Despite the huge amounts of green on my blog page, I’m not a big fan of St. Patrick’s Day. I’m not Irish, first of all, so I don’t have any ethnic attachment to a festival celebrating Irish culture (or even the silly, shallow parody that North Americans have made of it); I’m not Catholic, so a Saint’s Day doesn’t hold much appeal, especially understanding that St. Patrick “driving the snakes out of Ireland” is just a metaphor for the destruction of the pre-Christian paganism which existed before he arrived; and I live in a university town, so there’s a hard limit to how much green-beer vomit in the gutters I can tolerate before getting rather exasperated about it.
That being said, if you’re Irish and proud of it, let your flag fly. You want a parade? Great, start marching. One of the things I’ve always found encouraging about the St. Patrick’s Day festivities is how inclusive it’s always been: “Everybody’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day!” is a statement one often hears. Which is why it rather boggles my mind that the organizers of the Boston and New York parades (two of the biggest St. Patrick’s Day parades in the world) have rejected the participation of LGBT groups and are now dealing with major sponsors withdrawing their support.
When I expressed my support of the beer companies in question, a friend of mine on Facebook declared that “We shouldn’t be putting politics into the St. Patrick’s Day parade!” And you know what? I agree with him entirely. The organizers of the parades shouldn’t have made the decision to exclude certain community organizations based on the sexual orientations of their membership. That was a political decision through and through, and it’s obviously endangered the funding for the parades in question.
What, you thought I was going to blame the LGBT community groups who applied to march? It’s not their fault the parade organizers decided to make a political statement.
These LGBT organizations asked to participate because marching in the St. Patrick’s Day parade is one of the things that community groups do. They also march in Santa Claus parades, Fourth of July parades (or Canada Day parades north of the border), and yes, Pride Parades as well. Basically, if you’ve got folks who want to show their civic pride and march in a civic parade, then you should let them march. If you exclude a community organization then you’d better have a damned good reason to do so… and if you don’t have a good reason you’d better be prepared to cope with the consequences.
The mayors of Boston and New York, respectively, have stated they won’t be marching in the parades. The LGBT groups in question won’t be marching in the parades. The beer companies putting money into these parades won’t be donating anymore. The parade organizers took what was supposed to be a community celebration and made it political. And now they’re reaping what they’ve sown.
Times have changed. Once upon a time, the St. Patrick’s Day parade was an act of pride, a statement by reviled Irish immigrants that their culture and history was valid and worth celebrating. And they were right to feel that way. They still are: That St. Patrick’s Day has gone from defiance to mainstream is a good thing — “Kiss Me I’m Irish” hats and green beer and all — because it means the prejudice against the Irish is (mostly) gone. But it shouldn’t be forgotten that not so long ago that discrimination against the Irish was open and accepted. I’m not talking centuries, either, I’m talking after the Second World War. That’s literally within living memory.
So why the hell would these people, the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the Irish diaspora, decide that it’s worth turning around and doing the same thing to another minority? It’s like they don’t know their own history or something.
If there’s a silver lining about this whole situation it’s the readiness of major sponsors to drop an advertising opportunity like the St. Patrick’s Day parade over the whole controversy. When Guinness dropped the New York parade it was sending the statement, not only that it disapproved of the organizers’ view, but that it didn’t want its brand to be associated with them. Guinness, Samuel Adams, and Heineken clearly believe that the damage done to their brands by being associated with LGBT discrimination would outweigh any advertising advantages to supporting such large events.
Do you know that that means? It means that anti-LGBT discrimination isn’t profitable anymore.
Ideals and morals aside, things tend not to change until there’s no longer an economic benefit in the status quo. Then they change dramatically. It’s encouraging to think that the tipping point for LGBT people might finally be approaching.