Friday 31 October 2014

Orla Tinsley - Identity politics are tricky - particularly at the St Patrick's Day Parade

Orla Tinsley

Published 17/03/2014 | 11:36

The Saint Patrick's Day parade on New York's Fifth Avenue. AP
The Saint Patrick's Day parade on New York's Fifth Avenue. AP
Spectators enjoying the St Patrick’s Day street parade in New York. Reuters
Spectators enjoying the St Patrick’s Day street parade in New York. Reuters

The news that Guinness has pulled out of the New York St Patrick's Day parade due to it's ban on LGBT participants is an unsuprising blow to the controversial festivities.

New York Mayor Bill Di Blasio illuminated the issues some weeks back when he announced he would boycott the annual display of Irishness because of the LGBT community ban.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh followed suit and is boycotting his own city's parade. He cites his duty to 'do my best to ensure all Bostonians are free to participate fully in civic life' as the reason. Although rights to march in the Boston parade had been ironed out the right to hold a banner that said LGBT was not afforded. It was the deciding factor for the mayor and an admirable one at that.

Identity politics are tricky, particularly when it comes to the St Patrick's Day parade.

In Ireland itself the origins of the parade is loosely attended to by many onlookers. Most people show up for the colour, the marching relatives, the entertainment and of course the alcohol. Fervent facepainting and tales of snakes and St Patrick circulate in class rooms. The national aversion to the American term 'Patty's Day' unifies a nation and it's admirable to watch on TV how big the Americans do our national holiday.

But this year the ongoing controversy over the ban on LGBT participants in two of the biggest parades of Irishness in the United States has struck a chord. And it should make us angry.

Last year’s The Gathering project, infamously called 'a shake down' by the actor Gabriel Byrne, showcased Irishness from the Achill Islands to Arizona.

Diversity and generational visibility were the keys to unlocking the floods of tourists from the US to Ireland marked by several key events including a blockbuster American Football game on Irish soil.

Big heritage meant big money.

In a time when the promotional purveyors of Irish national identity are carefully crafting an Ireland of acceptance, of inclusivity, of celebration and of supposed diversity there is a parade in New York which our Taoiseach is choosing to attend that threatens that.

The ban on LGBT people in the New York Parade is archaic, put in place by traditionally Catholic group the Ancient Order of the Hibernians who no longer run the event. If St Patrick's Day was ever to mean something of worth to Ireland, and indeed if Ireland's progressive identity is to be taken seriously, now would be the time for the Taoiseach to abort his plans to defacto endorse discrimination.

In other parts of the US, pillars of the Irish LGBT will be doing just that.

In Seattle, Senator Katherine Zapponne, who is Ireland's first elected married lesbian, and who was appointed to the Seanad by the Taoiseach, will do just that by leading her hometown parade as Grand Marshall. The champion of marriage equality and symbol of a changing Ireland is an Irishness we should be proud of.

Another is BeLonG To founder Michael Nanci Barron who marched in the Toronto parade on Sunday. The national youth LGBT organisation has worked tirelessly to make Ireland a safer place for LGBT young people to live in.

It has rolled out anti-bullying campaigns for years and been a key changemaker in the advent of visibility and human rights in this country. In 2012 it's anti-bullying model was celebrated by both the White House and the UN as 'innovative and indespensible' from which the world could take lead. This is an Ireland beyond any carefully cultivated image.

It is one both citizens and leaders alike should stand up for and be proud of.

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