Mayor Bill de Blasio and grand marshal Kerry Kennedy at the March 1 St. Pat's for All Parade in Sunnyside, Queens. | DONNA ACETO
BY PAUL SCHINDLER | Marching in the inclusive St. Pat’s for All Parade in Sunnyside, Queens this past Sunday, Mayor Bill de Blasio was asked if the decision by the organizers of the annual March 17 parade on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue to allow an LGBT-identified group from NBC, the event’s broadcast sponsor, to participate would get him to end his boycott, which is joined by most other progressive leaders in the city.
The mayor offered the correct perspective on the question.
“Look, we’re still waiting for more information from the parade organizers,” he responded. “At this moment, obviously, I’ve said I’m not ready to commit to marching because all we’ve heard is that one delegation, related to NBC, will be allowed to have members of the LGBT community in it. A lot of people feel — I think, rightfully — that that is too small a change to merit a lot of us participating. We would have wanted to see an inclusive parade.”
Then, perhaps referring to what some sources say are ongoing negotiations to finally put an end to the exclusionary policy across the board — maybe in exchange for giving organizers the few extra blocks in their route they would like — de Blasio added, “But there’s still time, and we look forward to, you know, some additional discussion, and, certainly, I welcome any discussions with anyone who wants to try and make it more inclusive.”
The parade’s decision to give the NBC gay group a slot this year — announced with great fanfare in September, with Timothy Cardinal Dolan, who will be grand marshal come March 17, on hand — was greeted by some as a victory for inclusiveness, after more than two decades of explicit exclusion. The mayor is right to be skeptical about whether a real change is at hand.
When the participation of the NBC contingent was announced, some Irish-American activists who had long fought to overturn Fifth Avenue’s discriminatory policy asked whether other groups — such as Irish Queers and the Lavender & Green Alliance — would also be welcomed. The response suggested the organizers were disingenuous in their NBC maneuver — the parade was all full up for 2015, they said. And they would not comment on what might be in the offing for 2016 and beyond.
Meanwhile, NBCUniversal, which eagerly put out a press statement celebrating its employee group’s freedom to march this year, declined to okay Gay City News’ request to talk to an employee who was all over Facebook celebrating the news.
Since then, parade organizers had come off as even shadier. Last month, when the Wall Street Journal asked Hilary Beirne, a top parade official, if the inclusion of the NBC group this year meant other LGBT groups might be able to march in future years, he responded, “Not necessarily.” Beirne added, “We have to take it one step at a time, reassess, and then make a judgment.”
In other words, the mayor might actually be overstating the significance of what has transpired in calling it “too small a change.” Parade organizers have not made any permanent concession at all.
With gay groups participating in St. Patrick’s Day parades all over Ireland for years, the situation here in New York is beyond pathetic. If the mayor is still negotiating over this March 17, he is well advised to continue to hold out for real progress. Using a major event sponsor as cover for the parade’s unwillingness to truly welcome the LGBT community is a dishonorable dodge. De Blasio could find any number of other ways to honor Irish heritage on St. Patrick’s Day.