Efforts at St. Patrick’s Compromise Fail

Despite several weeks of discussions between City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s office and the Ancient Order of Hibernians, who run the annual Fifth Avenue St. Patrick’s Day Parade, aimed at breaking a 15-year deadlock over participation of openly gay and lesbian marchers, the efforts have faltered as the result of AOH intransigence, the speaker told Gay City News in a March 15 telephone interview.

As a result, Quinn, who in years past has been arrested for protesting the parade policy, will once again refuse to participate this Friday, March 17, in the city’s oldest parade, which dates to 1762.

Asked whether her office would continue to negotiate with the Hibernians up until Friday morning’s step-off, the speaker told Gay City News, “Unfortunately, the time has passed.”

“I am disappointed to say that we were unable to come to any compromise with AOH this year,” Quinn explained. “I do think that there were allies at AOH that we uncovered and although we did not get to a compromise this year, I am incredibly optimistic about the prospects for the future.”

Earlier on Wednesday, the Irish Times reported that the AOH parade chairman, John Dunleavy, had categorically rejected the basis on which the speaker hoped to forge a new policy. The newspaper quoted Dunleavy as saying there was “absolutely no way” that the Lavender and Green Alliance, an organization of LGBT Irish Americans, or any other gay group would march Friday.

Quinn had told The New York Times earlier this week that she was willing to march if gay and lesbian participants, wearing sashes and buttons identifying themselves as queer—though not carrying any banner as other groups are permitted to do—were invited to join her and the remainder of the City Council delegation. That position—falling short of the long-standing demand by activists that unfettered participation be allowed—was similar to what occurred when gay marchers joined Mayor David Dinkins in 1991, though that approach was not met with approval by the parade organizers. The mayor’s contingent was met with boos and even some beer bottles thrown at them.

Of Quinn’s proposed compromise, Dunleavy was quoted as saying, “That would take away from the whole spirit of the parade, let me tell you.”

He went on to ratchet up the rhetoric, saying, “If an Israeli group wants to march in New York, do you allow neo-Nazis into their parade?” the Irish Times reported. “If African Americans are marching in Harlem, do they have to allow the Ku Klux Klan into their parade? People have rights. If we let the ILGO [the defunct Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization] in, is it the Irish Prostitute Association next?”

A March 7 story in the New York Sun first reported on what that newspaper described as negotiations—Quinn insisted to The New York Times this week that they were discussions—about ending the stalemate. The Sun story quoted the speaker’s spokeswoman, Maria Alvarado, as saying, Quinn “certainly hopes to march.” What was left unsaid in the article was what, if any, requirements she had regarding the parade’s policy on gays. The omission stirred concern among gay activists who quickly sent the Sun story around via e-mail. Some speculated that Quinn was overly eager to put an end to the parade controversy and might drop any specific demands. Others suggested that Queens political leaders, who helped her secure her Council post, or Andrew Cuomo, the candidate for state attorney general she has endorsed, might be pressuring her to show up on March 17.

On Friday of last week, Quinn issued a clear statement that she would only march if the AOH policy on gays changed, and this Wednesday morning the Times story spelled out her posture in detail.

Activists who have long advocated for a boycott until the parade is opened up, all contacted prior to Quinn’s comments to Gay City News several hours before press time, varied in response to the negotiating stance she had taken.

Brendan Fay, perhaps the most visible ILGO spokesman in the boycott’s early years after 1991 and subsequently the founder of Lavender and Green and of St. Pat’s For All, an inclusive annual parade in Sunnyside, Queens, said, “Quinn emerges as the discerning, capable leader, but nonetheless attempting to find ways to end a long-term stalemate. She attempted to reach out and she listened before making her own final decision. She certainly was uncompromising on the issue of visibility.”

Others were concerned that she had surrendered on the demand that gays be allowed to carry a banner. John Francis Mulligan, who is organizing a protest Friday by the group Irish Queers, said the group would certainly consider Quinn’s deal if it were approved by AOH, but that for him, “It’s a bottom line—with a banner, I march; with no banner, I don’t.”

Ann Maguire, a longtime ILGO member who said she “retired” from activism over the issue in 2000, was more blunt.

“That’s not acceptable,” she said of Quinn’s position. “The only way lesbians and gays should march is with a banner. Sashes and buttons are a compromise.”

Then referring to the Dinkins episode in 1991,” Maguire added, “We have always said we would never compromise again.”

Quinn explained that her willingness to not press the banner issue reflected her sense, influenced in part by some positive AOH feedback, that progress achieved incrementally could move the issue along further faster.

“It was my hope based on David Rothenberg, Jim Owles, and Tom Duane running for district leader in the ’70s and ’80s, and drawing massive attention. Now, it is not remarkable for a gay or lesbian candidate,” she said. “I had hoped that the same process would have happened here.”

Even as Dunleavy dashed Quinn’s hopes, at least for this year, he reserved special scorn for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who broke the boycott among Democrats when she marched in 2000, but has not appeared since—until this year, when she is again up for election.

“I haven’t heard anything from her since the last time she marched, which was years ago,” the Irish Times quoted Dunleavy saying. “There has been no communication with her office to say thank you, kiss my rear end, or goodbye.”

The Irish Queers, for their part, plan to gather at 10:30 a.m. on Friday on the east side of 57th Street and Fifth Avenue for the annual rite of protest—even if much smaller than a decade ago—against the biased policy of the Hibernians.