By ELIZABETH COLUCCIO
With Anna Gleksman & Lorena Ramirez
The contrast was stark
On the streets of Fifth Avenue kilted bagpipers fifed and marched as bystanders in green plastic hats waved and cheered.
On the sideline protesters hoisted signs that read “Bigotry shouldn’t be paraded” and chanted “Let Irish gays march”.
That was the conflicted scene on St. Patrick’s Day Thursday as an Irish gay rights group bashed organizers of the parade for excluding Irish LGBT groups even as a corporate sponsored LGBT group was allowed to march this year, the first time in its 253-year history that the parade included a gay organization of any stripe.
Crowds swathed in bright green and orange flooded Fifth Avenue from 44th Street to 79th, celebrating Irish heritage with military drums and blaring brass bands. As usual, the “Fighting 69th” Regiment and the Ancient Order of the Hibernians marched, but this year they were joined by an NBC-affiliated gay and lesbian group called OUT@NBC.
However, this was not considered a unanimous victory for gay rights. The self-proclaimed “Irish Queers” condemned the decision to allow OUT@NBC to march while LGBT groups that identify with their Irish heritage continued to be excluded.
Irish Queers branded the parade organizer’s decision a marketing ploy, aimed at placating groups like Heineken and Guinness that threatened to pull their sponsorship from the parade. Spokeswoman for Irish Queers Emmaia Gelman described the act as a “dirty trick.”
“Nobody is fooled. It’s a scandal that OUT@NBC would allow themselves to be used this way,” said Gelman. “It’s a shame, and it shows the length to which the parade organizers will go to prevent the LGBT community from being seen as part of our community.”
LBGT groups have been have been protesting for the right to march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade for 25 years. Notably absent was Mayor de Blasio, who last year became the first mayor in 20 years to refuse to participate, and he continued his boycott this year, though he did hold a St. Patrick’s Day breakfast at Gracie Mansion and attended mass this morning at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Governor Andrew Cuomo and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton attended. Cardinal Timothy Dolan served as Grand Marshal.
Many City Council members also supported the boycott, including Jackson Heights Councilman Daniel Dromm, who said it was time that these “shenanigans” end.
“We’re here to say we demand our inclusion, our rightful inclusion,” he said at the protest. “Eighty percent of people in Ireland approve of marriage equality…and yet parade organizers did not see fit to allow an Irish gay group.”
Reiterating the point that this was a demand for the right to march specifically for Irish LGBT groups was President of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club Allen Roskoff, who said it was a “slap in the face” to the every LGBT person in the city that OUT@NBC agreed to march.
“They are undercutting our community,” said Roskoff, “and they are basically thumbing their nose at the Irish LGBTQ community, and they should not be marching; they have betrayed us all. The people behind the St. Patrick’s Day Parade are Neanderthals.”
As the protest continued the usual vivacity of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade remained largely unchanged. Metropolitan All-American parade judge John “Duke” Terreri, who has been judging for 21 years, said that he was disappointed that the mayor would not attend, and that it was about time for all groups to have the right to participate.
“It’s a free world, let it be,” he said.
Members of the audience who came to celebrate nonetheless had strong opinions about the inclusion of LGBT groups. Brian McMannon from New Rochelle was adamantly against allowing them to march under their own banners.
“I believe that gays and lesbians shouldn’t be allowed in our parade,” said McMannon, 45. There’s no room [for them] here. We use this parade to celebrate our culture and roots, not mock them.”
Patrick Glidden from Bay Ridge said that it was enough for OUT@NBC to march.
“I feel like the gay and lesbian community pressures people to accept them in society,” said Glidden, 36. “I will not allow this pressure to get to me. And if the St. Patrick’s Parade has allowed a corporate company to march, well, they’re just going to have to deal with it. They should be grateful they’re being included.”
Some did support protestors’ message, like Molly Connery, who came all the way from Dublin to attend the parade.
“I’ve been to this parade before and they should just get over it and allow people to march,” said Connery, 25. “They are gay and Irish, they aren’t hurting anyone.”