Decisions by the corporate parents of Guinness, Sam Adams and Heineken to withdraw sponsorship from the 2014 St. Patrick’s Day parades in NYC and Boston are being hailed:
For the first time…. companies are realizing that getting on the wrong side of the LGBT community could have a serious impact on their reputation — and business, said Deena Fidas, director of workplace equality programs at the Human Rights Campaign. “The St. Patrick’s Day parade has become this major watershed moment,” Fidas said. “It’s largely symbolic, because we’re seeing an appetite for getting rid of the last vestiges of discrimination.”
Who is doing the discriminating? Allegedly, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish-Catholic fraternal organization that has been organizing the annual NYC St. Paddy’s Day Parade for over 150 years. Its yearly Boston counterpart is held in the traditionally Irish-American Southie neighborhood (of Good Will Hunting and The Departed fame) and organized by the heavily Catholic local Allied War Veterans Council of South Boston. Many of the headlines regarding the withdrawals of corporate sponsorship from these parades would have you believe that gays are being excluded altogether, a la Jim Crow. A Reuters article on the Yahoo! homepage (perhaps the fourth most heavily trafficked website in the world) was headlined “Guinness pulls out of NY’s St. Patrick’s parade over ban on gays“; the same article was headlined by the Huffington Post as “Guinness Pulls Out Of Anti-Gay New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade“; on the website of MSNBC, the headline was “Guinness boycotts St. Patrick’s Day parade over gay exclusion“, while the headline of an opinion piece on The Daily Beast touted the notion of “The Grotesque Ban On Gays In New York’s St Patrick’s Day Parade.”
Though not every news source that reported some version of this story couched these events in such dire and disingenuous terms, the samples quoted here represent quite a pile-on from a handful of the most heavily trafficked news websites in the US. Are the St. Patrick’s Day parades in NYC and Boston really “anti-gay”? In no official capacity have the organizing bodies’ members inveighed against homosexuality. Other than banning extrinsic expressions of homosexuality from featuring officially in their parades, they’ve issued no policy positions relevant to the discourse on “LGBT rights.” Are gays really “banned” from attending? In neither city have the parade organizers issued a ban of any kind on attendance by anyone. So if the organizations involved don’t generally tend to concern themselves with LGBT issues, and if they aren’t engaged in sexual-orientation based discrimination against parade attendees, what’s the big problem that has major sponsors withdrawing support for these events?
In 1947, the City of Boston conferred authority for organizing the St. Patrick’s Day Parade upon the (private) Allied War Veterans Council of South Boston, which was the only organization to apply for a parade permit until 1992, when the Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston (GLIB) requested to feature in the parade with a float touting their group. (Of course they had to’ve been called GLIB, because how could a bunch of out-and-proud queers sincerely want anything to do with a Catholic celebration organized by a conservative club?)
When the War Vets refused, GLIB sued, arguing that because the War Vets hadn’t ever restricted participation before, they had no right to start doing so at the time. The Supreme Court eventually ruled that even if the War Vets’ generally choose not to restrict participation that did not mean they had forfeited their right to do so. Justice Souter delivered the unanimous opinion of the court that
One important manifestation of the principle of free speech is that one who chooses to speak may also decide what not to say.
Clearly, objection to homosexuality per se has far less bearing on these events’ ban on gay groups than does unwillingness to provide a venue for a message that’s inimical or totally irrelevant to the message of the event at hand. Thus, the organizers of a Klezmer festival declining to provide a forum to PETA are not thereby thwarting vegan lifestyle choices, or even commenting on them. The promotion of LGBT themes at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, on the other hand, has everything to do with thwarting the parade organizers’ lifestyle choices. After all, GLIB, the Human Rights Campaign and other such gay organizations (and their powerful corporate supporters) are not targeting the Westminster Kennel Club, or Comicon, asking to be featured prominently and then suing after being refused. No, they’re targeting a pair of Catholic organizations’ festivities on the occasion of a Catholic holiday, festivities where nary a one of the organizers is going to stop a drag queen from showing up informally, or a couple of dudes from making out on the sidewalk along the parade route, however much they disapprove.
