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Dear Bill de Blasio: there are better reasons to boycott the St Patrick's Day parade

This ghastly event seems to be the only one of New York's many national parades in which gay advocacy groups have any interest

8 March 2014

9:00 AM

8 March 2014

9:00 AM

The new mayor of New York, who despite his name (Bill de Blasio) claims Irish ancestry, is boycotting this month’s St Patrick’s Day Parade because its organisers refuse to allow a contingent of gays and lesbians to march up Fifth Avenue as an identifiable group bearing the insignia of gay pride. This is not exactly surprising, because the New York St Patrick’s Day event, claimed to be the oldest such parade in the world, is more or less controlled by the Roman Catholic Church, which doesn’t encourage displays of gay self-congratulation. Although the parade was started in the 18th century by Protestant Irish troops in the British army, it was run for more than a century by the Ancient Order of Hibernians, an institution created to advance the interests of Irish Catholics in America and to protect them from persecution; and it is now still effectively ruled by the Church in the person of Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the conservative Archbishop of New York.

Mayor de Blasio, preaching diversity and inclusivity as the defining characteristics of New York City, won’t join the parade on 17 March, St Patrick’s Day, but chose instead to attend last Sunday’s rival ‘St Pat’s for All’ parade in the borough of Queens, organised by gay advocates, including a group called ‘Irish Queers’. The Irish Queers have urged the mayor to forbid city workers — policemen, firemen, etc. — to wear their uniforms, as they always have done in the past, during the 17 March ‘bigoted parade’, but this he has refused to do. As the New York Times put it, ‘it has left him charting a perilous route between the city’s traditional Irish enclaves and the progressive advocates emboldened by his leftward leanings’.


Now, it is perfectly true that participation in the St Patrick’s Day parade in New York is by no means confined to Irish people or Catholics. It is an orgy of Irish kitsch in which Fifth Avenue is thronged with faux Irishmen wearing green — Ukrainians, Poles, Russians, and so on — and it has always included a strong element of anti-Britishness, the inevitable corollary of American pro-Irishness, which makes it especially distasteful to me. But Maureen Dowd, the celebrated New York Times columnist, is equally revolted by it, despite the fact that she is of Irish ancestry and that her father was once president of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. She was writing the other day that she had long opposed gays marching in the St Patrick’s Day Parade, but not because she had anything against gays. It was because, she said, ‘I have something against Irish parades. It has always seemed strange to me that gays were fighting so hard for so long to bust into such a hoary, boozy, corny tradition. Didn’t they have something more fun and cool to do?’

Nevertheless, this ghastly event is the only one of New York’s many national parades in which gay advocacy groups have any interest. Do they want to march under their own colours in the Chinese New Year Parade or the National Tartan Day Parade or the Greek Independence Day Parade or the Puerto Rico Day Parade or the West Indian Carnival? I don’t think so. Yet, the St Patrick’s Day Parade, being the oldest and grandest of these, is seen by them as one of those prestigious institutions in which they deserve full group participation, even though it has nothing to do with any gay cause. The fact that New York, like London, has its own annual Gay Pride march is no compensation. The whole controversy is dreary and futile.

Until Ken Livingstone, as mayor of London, decided in 2002 to spend £100,000 of taxpayers’ money on celebrations to mark St Patrick’s Day in London, we were spared any such public event here; but now we have one, too, still sponsored by the mayoralty, which is about to happen again in Trafalgar Square on Sunday week. Livingstone was criticised at the time for failing to produce any money to celebrate the feast day of St George, the patron saint of England. But thank heavens he didn’t. It is one of the glories of England that we don’t go in for this kind of thing. And it is another matter of pride that we English, almost alone among the peoples of the world, feel no need to celebrate our presence in New York by marching up and down it.


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