New York City held its annual St. Patrick’s Day parade this Saturday. The city’s 241st celebration of Ireland’s patron saint (the parade is older then America itself) was successful on manylevels.

The turnout for the event was one of the best in recent times. From Senator Hillary Clinton to former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, dozens of dignitaries showedup to walk beside hundreds of thousands of marchers. The two-mile route waslined by a massive, enthusiastic crowd eager to watch and cheer.

The scope was appropriate as well. As expected, this year’s parade was dedicated to the victims of 9/11. More than 1,000 firefighters participated,all of whom paid respects to their fallen compatriots. To honor the number offirefighters lost in the terrorist attacks, 343 Americans flags were held by 343 members of the FDNY. In addition, the entire parade stopped at 12:30 p.m.for a minute of silence.

Happy, festive occasions in New York have been few and far between since September.City residents deserved, and were grateful for, a chance to smile and celebratefor a change.

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That all being said, however, there was something very, very wrong about this parade. You could distinctly see it in the form of a black flag being held byprotesters at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue. These folks were members of a groupknown as Irish Queers.

You see, they’re gay. And for the 12th consecutive year, they were bannedfrom marching in this parade.

The story behind this exclusion is a simple one. Most of the parade organizers (not the city itself, but various Irish fraternal and beneficial societies)are of the conservative, right-wing mold. Twelve years ago, they went to courtclaiming that this event was actually a ‘Catholic procession’. Victoriousin their legal battle, the organizers subsequently banned gays from marchingbehind any identifying banner.

Consequently, members of groups such as Irish Queers, who are as proud of theirIrish heritage and want to pay respects to the 9/11 victims as much as anybodyelse, are banished to the sidewalks. Such blatant discrimination is an annualviolent blow to civil rights progress for homosexuals. As such, it is an outrage,and should no longer be tolerated.

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This is not an attack on Ireland or the Irish community as a whole. Indeed,the vast majority of Irish people are open-minded and progressive, and wouldlike nothing more than to see this parade become all-inclusive. Unfortunately,it is a small group of ignorant, narrow-minded people who are not letting thishappen.

To that group, we say: WAKE UP. It’s the 21st century. Homosexuals deserveevery right, liberty, protection, and privilege afforded to all heterosexualsin our society, including the honor of marching in the St. Patrick’s DayParade. Unfortunately, the parade itself is bring prevented from completelyreflecting true spirit of Ireland and America. And that is a crying shame.

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