Rev Irene Monroe

Like Black Church, St. Patrick's Day Parades Are Anti-gay

Filed By Rev Irene Monroe | March 16, 2011 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: black church, institutional homophobia, St Patricks Day parade, St. Patrick's Day

Irish and African-American lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) communities share a lot in common when it comes to being excluded from iconic institutions in their communities.

St. PatrickFor LGBTQ African-Americans, it's the black church, and for LGBTQ Irish, it's the St. Patrick's Day Parade.

St. Patrick's Day has rolled around again, and like previous March 17th celebrations nationwide, its LGBTQ communities are not invited. As a contentious and protracted argument for now over two decades, parade officials have a difficult time grasping the notion that being Irish and gay is also part of their heritage.

Unlike the black church, however, that has and continues to throw the Bible at its LGBTQ community to justify their exclusionary practices, the St. Patrick's Day parade committee uses the First Amendment, debating that they are constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of religion, speech and association, and the tenet separating church and state.

Whereas most cities and states are not gay-friendly, Boston is known to be. But to the surprised of its LGBTQ denizens, Boston's St. Patrick's Day parades have no gay revelers marching, too.

In 1994 Boston's St. Patrick's Day parade was cancelled over this issue. The state's highest court ruled that the parade organizers could not ban LGBTQ Irish-Americans from marching. But in a counter lawsuit, parade officials won, accusing LGBTQ Irish-Americans of violating their rights to free speech under the First Amendment.

Heterosexual Irish-Americans discriminating against their LGBTQ communities is so reminiscent, to me, of how straight African-Americans discriminate against their queer communities, with both forgetting their similar struggles for acceptance.

In the not so distant past, Irish-Americans were scoffed at for showing their Irish pride, and they were discriminated against for being both Catholic and ethnically Irish. As they immigrated to these shores tension rose.

By the mid-19th century anti-Irish bigotry was blatantly showcased throughout our cities as businesses put up placards saying: "No Irish Need Apply." In 1900's in New York City, for example, newsboys, found on every corner or on a regular newspaper route, were often children of immigrants, and fought fiercely with each other for these jobs. Italian and Jewish immigrant kids would mock Irish boys screaming, "No Irish need apply." And the song "No Irish Need Apply" captured the daily hardship Irish-Americans confronted looking for work:

I'm a decent boy just landed
From the town of Ballyfad;
I want a situation, yes,
And want it very bad.
I have seen employment advertised,
"It's just the thing," says I,
"But the dirty spalpeen ended with
'No Irish Need Apply.'

And like my ancestors of the African diaspora, the Irish were once enslaved a.k.a. "Indentured Servants", and bound for the Americas by the British. King James II and Charles I enslaved the Irish by selling 30,000 Irish prisoners as slaves, making Ireland, as with Africa, and a huge source of human livestock. The forced interbreeding of Irish females with African males was widespread on British plantations in the Caribbean and U.S. until it was outlawed in 1681, giving birth to anti-miscegenation laws.

As a matter of fact, the Irish didn't become "white" in America until they fully participated in the wave of anti-black violence that swept the country in the 1830s and 1840s, where unskilled Irish men competed with free African-Americans for jobs.

So I ask, what would St. Patrick do in this situation?

He would unquestionably welcome Irish LGBTQ, especially in a parade named after him.

St. Patrick was a man who used his experience of struggle to effect change.

As a 5th century English missionary to Ireland, St. Patrick was born in 387 and died on March 17, 461 AD. He was taken prisoner by a group of Irish raiders attacking his family's estate that transported him to Ireland where he spent six years in captivity.

After six years as a prisoner, St. Patrick escaped, but returned to Ireland as a missionary to convert the Irish to Christianity. As a priest, he incorporated traditional Irish rituals rather than eradicating their native beliefs. St. Patrick used bonfires to celebrate Easter since the Irish honored their gods with fire, and he superimposed a sun, a powerful Irish symbol, onto the Christian cross to create what we now know as the Celtic cross.

While many parade officials may think they are honoring the St. Patrick's Day tradition by excluding its LGBTQ communities, but like the black church, they will only be dishonoring themselves.

And, truth be told, no one knows how to throw a party or put on a parade like the LGBTQ community.

