Nel's New Day

March 17, 2014

Move Parades to Inclusion

Parades are funny things—and I don’t mean ha, ha. Our town has an annual celebration of “Loyalty Days.” The holiday began on May 1 in 1921 in reaction to the Red Scare to replace National Workers Day, commemorating the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago. It faded when World War II brought an uneasy truce with Russia but reemerged in 1958 during the Congressional legislative move toward nationalism and religious terms on government products such as “In God We Trust.”

Although Loyalty Days have largely disappeared throughout the United States, Long Beach (CA) prides itself as “the longest consecutively running commemoration” of Loyalty Day in the country. The Veterans of Foreign Wars reorganized the event in 1950 as “a historically rich celebration of patriotism.” My small town will celebrate its 58th Loyalty Day festival this year, complete with car shows, Shriners on tricycles, and races. And of course, the parade.

Seven years ago, Newport Loyalty Days leaders decided that some veterans would not be allowed in the parade. Lincoln County (Oregon) Democrats had invited the Veterans for Peace Squadron 13 bus to march with them in the parade. Loyalty Days organizers had granted permission for the bus. When the veterans arrived, however, the county sheriff said that the bus could not be in the parade, and head organizer, Patty Louisiana, explained that the veterans message of peace “doesn’t support the spirit of our community.”

The “loyalty” theme did permit soldiers marching in formation, military Humvees, and a sidewalk recruiters’ office.  Like other parades, taxpayer funds supply the police to control the proceedings. This particular parade closes down Highway 101, the only federal highway along the Oregon Coast, for several hours.

Yesterday, more parades in the country excluded the “undesirables.” Today is St. Patrick’s Day, but parades were in cities such as New York and Boston to collect as many people as possible on a Sunday. In some cities, LGBT people were excluded because of their “sexuality,” according to Taioasearch Enda Kenney, Ireland’s prime minister.

Parade organizers in Boston said that gay groups can march, but they can’t carry gay-friendly signs or identify themselves as LGBT.

This year’s parades were different. Beer, a stereotyped staple of the Irish community, withdrew their sponsorships, including the Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams beer), Guinness, and Heineken. Although no Boston mayor has marched in that city’s parade since 1993 because of discrimination, New York Mayor Bill De Blasio also boycotted the parade for the same reason. He is the first mayor of the city in decades to refuse to march.

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh opted out because a gay veterans groups was not permitted in the parade. “As mayor of the city of Boston, I have to do my best to ensure that all Bostonians are free to participate fully in the civic life of our city,” he said.

Walsh also said:

 “The St. Patrick’s Day parade was born out of the celebration of Evacuation Day, a day set aside to recognize and honor our military and those brave Americans who have banded together for the sake of freedom. And so much of our Irish history has been shaped by the fight against oppression.”

Massachusetts was the first state in the nation to recognize same-sex marriage, but the parade continues to discriminate against the LGBT community—even the veterans. The history of discrimination in New York goes back over 20 years when the parade organizers claimed that they had too many applicants but would share who they are.

The Chicago parade has permitted LGBT groups since the 1990s, and LGBT groups march openly in Dublin, Galway, and other Irish cities with no problem.

A smaller, but no less enthusiastic, crowd comes out for the St. Pats for All Parade in Queens. De Blasio spoke to the crowd: 

“This parade is what New York City is all about. This is a parade that celebrates inclusion, diversity, unity. That is what has made this city strong. A lot of times you have to start things in the direction of progressive values and start a process of change… and over time people take to it and understand it is the right way.”

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I am always amazed at the insistence of people who have been marginalized to discriminate against other segments of society.  When the Irish immigrated to the United States out of desperation following the Potato Famine in mid-19th century, they were rejected by many of the people already here. Media called them “white Negroes” and published drawings of ape-like images of Irish faces in their effort to show Irish as an “inferior race” as compared to Anglo-Saxons.

Irish were stereotyped as alcoholics, thieves, and pagans, the last because of their mythology and folklore. Many of them were physically attacked, and Irish accents would bar people from public houses and employment. Protestants in the United States tried to keep Catholics from public office in the “Know Nothing Movement” of the mid-1850s. Ministers and priests fought “intermarriage” between Catholics and Protestants. Signs of “Help Wanted – No Irish Need Apply” proliferated.

One float in the Boston St. Patrick’s Day parade promoted diversity and threw Mardi Gras-type beads. Parade creators will hopefully learn that diversity goes beyond party-time in New Orleans. Or perhaps they will remember that at one time their status in the United States was far lower than the LGBT community is today.

And on today, St. Patrick’s Day, let’s think about how a minority successfully integrated into the fabric of the United State. May it happen to everyone! Happy St. Patrick’s Day!


[Update: A group of gay activists stealthily invaded the Boston parade with a pro-gay float bearing a rainbow cannon infiltrated the Boston St. Patrick’s Day parade with a group of 30 marchers, the majority of whom were gay men. The marchers themselves reportedly brought roughly 500 pairs of green and rainbow color beads that were tossed to spectators in the crowd. Evidently that was the float earlier that passed the application process by describing itself as a “diversity float.”]



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