Irish and African-American lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) communities have a lot in common when it comes to being excluded from the iconic institutions in their communities.
St. Patrick’s Day has rolled around again, and like previous March 17th celebrations nationwide, LGBTQ communities are not invited to participate. As a contentious and protracted argument for over two decades, parade officials have a difficult time grasping the notion that gays share their heritage.
Unlike the Black Church, however, that has and continues to throw the Bible at its LGBTQ community to justify their exclusionary practices, the St. Patrick’s Day parade committee uses the First Amendment, debating that they are constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of religion, speech and association, and the tenet separating church and state.
Whereas most cities and states are not gay-friendly, Boston is known to be. But to the surprise of its LGBTQ denizens, Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parades have no gay revelers marching.
In 1994 Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parade was canceled over this issue. The state’s highest court ruled that the parade organizers could not ban members of the LGBTQ community from marching. But in a counter lawsuit, parade officials won, accusing LGBTQ Irish-Americans of violating their rights to free speech under the First Amendment.
Heterosexual Irish-Americans discriminating against LGBTQ communities is so reminiscent, to me, of how straight African Americans discriminate against their queer communities, both forgetting their similar struggles for acceptance.
In the not so distant past, Irish Americans were scoffed at for showing their ethnic pride, and they were discriminated against for being both Catholic and ethnically Irish. As they immigrated to these shores tensions rose. By the mid-19th century anti-Irish bigotry was blatantly showcased in our cities as businesses put up placards saying: “No Irish Need Apply.” In 1900’s in New York City, for example, newsboys, found on every corner or on a regular newspaper route, were often children of immigrants, who fought fiercely with each other for these jobs. Italian and Jewish immigrant kids would mock Irish boys screaming, “No Irish need apply.” And the song captured the daily hardships these new Americans confronted as they looked for work:
“I’m a decent boy just landed
From the town of Ballyfad;
I want a situation, yes,
And want it very bad.
I have seen employment advertised,
“It’s just the thing,” says I,
“But the dirty spalpeen ended with
‘No Irish Need Apply.’ “