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Chitown Kev | March 16, 2011 7:46 PM

More evidence that suffering does not necessarily ennoble a people.

I am curious, though, as to whether there is LGBT participation in St Patrick's parades and festivities in Ireland, particularly as an openly gay man is running for president of Ireland.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | March 17, 2011 4:21 PM

GLBT groups freely participate in St. Paddys day parades in Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Limerick, Derry, Galway and other cities.

I'm still trying to figure out why anyone with terroristic leanings are allowed to parade in any city. Why isn't the TSA groping everyone along the parade route? God knows THOSE people love blowing up parades.

Hi Reverend,

Well, it's St. Paddy's Day and here it comes, I guess. Cromwell sent a lot of Irish to the Caribbean and Bermuda as slaves where they intermingled with the African slaves there. The Irish were considered a race apart by the Anglo-Saxon English with their Germanic ancestry up until quite recently. I am sure it persists.

I think you are wrong about St. Patrick. He was sent to put down a the Pelagian heresy. Patrick was a follower of St. Augustine. There is a lot to understand here. I'm unsure how well I understand but it would have meant that Patrick would have told the Irish how evil their beliefs were which were more tied to nature and, I believe the matriarchy before he was sent by the Pope to put down the heresy. He was there to enforce Roman customs which is where the original family values came from. You would have to understand anti-woman, anti same sex, anti-semites like John Chrysostom to understand. Mary Condren's the Serpent and the Goddess is a good read, if you would like to understand any of this. Bridget is a saint and a western European goddess on at least as much of a footing as Patrick in Ireland.

Pelagius' much gentler and kinder Christianity had already taken hold in the British Isles. Are you familiar with "Dancing at Lughnasa, the play about an Irish missionary priest who is completely transformed after spending time in Uganda? He comes home at the time of Lughnasa and has his mind blown by things about his own culture he was only able to understand after being in Africa.

I don't know what the antagonism between the Black and Irish constituencies stems from. W. E. B. DuBois found it necessary to understand the circumstances of the Irish to understand the slavery of Africans: "In Black Folk Then and Now , Du Bois concurs: "Even young Irish peasants were hunted down as men hunt down game, and were forcibly put aboard ship, and sold to plantations in Barbados"."

If you have time to read through the above link you will see the graphic 19th images of Irish portrayed as apes in the British press. The complexity of the relations between Irish Catholic immigrants and the native African American community at the time of the Dorr Rebellion demonstrate where the sources of conflict might have arisen from in certain cases. Erik J. Chaput and Russell J. DeSimone
"Strange Bedfellows
The Politics of Race in Antebellum Rhode Island" is a good account of the situation in Rhode Island which had an incredibly complex involvement in the slave trade and Quaker abolitionism in the persons of John Brown and his brother Moses.

I don't know how you feel about black homophobia and love for your culture. It is something I am very conflicted about when it comes to my Irish background. I am pretty closely involved with people who work very hard to preserve the best of Irish and Celtic tradition. Xenophobia, racism and homophobia have no place among the people I associate with. If you observe the antics of right wingers around the country, I think there are a lot of people from areas who feel deep shame about the behavior and values of those who are close to them due to circumstances beyond their control.

Ethan Alister | March 17, 2011 7:58 AM

Thank you for posting this Edith. History can cast a strange light on things sometimes. It's quite common practice for many cultures to revere the dead, especially those who have been canonized.

Bulldozing a culture, as the Catholics and other Christian sects have been wont to do, is never a good thing. No matter how noble their intentions. I'm sure the directors at residential schools thought they were doing the First Nations people a favour by beating their language and spiritual beliefs out of them.

interesting article, thanks for the link, Chitown Kev

If interested in this, you might want to read:

[=How The Irish Became White=] by Noel Ignatiev

A handful of us marched repeatedly in the Seattle parade from about '93-'98 before interest dwindled. The first year, the organizing committee were a little taken aback when we asked to march, but they said okay. We got a couple of catcalls and a number of cheers.

My understanding is that a gay group won the best float award in the Cork, Ireland parade a few years ago.

I just couldn't resist adding this. It's Muhammad Ali in Clare for the dedication of a monument to him.

Ali's great grandfather came from the same county both my father's parents came from.

