I write in response to your March 19 Editorial entitled Not Very Far From Sexual Harassment that used weak and fallacious arguments to support the banning of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people from the Boston and New York St Patrick’s Day Parade.
Your Editorial seeks to portray LGBT people and their supporters as bullies, and claims that the parade never “was about them”; that New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio’s stand for LGBT groups is a “reactionary move in support of the vote of this fast growing faction”; and finally that the Barbadian LGBT activists don’t have their own agency, but merely mimic their counterparts in the United States. All of these arguments are patently false.
Barbados TODAY’S says that St Patrick would be mortified by the inclusion of the LGBT groups in the parade, because of the incorrect notion that Catholics would not want LGBT people in the parade. In Ireland, LGBT people and their support agencies are included in the St Patrick’s Day Parade. In Limerick, famously the most Catholic city in Ireland — as well as Cork and Belfast — they allow the LGBT marchers with no animosity at all.
Indeed in Holyoke, Massachusetts, just a few miles from Boston, LGBT groups marched in their St Patrick’s Day Parade. The fight against oppression and for equality has shaped so much of Irish history; so that the rejection of Irish American groups in Boston and New York is counter to the roots of the parade. For Barbados TODAY to say “the parade is not about them” in reference to gay people is to ignore the fact that former New York Mayor David Dinkins marched in the 1991 parade in New York City, alongside the Irish Lesbian And Gay Organization (ILGO).
In 1992 the non-LGBT Irish group Division 7 had ILGO march with them in New York City. So that straight and gay people of Irish people marched side by side. Division 7, not a LGBT group, was then banned from marching the following year, because that particular parade’s organizers, like this newspaper, have the wrong ideas about the spirit of the parade.
To suggest that politicians like de Blasio and Boston’s Marty Walsh are not being true to their own values when boycotting their city’s parades is to ignore over 20 years of support from both men for that community. In two decades, Bill de Blasio has built a powerful legislative record advocating for LGBT New Yorkers, which includes extending benefits to same-sex partners, outlawing discrimination of transgender New Yorkers, and improving housing services for people with HIV/AIDS. It should also be noted here that de Blasio’s wife Chirlane McCray — a black woman of Barbadian and St Lucian descent — is a poet and a famous activist for the rights of both people of colour and LGBT.
Neither de Blasio nor his wife is being “reactionary” or bullied as this paper would like to suggest. Finally, your Editorial would seek to warn local LGBT activists from using the Barbados Kadooment parade to put equality issues up to the national spotlight. Unlike the St Patrick’s Day Parade, Kadooment has a strong tradition of topical subjects being used as themes both for “social commentary” songs, and for band themes.
Indeed, topical local issues have often been central to the parade, and the rights of LGBT persons in this society, while controversial, are certainly topical. St Patrick’s Day is founded on the inclusive focus on “we are all Irish” identity; but our parade is founded on ideals of open commentary, humour, creativity, and ingenuity –– as well as Barbadian pride.
If a bandleader were to present a carnival band that examined the place of LGBT people or women, or the disabled in our wider society, that band –– and that national discussion –– would be central to the traditional spirit of our national parade. What the Editorial fails to recognize is that the LGBT community is not separate and apart from everyone else — but whether some people would like to see it, or pretend that it doesn’t exist, LGBT people are integral to the Irish, American, and Bajan populations, Catholic or otherwise.
Freedom is for everyone, and not just the comfortable majority.
–– KHALIL GOODMAN