Floating gay rights issue at St. Patrick's Day parade

Mike Royko

March 17, 1992|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

It appears that a new tradition has been added to the traditional St. Patrick's Day parades that are held in cities with large Irish-American populations.

Gay groups now demand the right to take part in the parades. The people who run the parades are appalled, saying they want their kids to see leprechauns, not smooching men, and they reject the applications.

They squabble, lawsuits are filed, and a judge finally orders the parade leaders to make room for the gays.

It happened first in New York, where the biggest parade is held, and where they are back in court.

And now it is going on in Boston, where a just judge said that something called the Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Parade Committee should be able to strut down the street with the leprechauns and politicians.

However, he imposed restrictions on the gays. He said they can't distribute condoms. This is believed to be the first time in the long history of St. Patrick's Day parades that a no-condom rule was imposed. Until now, it was assumed that everybody knew that passing out condoms wasn't in keeping with the spirit of the event.

The parade's organizers are unhappy with the ruling because they believe that the Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Parade Committee is simply a front for a demonstrative organization called Queer Nation, which likes to make public scenes. And they say the gays aren't really as interested in showing their ethnic pride as they are in flaunting their sexual pride.

Since I'm not Irish and don't take part in the festivities, I don't care who marches in these parades. Especially in Chicago, where every vote-starved politician, regardless of his ethnic background, tries to get a spot in front, rather than behind the horses where they belong.

But it seems to me that if the gay groups agree not to hand out condoms to startled spectators, or to hug and kiss or wear pancake makeup, as many do in their own gay pride parades, there is little harm in their saying: "I'm Irish and I'm also homosexual and I'm proud."

I'm not sure why they would want to make that statement, since it doesn't seem relevant to anything. But then, I'm not sure why millions of people do millions of strange things every day. I suppose Dr. I. M. Kookie explained it best in his definitive study of human behavior, when he wrote: "People are really nuts."

Nor do I understand why gays single out the St. Patrick's Day parade. While they aren't as big, parades are held by other ethnic groups and fraternal orders, and on patriotic holidays. But I haven't heard of a fuss being made because some group wants to march in the Rose Bowl Parade and carry a sign saying: "I love roses and I'm gay; is anyone surprised?" And there have been no reports of anyone showing up in the big Macy's parade in New York on Thanksgiving Day and proclaiming: "I'm gay and I shop at Macy's."

I suspect that the parade leaders are right: The gay marchers are more interested in advertising their gayness, and irritating devout straights, than they are in showing their love for old sod.

Other groups don't wave signs that say they are proud to be Irish and heterosexual, or Irish and impotent, or Irish and subject to premature ejaculation, or Irish and given to lurid dreams, or anything else relating to their sexual preferences, or lack of same.

I know, I know, there is more to it than sex, so gays can save postage and the cost of a phone call. It is lifestyle. But other groups don't flaunt their lifestyles, either. I've seen many a St. Patrick's Day parade, and I haven't noticed signs saying: "I'm a shy bachelor, and I still live at home with me mum, and am proud of it."

However, it's also true that most of the politicians who march in these parades are more interested in impressing voters than in honoring a saint who would have chased them out with the snakes. And in Chicago, most of the rowdies who come downtown for the parade are more interested in seeing how much they can drink before collapsing in a puddle of something green.

The gays say this is a question of fairness, equal treatment. And they're probably right.

But if the gays really believe in fairness in parading, they should extend the same privilege to those non-gays who might want to march in their parade to make a social statement about their lifestyles.

And I'll believe they're sincere about fairness when I see a gay parade in which someone holds a sign that says: "I've been married to the same woman for 32 years, so don't wink at me, Charlie."

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