Roger Casement was an Irish Patriot and well known gay man hanged by the British for his role in the Easter Sunday uprising. It is speculated that Padraic Pearse, one of the key figures in the Irish independence movement, was gay, also. Both were protestant. W B Yeats was protestant, as well. The stereotypes associated with the Irish are, well, stereotypes.

Wow! ... and I thought the only famous black Irishman was Shaquille O'Neal ...

Rev. Monroe posts, above:

King James II and Charles I enslaved the Irish by selling 30,000 Irish prisoners as slaves, making Ireland, as with Africa, a huge source of human livestock. The forced interbreeding of Irish females with African males was widespread on British plantations in the Caribbean and U.S. until it was outlawed in 1681, giving birth to anti-miscegenation laws.

On a more serious note, those who have watched Henry Louis Gates's Faces of America series on PBS will know that, when Gates got his DNA analyzed, he was surprised to find out that he has as much Irish genetic material as he has African genetic material.

I will have to review that video segment to confirm whether Gate's Irish genes pass to him thru his mother or father -- but I believe it was thru his father, which would agree with Rev. Monroe's statement above.

BTW, Gates's elderly father is the first African-American to have his genome sequenced genotide-by-genotide --- it will be used as an academic reference for decades, and it is notable if such a standard genetic template were to have a strong Irish component.

Hi A J,

I remember listening to All Things Considered one day in the car. There did a piece on a genetic study that was done in Brazil to determine the genetic origins of the people who took part. I think what they found, to the surprise of many people, that there were many who considered themselves to be predominately from a European genetic background who actually had a more African genome and vice versa. Sounds illogical but I believe that's what I heard. I remember when molecular biologist James Watson's dna was revealed to be 16% African and what a stir that caused.

I don't know how much of Gates' genetic composition can be attributed to forced inbreeding. I don't think that was the case with Ali. Where I live, minorities make up 60% of the population. There are a lot of people from the Caribbean here and a lot of Italians, Portuguese from the Azores and the Cape Verde Islands. I am part Italian, myself but only a very small part. My mother's name was Italian, though. There are a lot of mixed race couples here now. I think that will be the case more and more often.

Nineteenth century concepts of race are really steeped in ignorance. I spent some long hours last week reading about the Indian subcontinent, reading about Munda people, marooned people, Portuguese slavery, slavery from Islamic countries, racial theories about the Indian population promoted by Europeans. You can spend a long time with it.

Ireland is an island country. The culture is Celtic. How much of the population can said to be genetically Celtic is disputed. People from the West of Ireland migrated there from the Iberian peninsula. Then, there the were the Norse Invasions, the Normans, the Dutch and the English, and the Spanish. Around Clare and Galway you find Spanish names in the graveyards. It's unfortunate there is so much ignorance and bigotry that inevitably results from ignorance.

I watched this talk on race and genetics on YouTube a few months ago. It's an hour and one quarter lecture by Duana Fulwilly:

I found it very interesting.

Rick Sutton | March 17, 2011 6:06 AM

Keep us out of St. Patty's Day parades? Seems counter-intuitive. I mean, how much gayer can you get, than green beads, feather masks and dancing in the streets?

Kathy Padilla | March 17, 2011 7:23 AM

Of course the lgbt float in Dublin's St. Patrick's Day Parade won the best in show award a few years back. Lord knows why NYC thinks it's more Irish than Dublin.

This seems to be more about some Americans of Irish decent than the Irish. I remember hanging out with Young Irish immigrants in Boston in the 80's at a local watering hole - they had no difficulty accepting trans people or gay folks - and were dismayed over the conservatism of the local Irish- Amaricans - who - of course - knew nothing of Ireland. They disparagingly referred to them as "shamrock Irish" as this was the extent of their knowledge of the place.

Bought me a round or two & the musicians among them put me on the list for their shows.

janiice J carney | March 17, 2011 9:06 AM

My Veterans for Peace chapter in boston got a permit for it's own St Patrick's day "Peace parade" The Peace groups were not welcomed in the official parade. We will be meeting at Broadway station @ 2pm Sunday. All LGBT groups are more then welcome to join us. Our mission is to promote Peace as we follow one mile behind the anti peace,anti LGBT parade.

