade and one of those reasons being that its not really a religious procession.

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      • But Saint Paddy’s isn’t a religious holiday except in its name, any more than other holidays for majority-Catholic ethnic groups (Columbus Day, Cinco de Mayo, Casimir Pulaski Day) are religious. Which is why I don’t think Church policy is relevant.

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      • since when are st. patrick’s day parades a religious thing? it’s was a screw you prods we got some political power now so suck it thing.

        except now as it’s a let’s start drinking at 7 am and pee on public buildings thing.

        this is definitely one day i didn’t miss being in nyc. tomorrow i’ll go back to being sorrowful, but not having to ask people not to piss on buildings is pretty good.

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      • The parade was on Saturday. I got caught in the thick of it. A friend posted a picture today of crowds near Schoeders because German Beer Halls are where we should celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

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      • I also have to second what others have said – St Paddy’s day parades are nowadays less about religion and more about green beer and Irish pride (gay or otherwise) and dumping green dye in rivers.

        It’s the one day of the year where EVERYONE is Irish, regardless of heritage.

        It’s my understanding that, for Boston at least, the ‘sticking point’ was a LGBTQ banner. With simply those letters on it. I don’t understand how parade organizers can deem such a banner as a ‘harmful’ or ‘inappropriate’ message.

        For most children, they wouldn’t have any idea what LGBTQ meant. If they were curious enough to ask, you simply say it’s a banner that identifies some folks that are Irish (if you haven’t already discussed sex ed with your kids).

        I understand that the parade promoters have a right to decide who they allow to march in their parade – but if they don’t want to allow ALL Irish, then I don’t care to support them.

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      • it seems to me that the mayors are trying to coerce the organizers of this event in (at least partial) celebration of a Catholic saint to include celebration of groups whose mission runs counter to Catholic teaching.

        And it seems to me that if opposition to the LGBT community is an essential feature fo Catholic teaching then Catholic teaching is something no decent person should associate themselves with.

        I do take your point, and I too am concerned that in some ways we are becoming less tolerant as a society, but homophobia and transphobia are no more worthy of toleration than racism. When it comes to those ideas, I am all in favour of less tolerance.

        If City officials were trying to interfere in the operation of the parade, then I would object. But sometimes we can get a bit complacent when it comes to the more problematic aspects of our culture and traditions. We got to where we are as a civilisation by critically evaluating our culture, and changing it so as to improve it. This is something we should do more of.

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      • — That’s exactly right. While religion is a guaranteed right here in the USA, that does not remove religion from critique. Quite the contrary, religion is too important for that, a key location of social conflict. In short, I reject entirely the idea that religion should remain a bastion of unchecked bigotry.

        Religions can change and become queer accepting. Some have. And those that will not, let them die on the path of marginalization.

        I support the decisions these mayors have made.

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      • — Who is this we you refer to?

        I know, in broad strokes, what yardstick I use to judge religions. You no doubt have yours, which may or may not include how well they treat people like me.

        But when I say religion is a location of social conflict, I mean to explicitly foreground the fact that there is no broadly accepted yardstick, there is no outside the system from which to view these things. And thus the fight goes on.

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      • My point was more that a system used to judge religions strikes me as being in service to religious beliefs in their own right.

        And, as I said, “that meta-religion might be more suited to my belief systems than most of the mere religions that litter the various cultures.”

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      • ” It’s that I think we are losing the ability to take a nuanced approach to dissent.”

        Um, they are. As you agreed, they are not muscling the march, or using their power inappropriately.

        To me, non-participation in an event is rather nuanced.

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  12. If I have an issue, which I don’t really, but if I did, it’d be of the form “are there any circumstances under which I am not expected to give my opinion on LGBT*(T)Q1Q2GQIAASCP(GSM) issues?”

    But, honestly, this is a case of the culture changing rather than the government doing what it can to make the culture change. As such, if the culture is moving that direction by itself, it’d be foolish (and counter-productive) to even think about trying to change it.

    I’m pretty sure that next year will have a LGBTQIA float, and if not next year, the year after. When organizers realize they’re leaving money on the table, more and more people will find themselves wondering aloud if a celebration of Irishness really doesn’t have room for a non-zero number of “Irish and Gay” floats.

    And the more people who find themselves unable, for whatever reason, to show up for the parade until those floats start showing up, the quicker those floats will start showing up.

    And then everybody can get back to making money.

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  13. Russell, Congrats on your most recent Daily Beast post on vaccines. Excellent article. The comment section, tho…

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  14. I’m from a small town on the west coast, so I don’t really understand the character of the parades, nor of the groups who are being excluded.

    But if a genuine community organization is being excluded from what is essentially a public event, that’s pretty messed up–and I don’t feel like any of the measures being taken are out-of-bounds or indicate an overreach on behalf of the queer community. I’m a lot more likely to suggest lenience toward the self-employed wedding vendors than to the organization that shuts down a bunch of New York city streets every year.

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  15. In the interest of bringing “both sides do it” to the table, is this an issue for Cinco de Mayo?

    I don’t recall it ever being so but I don’t know if that’s because *OF COURSE* the Cinco de Mayo parades are inclusive or because *OF COURSE* nobody brings this topic up for a Cinco de Mayo parade.

    If it’s the former, I don’t see why the Irish would be (or should be) let off the hook. If it’s the latter, that’s… well, it’s interesting.

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  16. Well, I for one am quite please that my mayor sees making me and mine happy as more important than making the drunk Southies who mess with me on the subway happy.

    So, yay!

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  17. I’m hesitant to say anything here since I don’t know what St Patrick’s day parades are like and what sort of floats go around. My fuzzy impression of things is that the theme of St Patrick’s day floats is green, shamrocks, four leaf cloves, and beer (or more properly and Irish stout). In that case the rainbow flag would be just as out of place as a star of David. Why? because both are orthogonal to the particular axis of identity that St Patrick’s day is about (at least on my fuzzy understanding of what St Patrick’s day is about).

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    • “Star of David” reminds me of a story.

      The St. Patrick’ Day Parade in New York City, 1961. Its Grand Marshal is Robert Briscoe, Lord Mayor of Dublin. Two little old ladies watch him ride past their window.

      “Who is that? He’s a fine-looking man.”

      “That’s the Mayor of Dublin.”

      “Dublin, Ireland? You know, he looks almost …”

      “He is!”

      “Imagine that, the Mayor of Dublin is Jewish. Only in America!”

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    • I’m also hesitant to comment, but for almost the opposite reason.

      I have distant family in Ireland, but none of them would be caught dead wearing green on St Patrick’s Day. As such I don’t really feel that the day speaks to my particular Irish heritage.

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    • That’s a very good question, and one to which I have no good answer. What I really would have preferred is some nameless spokesgay to say we understand the St. Pat’s celebration is more than a statement about LGBT rights, and that we understand the mayors’ attendance at said celebrations was not a statement about those issues either. By making the issue a litmus test of sorts, it forced it in a way that makes me uncomfortable.

      (No, I’m not being entirely serious about an actual “spokesgay,” I guess I wish there had been less hue and cry about the whole question.)

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  18. Sorry, typed quickly–that should read “the gay groups, rather than the people banning them, that are making this an issue”. I.e. it’s not the gays who are making this a statement about LGBT rights

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