THE head of Sydney’s St Patrick’s Day parade has hit out at his counterparts in the US, who have banned gay groups from attending similar parades, saying they should be brought “dragging and screaming” into the 21st century.
In the US, St Patrick’s Day is mired in controversy after parades in many cities refused to allow gay people to take part if they made reference to their sexuality during marches.
The most high-profile tussle is taking place in Boston where a group of LGBTI military veterans applied to march in the parade.
The Boston parade organisers approved the application but on the proviso any mention of homosexuality was covered up.
This was a compromise too far for LGBTI group MassEquality.
“We fought too long and too hard to be able to serve our country openly to retreat back into the closet in order to march in a parade,” the group stated.
Parade organisers, the Allied War Veteran’s Council, subsequently refused the group’s application on the grounds it was: “a clear violation of our ‘no sexual orientation’ rule,” and in order to: “insure [sic] the enjoyment and public safety of our spectators.”
In 1995, the US supreme court ruled it was the Boston organiser’s constitutional right to decide who they would allow to march.
A similar ban has occurred in New York where the parade, which celebrates Irish culture and history, regularly attracts one million spectators.
New York City mayor Bill de Blasio said he would not be attending his city’s St Patrick’s Day parade on Monday.
“I simply disagree with the organisers in their exclusion of some individuals in this city,” he said.
John Roper, president of Sydney’s St Patrick’s Day Parade, told the Star Observer that US organisers needed to be more inclusive: “Discriminating against any group on the basis of their sexual orientation has no place in a modern society.
“The New York and Boston parades should take a leaf out of Sydney’s book. It’s time they were brought dragging and screaming into the 21st century.
“Our parade takes place in one of the most tolerant and progressive communities in the world,” he added.
“This progressiveness is reflected in our parade, which is held the same month as Mardi Gras.”
Roper said that while the Sydney parade was not political in nature, and the entry criteria did not allow political parties, the LGBTI community were welcome.
“The Sydney St Patrick’s Day Parade is a parade open to everyone as long as they follow the criteria of the parade entry,” he said.
The first-ever entry by a gay group in the Sydney parade is called ‘na daoine álainn’, meaning ‘the beautiful people’ in Gaelic. Featuring “lunatic leprechauns,” the group will be led by Peaches Queen, the award-winning alter ago of Dubliner Luke McCaul.
“We’re really enthused to have our first-ever LGBTI group marching in the St Patrick’s Day Parade,” Roper said.
“LGBTI people are as much a part of our community as any other group and we welcome them to celebrate their Irish heritage.”
INFO: The Sydney St Patrick’s Day Parade kicks off at 12noon on Sunday 16 March from Sydney Town Hall towards Hyde Park.