One small but important correction: St. Patrick wasn't English. He couldn't have been: England didn't exist when he was alive. The first Anglo-Saxon raids didn't happen until some years after he was first captured by Irish slavers, and England didn't become a unified country until well over 500 years after that.

Patrick was a Romano-Briton, from whom are descended the Brythonic (Welsh, Cornish and Breton) peoples.

The St Paddy's Day parade in Memphis is the Saturday before. Our Pride group marched with the 100' long flag carried by 30+ volunteers. Memphis has a lot of problems... lgbt in the parade is not one of them.

Ironically, the real Irish back in Europe have since shaken off the shackles off the catholic theocracy they have been enslaved by for centuries (and a theocracy is pretty much what it was even much into the 20th century). After dozens of abuse scandals they've had enough. Today, Ireland is relatively progressive when it comes to LGTB rights - at least considering their history.

Kathy Padilla | March 17, 2011 11:34 AM

New Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore has criticized New York St.Patrick’s parade organizers for excluding Gays

"What these parades are about is a celebration of Ireland and Irishness. I think they need to celebrate Ireland as it is, not as people imagine it. Equality is very much the center of who we are in our identity in Ireland."

"This issue of exclusion is not Irish, let's be clear about it. Exclusion is not an Irish thing..... I think that's the message that needs to be driven home."

He made his remarks in a first-of-its-kind meeting on Wednesday with prominent New York Irish gay community leaders and groups at the Irish Consulate on Park Avenue to hear their concerns and suggestions.

Thank you for writing this. I'm of Irish decent and grew up in an Irish Catholic parish which I was VERY active in until I was kicked out for being gay. Every March 17th I see the community celebrate and I don't feel welcomed anymore.

I have friends from the African-American community that have had similar experiences and some of them had lost their family connectedness that is our parish as well. I'm proud of my heritage (both the LGBT community and the Irish), but ashamed of the community that would turn it's back on one of its own.

Solidarity today, change tomorrow.

I didn't know all that. Thanks, Rev!

Although I would point out that the church most Irish immigrants were members of - the Catholic Church - isn't all that gay friendly either.

thank you for this history Rev!

Chitown Kev | March 17, 2011 9:59 PM

Interestingly to me, this post by Rev. Monroe takes place at a time in which factions of "The Black Church" located in Prince George's County, Maryland played a pivotal role in the failure of marriage equality legislation in the state.

And, of course, I hear very much a very similar tune that I heard after the passage of Proposition 8 in California: "How can a people so oppressed by discrimination turn around and discriminate against others?" or something like that.

And even if I allow the entirety of the premise that "the black community sank marriage equality in Maryland" (which I don't) I have to ask a question of those who pose the question and these premises.

What history and/or anthropology are you reading?

If anything, history indicates the exact opposite.
It happens all of the time. As Frederick Douglass well knew.,_Belfast.jpg

"Perhaps no class has carried prejudice against colour to a point more dangerous than the Irish and yet no people have been more relentlessly oppressed on account of race or religion"

Frederick Douglass
Lincoln Hall, Washington D.C.
October 22, 1883

Not that Douglass's observation is entirely applicable in the Maryland case (it really isn't) but Douglass did note something very sad, yet constant about human nature.

To this salient note from history, we can add that race and sexuality/gender are commonly perceived as socially significant on very different levels. A racial minority can rightfully say, "This is who I am, and I have a right to be who I am" ... but when a queer person or trans person speaks those same words, the response is so often, "Oh ... but that's different."

Chitown Kev | March 18, 2011 9:19 AM

Oh, you're right, of course A.J., that's part of the reason that I said that it's not entirely applicable.

But it is interesting that even given that black/Irish history strikes some similar notes with one another, the obvious affinities of the two groups pretty much gave way to competition between the two groups for economic and political power.

Also, considering the depth of Douglass's affinity with the Irish, the...pain in his words at the competition between the two groups (as opposed to political coalitions) is pretty evident. And to an extent, it IS reminiscent to the pain that I hear from some gays.

A very enlightening read. I am very traceably Irish to two areas by both grandfathers from Limerick and Westmeathe respectively. I see a variety of views from the Irish in regards to LGBT issues. There are some allies there. I also feel the same way about the community analogy you presented with the Irish and the Black Church. There's a deep heritage there as well but also a lot of infighting.