One doesn’t have to be an opponent of liberal reforms within the Church of Rome, or of gay marriage, to see how such efforts infringe upon everyone’s right to free speech and freedom of association. For example, The Daily Beast‘s Michael Tomasky, arguing against the ban on moral (as opposed to legal) grounds, acknowledged Justice Souter’s point that
like it or not, the Ancient Order of Hibernians is entitled to enjoy one of the few justifiable carve-outs to civil rights law. Courts have usually held that private, “expressive” associations can limit their membership, and this is right: Imagine if the NAACP were forced to admit white supremacists, or, for that matter, if a gay pride group were forced to welcome homophobes…. Back in the day, I sort of understood the Hibernians’ position. Tensions on all these matters were high in New York. This was the age of ACT-UP, the in-your-face AIDS awareness organization started by playwright Larry Kramer to, well, get in people’s faces about the AIDS crisis. ACT UP staged big gay and lesbian kiss-ins at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, on a Sunday morning no less. There were episodes, also at St. Patrick’s, of desecration of the host. I’m not a believer. But I grew up eating those wafers and sipping that awful wine, albeit in the less-demanding milieu of Episcopalianism, and that was too much even for me….. But all that is ancient history now. What tension is there in New York City over gay issues? Any questions of gay belonging are long-since settled, and I don’t mean just in Chelsea, but in Staten Island, too. What sort of threat could a gay-oriented banner pose in 2014? Even the Pope has said of gay people “who am I to judge?” There is no remaining excuse, not that there was much of one before. What remains is just bigotry….
But if “any questions of gay belonging are long…. settled”, why is it necessary for the organized LGBT community and its not-uninfluential supporters (like Tomasky, Guinness and Sam Adams) to agitate in a manner calculated to compromise free-speech and free-association rights? Don’t they have more important demands to press? And if traditionalist organizations like the Hibernians are so irrelevant and out-of-touch that they can be summed up so breezily with an epithet of dismissal like “bigotry”, then what’s so urgent about imposing progressive morality upon them? If the long arc of history isn’t making its way quickly enough in the direction of “justice”, why not simply strip the War Vets of the authority to organize the one and only St. Paddy’s Day parade held in the city of Boston? How difficult would it be to let them organize privately, excluding whom they may and marching down a different route, while newly enfranchising a public body, or a more inclusive private one, to organize an “official” parade along the old route? Why not redirect all the energies being brought to bear upon the Hibernians and the Church to do something affirmative for gays, rather than something condemnatory toward Catholics?
Why not? Because the preponderance of organized participants (the Boy Scouts, the American Legion, the Order of the Venerable Old Moose or whomever) would jump ship from a parade organized specifically in order to include drag queens and rainbow flags, thus deflating the “Saint” out of St. Paddy’s Day and depriving all these glib anti-bigotry crusaders their yearly 2-minutes’ hate. Maintenance of organizational authority in the hands of the Hibernians and the War Vets’, on the other hand, facilitates those organizations annual vilification in the press, a process which serves the interests of state power in ways that exceed its effect on the relatively insignificant organizations being targeted. How? Well, traditional community (as opposed to contrived allegiances based solely on a narrow handful of sexual proclivities) traditional religion (as opposed to bullshit Unitarianism or Reform Judaism), ethnic identity (in this case, Irish) and blood family (as opposed to adoptive or surrogate arrangements) are huge barriers to the imposition of state power upon otherwise malleable minds and communities via corporate media and the top-down cudgel of public school curricula.
Humans may not be intrinsically good, but the degenerate mess of majority divorce rates, pandemic levels of fatherlessness, endlessly extended adolescence, shamelessly narcissistic entitlement and outright exhibitionist sexual deviance (as opposed to simple bathhouse homosexuality as it has always existed) is a state of affairs that couldn’t have been arrived at entirely without determined and deep-pocketed encouragement. The powers that be can’t be content with your gay uncle Charlie bring his “friend” to Thanksgiving every year. They need atomized, emotionally fragile people unmoored from family and community, in need of “affirmation” at the expense of psychological hygiene.
So another way of framing this story would be to view a pair of lonely old traditionalist organizations (an Irish-Catholic fraternal organization with ever-dwindling membership and an umbrella group of largely elderly, Catholic veterans) that aren’t asking to police anyone’s minds or bedrooms, but simply want no part of the popular, reductionist conflation of corporeal longing with holistic social identity, who have major media outlets and multinational corporations gunning for them, in spite of their supposed irrelevance.